Shutter-speed and motion

Table of contents:

Effects of Shutter-speed on Motion

long-exposure at shutter-speed of 15 sec.

f/11, 4 exposures each of 30 sec., ISO-64, FL-34 mm eqv., Nikon d810, Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India 2015.

Shutter-speed wrt Motion

Shutter-speed can capture motion, or freeze any motion. A slow-shutter can capture some motion of a moving object in the form of motion-blur. A fast shutter-speed can freeze the motion of a fast moving subject, as if, it was not moving.

Before you start reading this page, you might be familiar with exposure triangle and shutter-speed.

Table of contents:

Slow shutter-speed captures motion

When we use a slow-shutter on a moving subject, camera will capture some motion in the form of blur (called motion-blur). The amount of motion-blur will depend upon the shutter-speed, the speed of the subject, and the distance between lens and subject. Slower the shutter-speed, or higher the speed of subject, more motion-blur will be captured. Also less lens to subject distance will be helpful to capture more motion-blur.

Generally we do not want blur in our photos; We want them to be sharp; and for that, a fast-shutter is used. But, using a slow-shutter on a moving subject is an artistic way of capturing motion. By looking at that image, you can tell that motion was there.

In the following image, a shutter-speed of 113 sec. was used to capture the motion of the bushes & small trees.

slow shutter-speed from running train

A slow-shutter image
f/9, 113 sec., ISO-100, FL-15 mm eqv.,
Nikon d7000, Sigma 10-20mm, Haflong, India 2016.

When using a slow-shutter, we have to remember that we are allowing more light to the sensor/film. To compensate that (to block some light), we may need to use lower ISO or narrower aperture, whichever suits the situation.

slow shutter-speed catches wave motion

A slow-shutter image
f/18, 115 sec., ISO-31, FL-16 mm eqv.,
Nikon d810, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, Pangong Lake, Ladakh, India 2018.

The above image is an examples of slow-shutter shot with a shutter-speed of 1⁄15 sec.

In the following image , I purposefully used a slow shutter-speed of 120 sec. to capture the rotating motion of the artists .

slow shutter-speed effect motion captured

A slow-shutter image
f/13, 120 sec., ISO-220, FL-16 mm eqv.,
Nikon d810, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, Purulia, West Bengal, India 2019.

Slow shutter-speed can be creative, but if used unknowingly/accidentally, may ruin a shot. Let us check this photograph of a flute-seller taken in very low-light environment.

slow shutter-speed ruined this photograph

For the above photograph, shutter-speed was ¼ sec. with an aperture of f/1.8 and ISO 640. The shutter-speed was too slow (unintentional), my camera got a shake, and the shot was ruined.

fast shutter-speed darkens a photograph

In the same environment, the above image was shot with 1200 sec., other variables remaining the same. Though the shutter-speed was sufficiently fast to freeze the subject, ISO of 640 was not adequate to brighten the scene. This wrong settings resulted in an underexposed image.

However, I did shoot it in raw format, so some brightness could be added in post-processing. The processed image is on the right side.

Mistakes are inevitable in photography, specially, when someone buys his first camera and practises shooting. The more we shoot, the more we learn. Frequent shooting in the field will gather experience for you, and number of mistakes will reduce gradually.

slow-shutter-speed catches rickshaw motion

A slow-shutter image
f/5.6, 140 sec., ISO-160, FL-15 mm eqv.,
Nikon d7000, Sigma 10-20mm, Delhi, India 2016.

In the above image, the motion of the cycle-rickshaw was captured using a slow shutter of 1⁄40 sec.

slow-shutter-speed catches wave motion

A slow-shutter image
f/14, 115 sec., ISO-31, FL- 16 mm eqv.,
Nikon d810, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4,
Havlock Island, Andaman, India 2017.

Again, a slow-shutter of 115 sec. was used to capture the motion of the waves in the above image. You can check that a low ISO of 31 and narrow aperture of f/14 was used to block the excess light caused by slow shutter-speed.

Slow-shutter can be creative if used suitably. There are other slow-shutter tecniques like panning, zoom-burst, long-exposure, astro-photography etc. which will be discussed later.

Fast shutter-speed freezes motion

In comparison to slow-shutter, fast shutter-speeds have straight-forward effects : darkening an image, and freezing motion.

fast shutter-speed freezes birds-in-flight

A fast-shutter image
f/5.6, 11250 sec., ISO-220, FL- 450mm eqv.,
Nikon d7000, Nikkor 70-300mm f/4 - 5.6,
Guwahati, Assam, India 2015.

As fast shutter-speeds can freeze or stop motion, they are frequently used in sports and wildlife photography. In BIF (bird-in-flight) photography, you must use fast shutter-speed to stop fast-moving birds. In the above image, a speed of 11250 th. sec. was used. Even except those situations, when there is too much of light in a scenario, you may have to resort to a fast-shutter to block some light.

fast shutter-speed freezes fountain flow

f/11, 18000 sec., ISO-100, FL- 18mm eqv., Nikon d7000, Sigma 10-20mm, Puri, India 2015.

