What is shutter speed?
Do you want to learn how to create stunning, professional looking images? Use the shutter speed priority setting on your digital SLR camera and a bit of imagination to make your photo possibilities endless. I will teach you how to capture movement in your images using a low shutter speed and provide you plenty of engaging project ideas you can try straight away.
Shutter speed is the amount of time a camera's shutter remains open, exposing the film or digital sensor to light. Shutter speeds are expressed as fractions like 1/1000 and 1/60 or 30" if the time is long enough for whole numbers, in this case, thirty seconds. There is much to say about shutter speed, but for the purpose of these projects, it's only important to understand how a slow shutter speed can be used to capture movement.
How to Capture Motion With a Slow Shutter Speed
A fast shutter speed will capture a photograph very quickly and freeze the image in motion, whereas a slow shutter speed will create motion blur. I'll use the classic waterfall example:
- If you take a picture of a waterfall with a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 or higher, each individual water drop will be frozen in time as it travels through the air.
- If you take the same picture with a slow shutter speed of 1/60, the water will create motion blur, looking soft and silky as it moves through the time the camera is capturing the image.
As you can imagine both options express motion and movement, but they give the photo a completely different look.
How to Set a Slow Shutter Speed
On your SLR camera, look for a setting called shutter priority. It is usually labeled ‘S’. This setting gives you control of the shutter speed, and the camera will take care of the corresponding aperture setting for you. You could also set your camera to manual and adjust both settings yourself.
Project 1: Capture Moving Water
- Position your camera on a tripod or hold it steady against a tree or a rock. It is important that your camera is held perfectly still as you’re about to capture the movement of the water.
- Set your camera to a very slow shutter speed, about one second or a half-second.
- Look at the results. All waterfalls and fountains move at different speeds, so you will probably have to try a few different shutter speed settings to achieve your desired effect.
Project 2: Create Light Trails From Traffic
- Find a place where you can see a steady flow of traffic. It could be the view from your balcony or street corner.
- Make sure your camera is on a tripod or other steady surface.
- Try several slow shutter speeds of one second, two seconds, ten seconds, and even longer. You will be amazed at the results. The light trails of the vehicles will show the movement of the traffic and create a flow of bright colour, stretching away into the distance.
Project 3: Capture the Movement of People
A busy street with people moving around in different directions can create fascinating motion effects in a photo.
- Find a busy street with lots of people milling around.
- Place your camera on a tripod.
- Start with a slow shutter speed of around ¼ second, and then try different shutter speeds until you’re happy with the results.
The people will look ghost-like and blurred as they move through your picture–if you ask a friend to stand really still while everyone else around him is moving, it will create some striking results.
Project 4: Capture Fast-Moving Objects by Panning
This is the exact opposite of what you did in the previous project.
- Set your camera to a slow shutter speed.
- Pan the camera along with a moving subject, for example, a car or running dog.
- If you get the technique right, you should achieve a sharp subject with a blurred background showing the speed and movement of your subject. This technique requires a bit of practice but produces great results!
Project 5: Create Art From Nature
- Try a variety of slow shutter speeds to create artistic effects on everyday landscape subjects such as trees, rocks, and nature trails.
- Move your camera up or down to create wonderfully blurry and mysterious looking trees.
- Spin your camera around to create dizzying spirals.
- Zoom in while you capture a photograph of a pretty flower or a dog running towards you.
The possibilities are endless, and by shooting hundreds of photos, you are likely to get a couple of great movement shots!
Try Other Shutter Speed Experiments!
I've listed some more examples of slow shutter speed photos below. Good luck, and enjoy your photography!
Slow Shutter Speed: Zooming In
Slow Shutter Speed: Spinning the Camera
Slow Shutter Speed: Moving the Camera Up and Down
Moving Water: Slow Shutter Speed
Moving Water: Slow Shutter Speed
Sean Fliehman on January 22, 2015:
Great tips I'm going to try some of these!
artistic5058 from Pensacola, Florida on November 18, 2011:
There is so much FREE information online that I have been taking photography lessons and discussing skills with others for just about nothing in cost, only time!!!
ghiblipg on October 21, 2011:
interesting tips, slow shutter n spin the camera seem can create a nice effect. Let me try that too =)
Priscilla Chan from Normal, Illinois on May 08, 2011:
Awesome hub! I love taking pictures!
Linda Liebrand (author) from San Francisco on April 19, 2011:
Thank you Peggy! I've always been a firm believer that creativity is in your head and not in your camera so I'm sure your photos are wonderful even if you don't have a fancy camera! :-)
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 18, 2011:
I have never owned a fancy camera...just the simple point and shoot variety. The new digital ones have features that I have not even tried but I love taking photos. I like the different effects you got by moving up and down and swirling your camera. Nice! Rating this useful and up. Thanks!