Using shutter speed to create a blur in your images is one of many tools in your photography toolbox.
Here are some techniques to consider:
1. Panning. When panning, as you press down the shutter release button you follow the motion of your subject with your camera, from right to left, or left to right. The goal is to keep your subject as sharp as possible in your resulting image, with the background blurred. Panning is hard to get right. It requires practice and luck. The key is to move your camera at the same speed as your subject and to follow through in your movement even after the shutter is released. Set your focus to continuous, focus tracking, and burst mode. If your camera focus is slow or is not able to track the moving subject, pre-focus, using manual focus. Start panning at 1/30 second. Then, try lower shutter speeds and compare the differences. See what you prefer. Don’t forget to pay attention to the background. Busy or overly colorful backgrounds can be a distraction even though the background is blurry.
2. Drag the shutter. This technique works when you use a flash or strobe to light up your subject and rely on ambient light to light up your background. Your subject will be sharp because it is lit by the flash or strobe. I usually shoot in manual, when I am dragging the shutter since I want to maintain control of my shutter for the ambient light and of my aperture for the subject. I adjust ISO to maintain the aperture and shutter I prefer. (If the ISO is too high for my tastes, I then change my shutter and aperture settings.) I shot this image, to the right, of a young girl around midnight during Day of the Dead celebrations in San Miguel de Allende, with nothing more than a pop-up type flash on my Fuji X-T1. My shutter was set at 1/4 second. I always set my little pop-up style flash at -2 from the TTL setting, so it isn’t too “flashy”. At times I even put a band-aid over the little flash, to act as a diffuser. When I use a larger flash, I experiment between manually setting my flash and using the TTL function. When I have to act quickly, I put it on TTL but typically reduce the setting by 1 2/3. I usually set my camera to rear-curtain sync, so the flash discharges as the shutter is closing, not opening.
3. Quick flick. This is a modification of panning that I use when I want the subject blurred a bit, but not too much, so it is still set off from the background. I set my camera the same as for panning, but instead of following the subject with the camera, I flick the camera quickly in the direction my subject is moving. The image of the young man carrying flowers at a cemetery in San Miguel de Allende was shot as I flicked my camera at 1/8 second. Always keep in mind with regard to all of these techniques that slowing your shutter speed might overexpose your image. When the day is bright, you may have to shoot at a very low ISO and small aperture. Also, consider carrying a neutral density filter in your pocket or purse. The filter limits the light entering your camera, allowing you to shoot at a slower shutter speed. I use an eight stop variable neutral density filter as it provides me more options when I need to slow down my shutter speed.
4. Create Motion Blur. Use motion blur to create movement in an otherwise static subject. I love abstracts of trees created through motion blur. I set my aperture at f/22 and usually set my shutter speed between 1/4 and 1/15. Then I move my camera up or down in a straight line. This image of aspens in Colorado was taken at 1/8 second.
5. Soft Water. Whenever you photograph water consider slow shutter speeds. The slower the shutter speed, the softer and more ethereal the water. Use a tripod, if possible, to keep everything else in your photograph perfectly sharp. A neutral density filter will help you attain an even slower shutter speed to get your desired effect. I shot the waterfall in the Lake District of England at a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds. I used a variable neutral density filter. I shot several images at different filter settings and then decided upon the one image I preferred.
6. Do Nothing. Put your camera on a tripod, with no panning, and no flicking. Experiment with shooting moving subjects such as car lights or people crossing the street at different shutter speeds with the background sharp. The only blur is what is moving. Compare results.
7. Have fun. Keep something focused in the image, surrounded by blur. Make everything a blur. Don’t hold your camera steady, but move it in a circle. Or zoom your lens in and out as you depress the shutter. Get out of your comfort zone and practice using your shutter speed as a creative tool, to energize your images and develop a new perspective
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