slow shutter speeds

Your Guide to Slow Shutter Speeds

One of the many things that makes photography such an amazing art-form is that it allows us to capture a single moment in time through slow shutter speeds. However, photography does have its limits, especially when it comes to capturing motion.

The good news is, by shooting with slow shutter speeds and allowing for long exposures, you can add a sense of time and motion to an image. In other words, you can take an image that would normally be still and frozen in time and make it look as though it is moving.

With slow shutter speed, you can capture the blur of an athlete moving through air or the power of raging waters as they go through a waterfall. The great news is, with a little practice and a little insight, it can be easier than you think to capture this type of dynamic photography.

Why Shutter Speed is Important

Shutter speed is important because it controls how fast the shutter on your camera opens and how much light it allows in. The faster the shutter speed, the less light and the sharper the image. The slower the shutter speed, the more motion blur and the more light you let in.

However, like all manual operations with photography, in order to adequately capture motion blur, you need to find the exact right setting, lighting and exposure to get your photo to turn out right.

One of the most common reasons to shoot with slow shutter speed is to capture motion blur and to create movement in your photos. Since you are letting in a lot of light when shooting with a slow shutter speed, you can capture subjects that normally would be difficult to capture on film.

Here are some of the most common subjects to shoot with slow shutter speeds.

Akaka falls

A misty morning at Akaka Falls


When capturing waterfalls with a slow shutter speed, make sure you aren’t overexposing the shot. Try to choose a focal point that isn’t moving and is off to the side, and do your best to make sure people or animals aren’t in the shot, otherwise they can look blurry.


Fireworks are notoriously one of the most difficult subjects to capture. If you want your fireworks to still appear sharp but have some movement, don’t leave your shutter speed on for too long—and try to use a tripod while shooting.

Street Photography

If you are attempting to shoot a busy urban street, a slow shutter speed can help capture the hustle and bustle of the landscape, as you show motion blur amount people and cars. You will want to choose a high aperture to cancel out the extra slow shutter speed you will need to capture this type of photo.

Moving Vehicles

A speeding train is slightly more difficult to capture than a strolling person. Your shutter speed should be slow enough to show the light trails of a car, bus or train, but not so fast that you don’t see the movement.

Star Trails

Slow shutter speeds allow you to capture nighttime photography in a completely different way—including taking photos of star trails. You can do this by taking multiple shots for 30 seconds at a time—just make sure that you have a tripod and a remote shutter release, so you don’t move the camera during the process.

Keck Telescope

Don’t lose your scale and clarity — make sure you get a full frame camera!

Accessories to Use When Shooting With Slow Shutter Speed

If you really want to take advantage of the power of slow shutter speed, you will need to have the right gear with you in order to really allow slow shutter speeds do their work. Here are a few accessories that can really help when shooting in slow shutter speed.


Either having a SLR, or an advanced compact is great when shooting in slow shutter speed as it offers a range of manually controllable slow shutter options, typically beyond a second in duration.

Neutral Density Filters

If you are shooting in the bright daylight, it can be easy to overexposure your shot with your slow shutter speed. The neutral density filter helps cut down on your required exposure, so you have a better final look.

ice bubbles

Learning how to properly use ISO, compose and edit a photo requires patience and practice.


Keeping your camera still is essential when shooting in a slow shutter speed—a tripod can help with that and help make sure that anything in your shot that isn’t moving remains sharp.


If you are taking slow-synch flash shots, as discussed earlier, a flashgun can be a great option for you. This separate accessory allows for more precise exposure control.

Cable Release

When using slow shutter speeds, your goal is to make sure that the camera won’t move. Even when you press the shutter release button, the camera can move the slightest bit, even when it is stationed on a tripod. The cable release button ensures there will be no movement.

Canon 6d Racetrack Playa Sailing Stones

Cranking up the ISO can light up a dark scene. When you balance the levers properly like a teeter totter a natural feel will emerge.

Tips For Getting the Best Slow Shutter Speed Shot

If you are ready to get started with some slow shutter speed photography, these quick and easy tips will help take your images to the next level and ensure you really capture the power of slow shutter speeds.

  • When capturing a moving subject, pick an area that isn’t moving as your focal point, it is much easier than trying to find a focal point on the moving subject.
  • Take advantage of the Shutter Priority mode on your camera—if you have one. This will let you select a shutter speed while the camera selects the aperture.
  • If you find there is too much light coming in when shooting in a slow shutter speed, and you don’t have a neutral density filter—use the lowest ISO setting on your camera.
  • Bring a backup battery. When you use shutter speeds longer than one second—it will drain your camera’s battery much more than normal shooting will, so you want to be prepared.
Hawaii Sunset Photography

A Hawaiian Sunset with a focus on the sun setting — Often times you can underexpose your shot to get more detail in the sun and bring out the colors of the foreground in post production


Shooting with a slow shutter speed can open up a world of possibilities with your photographic adventures. Just remember, that shooting with slow shutter speeds takes more trial and error than virtually any other type of shot—so just stay patient as you find the best exact settings for each photo opportunity that comes your way.

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