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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Newhall

Slow Shutter Speed: Why Should I Use It?

Updated: Jan 10

Do you know what shutter speed is? You probably do. Did you wonder what those color lines were on the cover image. Here's some tips and tricks that might come in handy if you're just starting out or, perhaps, if you're more experienced and curious!


You probably know that shutter speed is exactly that. It's the speed at which the shutter of the camera opens and closes. This is typically done (these days) at a fraction of a second. Though photographers have been known to take photos that took hours to make.


We should count our lucky stars. It used to take literally hours to get a properly developed photo regardless of the subject! That's probably why people in older portraits look so miserable. They were sitting (or standing) perfectly still for hours. Sounds awful doesn't it? That's because it was!


Below is an example of one of those modern multi-hour photos. This photo was taken with the shutter open for several hours. Anything that moved, such as an animal or human, doesn't appear because of that long exposure time. However, something that moves more slowly, such as the rotating earth, is shown here because the stars (to our eyes) "moved". The mountains, if you look closely, are in detail because mountains (as I'm sure most people are aware) don't move.

In order to create a photo like this, you need to keep the shutter open for the necessary amount of time. It doesn't have to be open for hours, though. You could have it open for less than a second and still get a blurry image. For example, I took this photo, "Dancing with the Light", with a roughly 1/60 shutter speed at night. That's how I got the beautiful lines you see on the image.


You might be wondering "but how did you get those lines if it was 1/60? Doesn't that usually make fairly still pictures?" That is an excellent question. It worked because it was night. My camera needed more time than usual to collect enough light, but it didn't have that. Instead, I got that beautiful picture.


Slow shutter speed can be quite fun to use and make some beautiful photos. It can also be quite frustrating You should be patient with it (and you) when using it. If you bump it, or it falls, or a person stands still too long, you might ruin the photo. Just remember: you can always do it again. I like to consider every slow action photo an experiment. I have literally no idea what I'm going to get. I'm not freezing a moment like I do with an action shot or a close up photo. I'm taking a photo of time passing. Because of that I have to remind myself that I cannot reliably control how clouds move or how people behave. Be patient with yourself and cut yourself some slack!


Photography doesn't have to be about "that moment." It can be about how time passes. Have any ideas you want to try out? Good luck, and I hope you enjoy the adventure!


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