In the above image, I experimentally used a speed of 18000 th. second to stop the motion of the water particles. In general, fast shutter-speeds allow less light, and should be compensated by higher ISO or/and wider aperture. But in this case, there was excess light in the scenario, so iso-100 and aperture f/11 worked.

fast shutter-speed freezes wave motion

A fast-shutter image
f/6.3, 18000 sec., ISO-400, FL- 27mm eqv.,
Nikon d7000, Nikkor 18 - 105mm, Puri, Orissa, India 2015.

fast shutter-speed freezes wave motion

Crop of the above ( 18000 th. sec.)

fast shutter-speed freezes copter-blades motion

Example of fast shutter-speed of 12500 sec.

In the above image a fast shutter-speed of 12500 sec. was applied and this resulted in the freezing of the fast-rotating blades of the helicopter.

There is another situation when photographers are bound to apply very fast shutter-speed (if not using ND filter). When shooting portrait, to acheive a very shallow depth-of-field (almost everything blurred out except the subject), they have to set a very wide aperture, like f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2 etc.

Now in a very bright light condition, this large aperture will allow excessive light to the sensor or film, resulting in over-exposure. To block some light, a fast shutter-speed and lowest possible native ISO of the camera is recommended here. And if the fastest shutter-speed and lowest ISO still allows more light than required, then CPL or ND filters have to be used to avoid over-exposure.

Panning in photography with slow shutter

The panning technique in photography depicts the sense of motion of a moving subject. The idea is to follow a moving subject with your camera; while keeping the subject in focus, shoot the scenario with a slow shutter-speed. In this way, the subject will be sharp, and all the stationary elements will obtain a motion blur.

panning photography

Panning Photography
f/5.6, 16 sec., ISO-1000, FL- 27mm eqv.,
Fuji x-t30, Fuji 18-55mm f/2.8-4, Digha, India 2023.

The amount of motion blur of the stationary elements will depend upon

  1. the speed of the subject,
  2. shutter-speed applied and
  3. lens to subject distance.

panning photography

Panning Photography
f/3.2, 130 sec., ISO-3200, FL- 27mm eqv.,
Fuji x-t30, Fuji 18-55mm f/2.8-4, Kolkata, India 2023.

Put your camera's focus to continuous mode; this is important. Put drive mode for multiple shots. Use shutter-priority or manual mode, so that the shutter-speed may be changed quickly, if needed. Focus on your moving subject and pan your camera with the same speed as the subject has. During panning, keep the shutter pressed to get multiple images. Doing some practice with different shutter speeds and subject distance will get good panning photographs.

Long exposure photography

Long exposure photography is a technique in which the shutter-speed duration is intentionally extended for a long period of time to capture the motion of falling/running water, moving car-light etc.

long exposure photography

f/16, 30 sec. , ISO-100, FL- 17mm eqv.,
Nikon d7000 Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6, Goa, India 2014.

A sturdy tripod and remote are necessary for shooting such scenarios; though modern cameras with IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) and lenses with VR (vibration reduction) feature may help to shoot without tripods, if shutter-speed is less than one or two seconds.

When shutter-speeds is kept for 1 second or more, any motion in the scenario is captured as blur. For flowing/moving water, a creamy and aesthetic look can be recorded as is seen in the above image, where the shutter-speed was extended to 30 seconds.

But wait, we know that a slower/longer shutter-speed allows more light. Keeping the shutter open for 30 seconds will invite huge amount of light and the image will tend to over-exposure. We might be using lowest ISO and narrower aperture, but that too may not be sufficient to block the extra light.

Neutral density fiters

Here comes a tool named neutral density fiters which we mount in front of a lens. They are designed to block the incoming light.

When an N.D filter is marked as 9 stop filter, it means it will allow 9 stop less light as compared to the settings without the filter.

long-exposure at shutter-speed of 15 sec.

f/22, 15 sec., ISO-100, FL-15 mm eqv., Nikon d7000, Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6, Jayantia Hills, Meghalaya, India 2014.

The above scenario was full of sunlight. By metering, I found that the scenario could be properly exposed with the shutter-speed of 130 sec.

But I planned to extend the shutter speed to a longer period to capture the motion blur of the water. Attaching a 9-stop ND filter to the lens allowed me to reduce the shutter-speed to as low as 15 seconds, keeping the other variables unchanged.

Note that, even after resorting to a 9-stop N D filter, I had to dial a narrow aperture of f/22 because of too much light in the scenario. That has caused some amount of diffraction in the image, but I accepted it.

If an N D filter or equivalent tool is not with you, to capture long exposure photographs choose a time of early morning or evening when light is less hursh.

The following image was shot at around 11 pm, with almost no light. So, I could achieve a shutter-speed of 4.5 minutes without any filter. You may probably guess that my main target were the moving clouds which were wandering in the sky.

long-exposure at shutter-speed of 15 sec.

f/8, 270 sec., ISO-64, FL-19 mm eqv., Nikon d810, Nikon 16-35mm f/4, Pangong Lake, Ladakh, India 2014.

Only moving objects gain special effect in long exposure photography; stationary ones remain as they are. But we have to ensure that the tripod does not move or shake during the exposure period due to wind or some other reason.

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