Slow Shutter Speed
Slow shutter speed records movement and light beyond our visual perception or awareness. Motion captured in the image is blurred, we see less of the details of our subject and it's activity, therefore as observers of motion blurred images, we are a bit more distant, self introspective, it's less personal.
Celestial images require vary precise tracking to counter Earth's rotation for the same reason that we would need to pan along with the action of our moving subject in order to get the sharpest image.
As you select ever slower shutter speeds from a stationary camera, at some point objects in motion begin to thin out as if transparent and can vanish from the image altogether, not unlike ghost in a different reference of time and space.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011. 5th Ave. Mall, Anchorage.
For photographing an object in motion you are often selecting how much motion you want to record during the exposure for visual effect. So motion recorded is going to be relative to the objects rate of speed, the camera's ability to track that motion, and the length of shutter speed duration.
You are often tempered in exposure adjustments by the amount of available light that is present. There can be too much light or too little light to sometimes get the amount of motion we want recorded in the image, but there are a few ways to cope.
Tripods, Remote Shutter Releases, ISO adjustment, and Neutral Density filters are all tools we can use to overcome some limitations to extend our recording times or shorten them and improve our results to achieve images not commonly seen. This is often a goal worth striving for as it not only leads to interesting pictures, it leads to discovery.
In Shutter Speed and Aperture, we discussed that Reciprocity adjustments between shutter speed and aperture allows us maintain the same desired exposure for different slow motion speed captures. With regard to film use and slow shutter speed, our trust in Reciprocity begins to falter. For specific information on this subject, see Reciprocity Failure on the same link.
For the digital camera there is no reciprocity failure, we can count on the principle equivalent exposures always working for us.
Slow Shutter Speed
Slow Shutter Speed Selection
The choice of the slow shutter speed selection is often an aesthetic one, and is all about what you want to show in the way of motion blur, or trying to photograph dim light that is too low for us to observe any other way.
In the image below, the shutter speed chosen was the length of time required for a series of vehicles to move from the rise in the road shown in the background, to a time when the car's position passes the camera. Though there are no cars visible in the image, the tracings of head lights is suggesting the presence of a caravan of vehicles moving by.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011.
The duration of time was about 15 seconds long and required a tripod. I also needed almost bumper to bumper traffic driving out of the valley, so I waited for a group of cars so I would record lots of headlights that could all make it beyond the camera for the exposure.
For long shutter speeds like that of 1/15 second or longer, your best results will come from using your camera well supported. The tripod with a remote release is generally is your best option for good sharp pictures that will have good details of objects that aren't moving. The remote release is used for tripping the shutter without transferringing vibration to the camera.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011.
In this Long Exposure image the sun had set below the horizon at least 40 minutes earlier. Only the highest of clouds in the atmosphere are catching any of the alpine glow light. The vehicle head lights help to outline the shore along the water.
Slow Shutter Speed - Slow Shutter Speed Choice
Slow Shutter Speed - BDE
We talk about BDE at length on the page Sunny 16 Rule, as it is a useful easy to remember system of identifying successful exposures from previous photographic outings. Good note keeping of what you did to produce a successful image under unique shooting situations like this can help to quickly jog your memory so that you don't have to re-invent your settings over again when you try a similar shot. For instance, referring to the night sky picture above, we know we can get some nice sky color as long as 40 minutes after the sun has already set, regardless of what film or ISO setting you are using. The BDE value for this shot is a +16 stops of light. Knowing this before you go in the dark of night to shoot can be a big help to you in planing what you need in the way of exposure time, and if you are shooting film, you need to plan how to correct for ( Reciprocity Failure ) this is discused below
Let's go over BDE here shortly to jog your memory
BDE (Basic Daylight Exposure)BDE equals the Sunny Sixteen Rule exposure for bright sun light. The sun is the same brightness every day, as long as skies are clear and the sun is 35 degrees or more above the horizon, then the light of sunlight is consistent for exposure, the same every day.
A BDE number is an exposure deviation from this in numbers of stops from bright Sunlight. So an exposure that is +3 BDE requires 3 stops more exposure because the lighting is three times darker than that of a bright sun light exposure.
A useful Slow Shutter Speed remembering tool
This particular BDE value of "+3" happens to be a fair exposure for heavy overcast skies and sunny open shade light.
BDE is a useful tool for remembering exposures from past successes and sharing an exposure suggestions with someone. Rather than trying to remember what your exposure was a year or two later. If you think about it, remembering a given exposure for a lighting situation is rather meaningless, because one exposure is just one possible expression option open to you for taking the picture. Where as BDE tells you only the number of stops of light compensation you will need for a correct exposure, but you get to choose artistically what shutter speed and aperture combination you want to use to achieve that correct exposure.
I present some exposure guidelines for commonly requested subjects on the link Exposure Guide, where BDE is used to reference a good starting point exposure for things like Fireworks, Night City scenes, Candle Light and more.
Slow Shutter Speed - BDE
Slow Shutter Speed - Guide
For looking at slow shutter speeds, lets start with 1/125 second where we left off on the fast shutter speed page.
1/125 - 1/30 second Slow Shutter Speed
Lots of times people will shoot this shutter speed range hand held. We discussed the Hand Held Rule for setting shutter speed on the Fast Shutter Speed page concerning an image's sharp details. In higher shutter speeds you are attempting to guard against camera movement to enhance details. When shooting slow shutter speed you might be trying to do the opposite.
You can shoot a picture utilizing the Hand Held Rule with a 24mm wide angle lens and a relatively slow shutter speed like 1/30 second and feel fairly secure that it's possible to get sharp details of objects that are not moving. Any object that is moving is still recorded as movement relative to it speed of motion at these slower shutter speeds. The low magnification power of the lens is what is working in your favor here to record only small movement. Distant people are often seen as small objects in the image, therefore the movement that those people make is small as well.
We also discussed panning with the subject as a technique used with telephoto lenses (found on the page Fast Shutter Speeds) in order to help insure a sharp image capture. This technique still holds true for slower shutter speeds. If you can match an objects speed by panning with your subject perfectly, you can get sharp images. The slightest deviation from matching the subjects speed and it's direction of travel results in blurring of details.
Here is a picture that shows several different directions of movement as I panned along with the subjects speed and vector or path. Though it is not a great image, it can give you a feel for what you can capture at this shutter speed regarding peoples motion.
The children in the stroller are riding on wheels on a fairly smooth surface, so their motion is fairly smooth and constant with the direction and pace of my panning. Their faces show fairly good details and you can see facial expressions. 1/40 of a second shutter speed is managing this type of riding scenario.
The Little boy in the background on the bike is also riding on wheels, but as he pumps the peddles his upper body is moving up and down with a bit of forwards and backwards movement. You can tell he has a face but this shutter speed is not a great choice for his activity of a child pumping the peddles on a bike, we need to use a faster speed to stop the upper body motion better than is shown here.
A note in point: When taking pictures of people showing the face, the most important detail is the eyes. You lose viewer appeal instantly if you can't hold this area as the most sharp details of the image. This then becomes a primary objective in this kind of shot.
A 1/50 second shutter speed will help some, but we might need 1/60 second for more clear facial details. But then remember that the background will show less motion blur. If this were your child, you solve this dilemma by involving the child in a of getting a cool shot of them by having them pass by you faster, but do so by just coasting, this would give you better stability on the face and better motion blur background.
The adult is traveling the same speed as the kids in the stroller, but clearly his movement while jogging includes radical hard jolting up and down movement. If you felt compelled to get sharp image details of his face, you need to be in the fast shutter speed ranges. Best if 1/500 or a little faster. Notice his hands, they are stabilized by the stroller, and so they are in fairly sharp detail.
Taking some clues from this image and experience, I would explore shooting close quarter small scale car races on pavement in this speed range of 1/50 second or even 1/40 second for fun, just like that of the children riding in the stroller, mostly because these cars will travel along a horizontal predictable plane on wheels and along the road. The more precise your camera is panning along with your subject the better your results will be.
Shooting motion blur shots will mean that you take many pictures to capture the one that really stands out as being the trophy shot that is admired for years.
1/15 - 1 Second (water) Slow Shutter Speed
This five stop range of light is a slow shutter speed range to be in when photographing creeks and water falls. The longer slow shutter speeds soften the appearance of the white water. This image was shot at 1/5 sec. Where the water was fast moving and agitated, the water surface took on a misty look for this speed.
As you select exposures at this length of time and longer a tripod is highly recommended. Most serious landscape photographers will shoot with a tripod for almost ever shot, even for fast shutter speeds to ensure high detailed content is captured in the image.
An essential Slow Shutter Speed technique
This would also be a range of slow shutter speed for the rolling pounding tidal surf where you might like the same misty soft look of surf around some rocks or pilings.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011
Generally soft water is recorded around 1 second to 1/8 second.
For taking pictures of the movement of creeks and water falls you would likely need strong shade, and for the surf in open sky areas, it's possible during twilight parts of the day. Dim ambient light is what allows you to shoot this slow shutter speed range and motion.
If the ambient light is still a bit too bright you can find some assistance at dropping the exposure down some with the use of Neutral Density filters, which are available in several different densities allowing you to reduce shutter speed times. I will talk some about this farther down the page.
1 - 8 seconds Slow Shutter Speed
The picture of the Interior of a Mall at the top of the page was shot at 1/2 second @ ƒ10; ISO 400, or BDE +7, and you can just begin to see people beginning to disappear. With longer slow shutter speeds moving people can vanish completely.
