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How To Take More Awesome Photos with a Slow Shutter Speed

Updated on May 26, 2020
Photography Focus profile image

I am passionate about photography and love to teach what I've learned during my 30+ years of working as a professional photographer.

Taking more awesome photos with a slow shutter speed can be challenging if you’ve never tried it before. But it’s a lot of fun and can produce fantastic photos.

If you want to learn the basics of using slow shutter speed settings, keep reading. In this article I will cover:

  • What shutter speed is
  • Slow shutter speed definition
  • When to use slow shutter speed settings
  • How to choose the best slow shutter speed
  • What a slow shutter speed is good for
  • What happens if your shutter speed is too fast


What is Shutter Speed?

The shutter speed determines how long the sensor in your digital camera is exposed to light when you take a photo.

Taking photos requires the right amount of light to reach the sensor. There are a few controls on your camera that govern the amount to light reaching the sensor each time you take a photograph. These are the shutter speed and the aperture. The ISO setting also has an effect on the exposure looks.

I’ll cover aperture and ISO settings in separate articles.

If your camera is set to any of the auto exposure modes, like A, Av, S, Tv, P and Scene etc, you may not be aware of how the shutter speed changes depending on the light. Taking photos in low light requires different settings than on a sunny day. In any auto mode the camera chooses settings for you. In manual mode you must choose the correct settings yourself.

Cameras are programmed to control the shutter speed unless you are using manual mode or shutter priority (often called S or Tv on cameras.)


What is the Definition of a Slow Shutter Speed?

The definition of slow shutter speed is when the setting is too slow for you to hold the camera steady and not get a blurred photo.

When the shutter speed it slow, say below 1/125th of a second, the photos you take may be blurry. If you do not hold the camera still, any movement is visible in the photos even when the camera moves only slightly. The actual shutter speed where blurring occurs varies from one photographer to the next, depending on how steady you can hold your camera.

So, shutter speed not only affects the exposure, but it also has an influence on how sharp your photos appear. The faster the shutter speed setting, the less likely you are to have a problem with blur caused by movement.


When Would You Use a Slow Shutter Speed?

Slow shutter speed settings are great for creating interesting photos that include movement.

I am sure you’ve seen beautiful photos of silky looking waterfalls. They are made using a slow shutter speed setting.

This technique is frequently used to convey a sense of motion in photos. The blurring that results from using a slow shutter speed setting with moving subjects looks awesome.

When the light is low you often need to use a slow shutter speed setting. At night, indoors or in a cave are some examples of when a slow shutter speed setting will help you get better photos.

Low light means the sensor in your camera needs more time to make a well-exposed photo. If you use a fast shutter speed setting in low light your photo can be underexposed.


How to Choose the Best Slow Shutter Speed

One of the most important things when taking photos is to have a good exposure. Our cameras work differently than our eyes. We always see clearly even when the light changes. Sometimes, when we walk out of a dark place into the sunshine, our vision is similar to an overexposed photo. Just for a short time. Then our eyes adjust so we can see well. Something similar happens when we go from a bright location to a very dark one.

We must adjust our cameras so the photos we take are well exposed, no matter how much or how little light there is. Using any auto-exposure mode the camera alters the settings for you. To have control over the exposure settings using manual mode is the best option.

Using manual mode you have full control over the shutter speed settings and can choose to use slow shutter speed. Once you have your exposure set well, you can tweak it to make a more interesting photo and create some motion blur in your pictures.

The best slow shutter speed to use when photographing something that’s moving depends on the speed of the movement. For things that move very slowly, you’ll need a slower shutter speed setting. For fast-moving subjects you can set your camera to use faster shutter speed and still see motion blur. A person riding a bike fast will blur in a photo at a faster shutter speed than a person walking does.

To learn the best slow shutter speed setting to use requires practice.


What a Slow Shutter Speed is Good For

A slow shutter speed setting is good for when there is not enough light to take photos with fast shutter speed. It’s also good for creative photos where you want to show some movement.

Creating movement in a photo can happen in a few different ways. You can use a slow shutter speed setting and hold your camera steady. The moving subject will appear blurred in your photo. You can pan your camera at the same speed, following the direction of your subject. Using this technique the background will appear blurred because your camera was moving.

In low light situations using a slow shutter speed setting can enable you to take well-exposed photos.

Slow shutter speed can also be good for photos when you want everything to be in sharp focus. Using a small aperture setting create pictures that have more in focus. The narrow aperture means not much light enters the camera. You must compensate this by using a slow shutter speed setting. I will write about this in detail in another article.

When you use a slow shutter speed it’s often a good idea to have your camera on a tripod. If you don’t have a good tripod, you can use any stable surface that is safe to place your camera on. This will help avoid motion in photos caused by camera shake.


What Happens is Your Shutter Speed is Too Fast?

Using a shutter speed that is too fast can mean your photo is underexposed. It will appear too dark. This happens when there’s not enough light or when you’re using manual mode and have the settings wrong. With manual mode, you are in control of the exposure settings and must choose the correct ones for how you want your photos to look.

Sometimes this can be complicated for new photographers who have not learned to use manual mode. I love teaching about how you can control your exposure settings for the most creative photos. Please check back on my articles here as I continue to write more about this topic.


You Can Take Awesome Photos Using Slow Shutter Speed Settings

Understanding the camera’s exposure needs to be set correctly will help you choose the best shutter speed setting. Figuring out the relationship between the shutter speed and how fast your subject is moving you can control the amount of blur in your photos.

To take using slow shutter speed to the next level, experiment with using flash as well.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Photography Focus


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