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Blur action with slow shutter speeds

A bit of creative blur can make a big difference to a photograph as Rob Sheppard explains.

|  Landscape and Travel
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Simply Digital PhotographyThis tutorial is from chapter 5 of the Simple Digital Photography book by Rob Sheppard. Visit Wiley for more information.

Shutter speed is not simply about stopping action. A speed can be too slow for a particular action, causing the movement to be blurred. This is obviously a problem if you want to stop the action of an athlete but get a blurry image. However, blurs can be used creatively and can show more of the world than we can even see. If you want to experiment with blurs, then be sure to choose a shutter speed that really blurs the subject. Slight blurs look like a poorly photographed subject or a mistake.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Photo by David Clapp.

The world is not timed to a shutter speed
The camera artificially stops action so that you can get a photograph. Movement can be photographed in other ways than simply stopped action, however. When you photograph movement over time, you get a blur, but you also see what movement looks like from a different timeframe.

Slow shutter speeds create blur
Slow shutter speeds mean that your shutter is open while movement and action occur. That creates blur. How slow a shutter speed causes blur depends on the movement. A hummingbird's wings can be blurred at 1/10,000 second but a snail is not blurred at 1/60 second.

Water looks great with slow shutter speeds
Water is a classic subject for slow shutter speeds. This allows you to get those beautiful, smooth water shots that actually show the flow patterns of the water. Try shutter speeds of ½ to 1 second at first and then check the results in your LCD. You need a tripod or other camera support for slow speeds.

Blurs can be creative

When slow shutter speeds are used on other subjects, the results can be unpredictable, but also quite attention getting. For example, try sports action at 1/8 or 1/15 second. Follow the subject as it moves and release the shutter as you continue to pan with the subject.

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