Slowing down – slow shutter speed and how to use it

In photography, shutter speed is the length of time the film or digital sensor inside the camera is exposed to light. This is determined by setting the time in which the camera’s shutter is open while capturing a photograph.

The main reason for slowing down the shutter is actually a solution to a problem. The lack of light. By lowering your shutter speed, you are extending the time in which your camera let’s in light. As a result you are able to photograph in darker situations. The problem with doing this is that any motion from your subject, or motion from yourself, is reflected in the image you take. The lower the shutter speed the more motion blur.

This blog is about using that motion to create interesting and unique images with several slow shutter speed techniques. Blur isn’t always a four letter word!

1/40 Sec – f/10 – ISO 100

Panning is a photography technique in which the photographer follows their subject as it moves across a scene. As the subject moves the photographer has to match the speed of the subject, following it in the viewfinder and making sure it stays in the same place. The key to successful panning is timing and practice. Because you have to have a very slow shutter speed, the success rate for in focus images drops considerably.

The principle of panning is simple, as long as you keep the subject in exactly the same position in the frame, it will remain focused while all other movement in the background or foreground will be blurred. Theory is one thing, in reality it is a harder shot to get right. like many things practice makes perfect.

An important thing to remember is; as you press the shutter button you must make sure you continue panning for the duration of the motion, as you must match the speed for the whole exposure. Continue shooting more than one photo so that you stand more of a chance capturing the action. Remember to turn off the stabilisation on your lens, as this will mean your lens is trying to counteract your movement. In this case, the more movement the better.

1/30 – f/29 – ISO 100

1/30 Sec – f/22 – ISO 800

A slow shutter speed blurs the movement in the scene. So motion must either be captured, or created by moving the camera. The examples above involve moving the camera to track the motion of the subject, the opposite can also work. You can use a slow shutter speed to show motion in the background or foreground of a subject.

In the next few examples the motion comes from the environment rather than the subject. As long as the camera stays still for the duration of the exposure, only the background or foreground motion will be reflected in the image captured.

1/10 Sec – f/4 – ISO 640

1/800 Sec – f/6.3 – ISO 800

When creating slow shutter speed shots, you need to be able to take full control of your shutter speed. You can either shoot in full manual mode, or my preferred way of shooting is to change to Tv mode (Shutter priority) on canon cameras, or S mode on Nikon. Shutter priority mode means that your camera automatically adjusts f-stop while you can control the shutter speed and ISO. The main bonus of this mode is that any changes to your shutter speed is independent to that of your settings in Manual mode, making it easy to switch between the two without missing a moment.

Depending on the subject photographed, and technique used, you can adjust the shutter speed accordingly. You can see this information below each of my images as an example. The lower the shutter speed the more light reaches the sensor, so you may have to lower you ISO or increase you f number to counter that, depending on light conditions.

1/10 Sec – f/13 – ISO 100








The last technique I will touch on is creating motion in a static scene. While it is more abstract, sometimes this technique can create an interesting artistic image from an otherwise bland scene.

By moving your camera in a panning motion, although the subject is stationary, you will blur everything in the direction you move your camera. Colour and textures is key to this style of photography. It is all about experimenting, not everything will work, and that doesn’t matter, have fun with experimenting!

1/10 Sec – f/11 – ISO 250








These are just a few ideas to hopefully inspire, and answer some frequently asked questions. I hope this blog was helpful. If there is any question you would like answered on slow shutter speed, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading!

William Steel
Sigma Ambassador