A common shot of interest is to have a friend stand on a busy street and strike a provocative expression while staring at the camera while the normal pedestrian traffic moves about on their way ignoring the lonely subject which is the only person in sharp detail in the picture.
If you are photographing a building, where there is a lot of people walking around, and you want to see more of the building than people, then with use of the longer shutter speeds you might be able to photograph the architecture with out seeing many people in the shot if they are moving along quickly. It's a less disruptive option than resorting to yelling, "Everybody out of the way!".
You may need some assistance from Neutral Density filters if you are shooting indoors, and definitely if you are shooting outdoors. Without putting out a lot of money at first for extremely dark Neutral Density Filters that you may not use often, you could seek out a Gelatin filter with a gel filter holder at a possibly reduced cost compared to other filter system options. There are several good glass and plastic integrated filter system options for brands, that should provide many years of service, so you may want to do some research into what system will work best for you over the long run.
This slow shutter speed range would also be a good range to be in for night time amusement parks shots of large ferrous wheels in front of twilight skies just after sun set.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011
Fireworks make their own light and they move, basically obvious statement, but this is relevant to how to treat exposure much of the time for fireworks. The brightness of the fireworks is all about the ISO and the Aperture settings, a good starting point is around ISO 125 @ f8.
+10 to +13 BDE is also pretty fair starting point for fireworks and some surrounding cityscape scenes. You use the shutter speed to control the length of the fireworks trails, or even the amount of fireworks explosions you would like to see in a given shot, and when you need to control the brightness of the night sky, or the city lights of your scene.
The fireworks in this picture are actually over exposed. All the color in this shot is coming from is the reflection off all the smoke, yet it still makes a nice image with the presence and exposure of the crowd.
Fireworks are hit and miss. The different colors are a result of different combinations of hot chemical reactions at different temperatures, and brightnesses, so their best color are also found at different exposures. Many good results will be from around f8 to f15 and ISO 100 to no more than 400. You just don't know what is going to happen next for exposure. If you have a nice city or harbor scene, you can kind of base your exposure around that scene. If the fireworks are bleaching our some you can close the aperture down more and then lengthen the time more. Usually the city scene is several stops darker than the fireworks so you compensate with shutter speed.
8 sec. - 4 minutes Slow Shutter Speed
From around 11 to +13 BDE you can start seeing good exposures of distant views of cityscapes. With this statement we are not really recording much movement to speak of, there will be extended car head light trails that show up pointing out where the major traffic arteries are, and there may be an air plane tracer or two.
Around 20 - 40 minutes after sun down you can still get some nice horizon light with great colors in it to include in your cityscape photography. This is during a time when most photographers pack up and are heading home, so do experiment a little while you are standing in what appears to be almost complete blackness. Be sure to pack a flash light so you can manage working with the camera easier, and so you can pack up without leaving important gear behind.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011
4 min. - 20 min. Slow Shutter Speed
This slow shutter speed range is where people start shooting Star Trails. Star Trails result from the star's light being traced across a night sky during exposure as a result of the rotation of the earth on it's axis. How much of an arch you see is relevant to the length of the exposure, the magnification of the lens you use, and which direction you are pointing your camera. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere and pointing to the Polaris star, the other stars path will appear to circle around a point near this star. If your camera is pointing an East or West direction, the stars will appear to be aligned somewhat linear up or down the image.
Getting good results from Star Trails takes some practice and vary possibly a trip away from your urban setting. It's not just the light noise from all the urban or city lights that are on, but also air quality for clarity. This is a big part of the battle, because this light scatter if we can call it that, reduces contrast between the night sky and the actual stars you are trying to record, and many of the dimmer stars are getting missed in the exposure record. However, getting out of town and going some place for a night adventure just makes the whole experience more fun, and it never hurts to have an interesting foreground, a silhouetted feature that is natural and recognizable in the image.
The 4 minute exposure will not show much rotation if you are using a wide angle lens, it's all most just enough to look like you bumped the camera.
A 20 minute exposure starts getting more noticeable movement to it, but may not be enough to be satisfying.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011
In this shot of the stars circling around Polaris, I am using a 28mm wide angle lens, somewhere around a 50 minute exposure @ f4. You can clearly see the purposeful trails of the stars.
This picture was shot back in 1987 on High Speed IR film with a one stop push. IR does a better job at seeing past atmospheric haze, Digital editing has also made it easier boost the contrast of it.
Randy Smith Photography © 2011
This shot of Andromeda galaxy was shot on Kodak VR1000 color print film (image shown in B&W). This exposure requires the assistance of a motor drive to counter the rotation of the Earth on it's axis. In this shot I held a remote control and attempted to speed up or retard the motor's speed by tracking a single bright star that was in the cross hairs of a targeting alignment tube that was attached to the 5 inch Schmidt telescope. The exposure is 5 minutes long. There is still a bit of motion star blur caused by my inexperience of tracking a Celestial object, still, this picture is interesting to me.
