Digital Photography Shutter Speed Effects

Shutter speed is perhaps the most creative adjustment available to the digital photographer. It allows us to freeze action or use motion blur to create a variety of effects, and is expressed in seconds or fractions of seconds depending on the length of exposure.

shutter-speed-effectsA high shutter speed (1/1000 of a second or higher) can freeze even very fast moving objects dead in their tracks. However, you will need to keep a couple of things in mind:

1.) You are going to need a brightly lit subject as shutter speeds this high don’t allow your camera much time to gather light for exposure. You can get around this to a degree by using a higher ISO setting, but don’t go to high, or noise will creep into your shot.

2.) If possible, set up your shot by having your camera focused on the spot where your subject is going to pass by. This will allow you to concentrate on timing your subject’s approach, giving you a better chance to trip the shutter at just the right moment.

Medium shutter speeds (1/20 of a second to 1/80 of a second) can be used to create motion blur when photographing moving objects. This gives the photo a sense of life and motion. Here are several ways you can approach this type of motion blur:

1.) With your camera stationary, trip the shutter as a moving subject passes by. This will make the subject look blurred, while keeping the rest of the shot clear—giving your subject a look of speed and a sense that it is moving out of the shot.

shutter-speed-effects22.) Follow your subject through the viewfinder in a smooth sweeping motion as it approaches, and trip the shutter as your subject goes by—this is called “panning.” This method will keep your subject relatively clear, but will blur the background, giving an overall sense of speed and movement. The timing for this type of shot takes a little practice, but the results make it worthwhile.

3.) When shooting a stationary subject, purposely move your camera in a sweeping or circular motion to create a blur of colours and lines. This one is a lot of fun and can provide some interesting abstract results.

Low shutter speeds (1/8 of a second up to 30 seconds and beyond) can be used to create a variety of effects—here are just a few:

Note: For most of these long exposures a tripod or some other means of keeping the camera perfectly still is necessary to avoid creating unintended blur.

1.) Moving water will look smooth and silky when shot at shutter speeds of 1/8 of a second or more—the longer the exposure the more pronounced the effect.

shutter-speed-effects32.) When photographed at shutter speeds of 2 seconds or greater, car lights will turn into long colourful trails—the longer the exposure, the longer the trails.

3.) When very long exposures are used (15 seconds plus) city lights will often take on a stretched, star-like appearance.

4.) Photographing city lights at shutter speeds of 1/15 of a second, or so, either from a moving vehicle, or while walking, can produce interesting and colourful abstracts (no tripod needed.)

Most digital cameras have a shutter speed priority setting, which allows you to control the shutter speed—try it—it can open up a whole new world, and its loads of fun to boot.

For more digital photography tips, visit Jeff Galbraith’s web site:

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

One response to “Digital Photography Shutter Speed Effects”

  1. martin sebb says:

    ok fine : but what about the fastest shutter speed (meaning time-lap release camera ) available on the market / mostly for sports’ shooting ? SLR & compact ? or in between?.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever