One easy way to add interest to a ‘standard’ shot is to use a slow shutter speed to render movement as a blur. It’s a simple, but effective technique
While it’s important to pursue pin-sharp shots, intentionally blurring parts of a scene, or the whole picture itself, can lead to a more expressive image. You can use your camera’s Shutter Priority and play with exposure settings to create blur, giving an added sense of movement or bustle to a scene.
While it’s important to pursue pin-sharp shots, intentionally blurring parts of a scene, or the whole picture itself, can lead to a more expressive image.
The easiest way to do this is to switch to Shutter Priority mode, which gives you precise control over how motion is portrayed in the photo. The camera will select an aperture to correspond with the shutter speed you choose, in order to give a balanced exposure.
The length of exposure you need to achieve a pleasing result will vary depending on the speed and direction of movement, the shooting distance and lighting conditions. If conditions are very bright, you might not be able to achieve a slow enough shutter speed to render movement as a soft blur – the aperture won‘t be able to close small enough and will blink at you from the LCD to let you know there‘s a danger of overexposure.
The solution? Drop the ISO to its lowest setting and reach for a solid Neutral Density filter or a circular polariser. These two optical filters cut the amount of light entering the lens, enabling you to use longer exposure times without risking overexposure. ND filters come in various light-stopping strengths and can be combined to seriously extend shooting times. The results can be both unpredictable and beautiful.
Mastering shutter speed
This shot of the River Etive in Glencoe, Western Scottish Highlands, shows the effect that reducing the shutter speed has on the movement of flowing water within a scene. Photographer Lee Beel fitted a 17-40mm lens on a Canon EOS 20D and mounted this to a sturdy tripod in order to preserve sharpness in the rest of the frame.
A contrast of sharpness and blur often leads to the most effective slow motion shots and you should use good technique to combine the two. Use a tripod to keep the camera steady.
If you‘re including a bright sky in the composition, fit a Graduated Neutral Density filter to keep detail in it through the long exposure. With motion in a scene, the composition will change from frame to frame, so shoot lots.
An initial exposure was 1/20 sec at f/4. The overcast conditions meant that the shutter speed was relatively slow, even with the lens aperture wide open.
1/10 sec at f/8. In order to keep the same overall exposure as in the first shot, a smaller aperture was used to match the slower shutter speed.
1/6 sec at f/11. Remember that fast moving clouds will show motion blur at slow exposures – use that to balance out motion in other areas of the shot.
0.3 sec at f/16. There’s a noticeable shift in the degree of blur now – the speed and power of the rushing water is becoming more exaggerated.
0.6 sec at f/22. Opening the shutter at the right time is important in a long exposure – the ‘fingers’ of white water here pull you into the frame.
The final exposure of 0.8 sec at f/22. The milky effect produced here is not to everyone’s taste – the previous shot retains more detail and works well.
Fill the frame
Don‘t settle for the first image you see through the viewfinder. The bigger scene (below) has been rendered as merely a record shot at the wide end of a Tamron 28mm-300mm lens. How boring!
By zooming in to 300mm and picking out a location where there was a blend of people stood still and people moving, then using a long exposure of of 1.6 sec at f/16, the result is a more creative interpretation which portrays the hustle and bustle of the scene much more effectively. The diagonal lines add interest to the composition.