Fun just the same. It's weird to imagine this galaxy on a collision course with our own galaxy.
Slow Shutter Speed - Film : Reciprocity Failure
We talked about Reciprocity, the mutual relationship between aperture and shutter speed selection where one stop adjustment in exposure is equal to a doubling or halving of exposure. This process begins to break down where no longer does one stop of light adjustment equal a doubling or having in exposure, an occurrence referred to as Reciprocity Failure.
This begins to occur with most film at shutter speeds longer then one second. Each different film choice reacts different, but all begin to fail to record light by the amount you have come to expect from exposure adjustment times.
Your exposure meter reading is not programed to cope with each film's individual characteristic in lack of light sensitivity during slow shutter speeds. So you have to experiment, and learn the individual film's response, that is how much more light do you need to record to get back to a proper exposure for this particular film product.
The way the film photographer would have to deal with this is to first find their desired exposure for the image, then extend the length of exposure time to compensate for the films lack of sensitivity. So it was not uncommon for a photographer to buy film for the purpose of setting up test on extending exposure duration for long shutter speeds.
A 2.5 second exposure might need an extra 1/3 stop exposure adjustment resulting in a new exposure of 3.2 seconds to balance the light back to a normal exposure do to loss. A 3.2 second exposure reading from your meter reading might need a full 1/2 stop more light exposure adjustment. The longer the exposure that was required by exposure, the more additional time was needed to add to that timed exposure for correction, and this is not a linear relationship correction.
So if you are shooting film, you will need to consult Reciprocity Failure charts for a specific film types, and you might even want to conduct your own exposure test.
Slow Shutter Speed - Long Film Exposure Effects
Slow Shutter Speed - Digital : Long Exposure Effects
As mentioned above, if you are shooting digital images, you do not need to concern yourself with Reciprocity Failure, this is just something that happens with the light sensitive molecules in film. Just to be fair in the great scheme of the workings of the universe, digital images experience more Electronic Noise associated with longer exposures times.
If you made an image of the clear dark sky, longer exposures might show some photo receptors more prominent in brightness and color than other neighboring ones, creating a false mosaic of colors and light that do not exist. These are most clearly noticed in areas of a single dark tones. Most cameras have various software processing algorithms that help combat this problem, and manufacturers are getting quite good at managing this problem.
Some cameras have kind of a digital image mask, a map unique to the individual camera's image sensor, that is used as a reference and can counter some of this luminance difference variability between photo receptors to help with digital signal to noise ratios for longer exposures.
Please reference your camera manual for any special handling of extreme slow shutter speed image capture for exposures less then several seconds long. With some cameras, you may need to use the manufacturer's editing software to make use of this counter measure. However, you may find that your camera makes all adjustments automatically and you need to do nothing extra to get nice clean blacks without variation.
Many pro and semi pro digital cameras are quit exceptional at shooting images of the night sky with clean smooth tones.
Slow Shutter Speed - Long Digital Exposure Effects
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Your Best Slow Shutter Speed Photo
Got a great slow shutter speed motion blur Shot? Capture a beautifully tranquil water fall picture? Car trails, star trails or sports action? Other photographers would love to learn from your best "SUCCESS STORY" behind your creative motion capture images. So add your best photo here on this topic, and tell us about it. Be sure to add you technical photography information like exposure data, camera, lens, and any special assistance you get from gizmos and gadgets (ie: tripods, filters, or even flash light !), if it helped, let your fellow photographers learn from your success.
What Other Visitors Have Said
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Well we have covered quite a good range of shutter speeds options and techniques on both pages of Fast Shutter Speed and this page on Slow Shutter Speed, and what you might expect from these speeds and where you might start your experimentation with them.
Slow shutter speed is often interesting because the results always seem to be a bit more of a surprise, just about all of this range of light requires good camera stability, and careful handling of tripping the shutter.
A comment on safety
Please consider doing your night photography with a shooting buddy. It helps to pass the time with good conversation, and it is an extra pair of eyes if you happen to drop something. It just never hurts to have someone with you.
I'm a guy, and I myself have had a run in with people wanting to take advantage of a single person situation of possible vulnerability. Besides you could twist your ankle or something and it would be nice to have some help around to carry gear or assist during some emergency. Just the presence of someone else being with you might be enough deterrent from someone else interacting with you in a negative way.
& Slow Shutter Speed
And Story behind it!
Well thought out. Good information and easy navigation, this is Good stuff!
Your site is fantastic! I have to study it more! It's awesome. I have to email my friend to let her students know!
Your guides and tutorials contain lots of great information for new users. You have a winner.
You are obviously very knowledgable and experienced, and it is fantastic that you are willing to share this with others, I appreciate it, thank you!
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