Expand Your dSLR Creativity with Slow Shutter Speeds

By David D. Busch

Ordinarily, photographers consider blurry images a bad thing. When you use a shutter speed that’s so slow your subjects are rendered as a big blur, say something like, “Oh, I meant to do that! I was showing the fleetingness of time against the backdrop of fast-paced society.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.

On the other hand, you can get some interesting images by using a slow shutter speed if you allow some portions of your image to blur while other portions remain razor-sharp. The classic application of this concept is the photograph of the babbling stream, with the woodsy surroundings rendered in sharp detail, while the flowing water merges into a ghostly blur.

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The secret, of course, is to mount the camera on a tripod and use a slow shutter speed. Anything that moves is blurred, but the stationary surroundings are, in contrast, very sharp. You aren’t limited to waterfalls and streams. Street scenes shot with long exposures typically feature blurry car headlights and taillights, which can add some foreground interest.

Look around. You can find a lot of subjects that you can make more interesting if you let them blur a little. Mount the camera on a tripod. Try different shutter speeds, reviewing your results on your dSLR’s LCD until you find the speed that produces the effect you want. Use Shutter Priority mode and select a range of speeds, from 1∕30 of a second to about 1 second.