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Creative photography project ideas: Capture movement in your pictures using a slow shutter speed

Updated on July 31, 2016

Do you want to learn how to use the shutter speed priority setting on your camera to create stunning, professional looking images? If you have a digital SLR camera and a bit of imagination the possibilities are endless. This article will teach you how to capture movement in your images using a low shutter speed and give you plenty of creative project ideas you can get stuck into straight away.

What is shutter speed?

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 of course much to say about shutter speed but for the purpose of these creative photography project ideas, it is only important to understand how a slow shutter speed can be used to capture movement in your pictures.

Capturing motion with slow shutter speed and motion blur

A fast shutter speed will capture a photograph very fast and freeze the image in motion, whereas a slow shutter speed will create motion blur. So to use the classic waterfall example - if you are taking a picture of a waterfall with a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 or above each individual water drop will be frozen in time as it travels through the air.

If, however, you take the same picture with a slow shutter speed of 1/60 shutter speed the water falling down will create motion blur, looking soft and silky as it is moving throughout the time the slow shutter speed is exposing the image. As you can imagine both options would express motion and movement, but giving the photo a completely different look.

Capturing movement with a high shutter speed of above 1/1000
Capturing movement with a high shutter speed of above 1/1000 | Source

How to set a slow shutter speed on your camera

On your SLR camera – look for a setting called shutter priority, it is usually labelled ‘S’. This setting gives you control of the shutter speed and the camera will take care of the corresponding aperture setting for you. Or you could set your camera to manual and adjust both settings yourself.

Capturing movement with a slow shutter speed
Capturing movement with a slow shutter speed | Source

Creative Photography Project idea 1 – Use slow shutter speed to capture moving water such as waves, waterfalls or fountains

Firstly, 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, and see 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.  

Creative Photography Project number 2 – Use a slow shutter speed to create light trails from moving traffic at night.

Again, you need to ensure that your camera is on a tripod or other steady surface. Find a place where you can see a steady flow of traffic – perhaps the view from your balcony or your street corner.  Try several slow shutter speeds of one second, two seconds, ten seconds, and even longer, and 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. 

Creative Photography Project number 3 – Use a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of crowds 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 and place your camera on a tripod. Then 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 are moving it will create some striking results.

Panning | Source

Creative Photography Project number 4 – Use slow shutter speed to capture fast moving objects using a panning technique

This is the exact opposite of what you did in project number three above. Here you will set your camera to a slow shutter speed and 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!

Slow shutter speed - move your camera up or down
Slow shutter speed - move your camera up or down | Source

Creative Photography Project Number 5 – Use a slow shutter speed to create your own artistic nature images

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. Or 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 bag a couple of great movement shots!

Some more examples

I've listed some more examples of slow shutter speed photos below. Good luck and enjoy your photography!

Slow shutter speed - spinning camera
Slow shutter speed - spinning camera | Source
Slow shutter speed - moving camera up or down
Slow shutter speed - moving camera up or down | Source
Moving water - slow shutter speed
Moving water - slow shutter speed | Source
Moving Water - slow shutter speed
Moving Water - slow shutter speed | Source
Slow shutter speed - zoom in
Slow shutter speed - zoom in | Source


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    • Sean Fliehman profile image

      Sean Fliehman 3 years ago

      Great tips I'm going to try some of these!

    • artistic5058 profile image

      artistic5058 6 years ago from Pensacola, Florida

      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!!!

    • profile image

      ghiblipg 6 years ago

      interesting tips, slow shutter n spin the camera seem can create a nice effect. Let me try that too =)

    • tim-tim profile image

      Priscilla Chan 6 years ago from Normal, Illinois

      Awesome hub! I love taking pictures!

    • Linda Bliss profile image

      Linda Liebrand 6 years ago from San Francisco

      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 W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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!