Ultimate Guide to Slow Shutter Speed Photography

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Shutter speed is one of the three most important settings in photography, the other two being aperture and ISO. Shutter speed can be used to change the amount of light that is being captured by the sensor. Fast or slow shutter speed can be used to create various creative effects such as freezing the action or motion blur.

Shutter speed comes from a mechanical part inside the camera known as shutter. You can refer to various parts of a DSLR camera in this post here.

A DSLR camera has a curtain that is known as shutter. This shutter or curtain remains closed when the photographer is viewing the scene through the eyepiece. When the photographer wants to capture the scene he presses down what is called a shutter button.

As the shutter button is pressed down the shutter opens and allows the light coming from the lens to pass through to the camera sensor. Once the collection of light is complete the shutter closes again. The amount of time for which the shutter is open and the sensor is exposed to the light is measured in terms of shutter speed.

What is slow shutter speed ?

Shutter speed is measured in terms of time. Fast shutter speed means the shutter was open for small amount of time. In other word the shutter opened and closed back again quickly. This means that sensor had very little time to capture the light or scene in front.

Slow shutter speed means the shutter was open for a relatively long time. It means more time was available for sensor to capture the light or the scene in front of the camera.

Fast or slow shutter speeds are relative terms . Shutter speeds are measured as a fraction of second or in seconds. In general fast shutter speed can be anything less than 1/50th of a second and slow shutter speed can be anything more than a second. This again depends on the scene that you are trying to capture.

Shutter speed is said to be slow when it is not adequate to capture action happening in front of the camera without any motion blur.

slow shutter speed photography
Shutter speed chart

If you are shooting a steady lifeless object with camera mounted on a tripod then even 1 second is not slow shutter speed. Whereas if you are shooting a hummingbird then even 1/1000th of a second is also a slow shutter speed as it cannot capture the bird without motion blur.

DSLR and Mirrorless cameras are both capable of slow shutter speed photography.

Difference between slow and fast shutter speed in photography

The main difference between fast and slow shutter speed photography here is the way you capture your subject.

In fast shutter photography you want to freeze the action and capture the moment without any sense of movement or motion.

In slow shutter speed photography you want to achieve the exact opposite. You want to capture the sense of motion and get the motion blur or smooth movement in your photograph.

Shutter speed examples

1/4000 or 1/2000 are some examples of very fast shutter speed while 1/4 to 30 sec are examples of slow shutter speeds. Below table explains the shutter speed values in typical DSLR camera.

Shutter speede chart
Slow Shutter speed examples

Anything more than 1 second is a slow shutter speed example.

Slow shutter speed settings

Slow shutter speed photography settings include key settings such as the shutter speed value itself , aperture and ISO.

For slow shutter speed photography the ISO should be kept to minimum possible on the Camera , ISO 100 is generally recommended.

Depending on the type of shot the aperture should be selected. In most cases the slow shutter speed photography requires the aperture to be closed down. In most cases aperture of 11 or more is recommended to keep everything in focus and to achieve slow shutter speeds.

Slow shutter speed photography ideas

Slow shutter speed photos are generally used for creative effects. There are many situations where a slow shutter speed captures the essence of the scene better than a faster shutter speed.

Slow shutter speed is many times used to depict or highlight the motion in the photograph. It can give you the feeling of the scene without being here. It enhances the appeal of the image to a large extend.

Slow shutter speed photography is generally associated with grainy images and noise in images. You can read here about how to avoid and fix noise in your images.

Here are some slow shutter speed examples in practice.

Motion Blur

Motion blur is a very creative effect used in slow shutter speed photography. Lets see some examples of motion blur photos.

Slow shutter speed photography waterfalls is a great example of using slow shutter speed technique to capture natural subjects.

Typical shutter speeds for these photographs is in the range of 1/8 to 1/16 sec. Motion blur cam be used in many creative ways but waterfall photography is where it really shines.

Motion blur can also be used vary effectively in any image where play of light can be captured.


This is a technique where one has to move the camera in the direction of the motion of the object you are trying to shoot. This creates a very interesting effect where the object appears to be sharp and steady while the background is blur and appears moving.

This effect is mostly used for cars , busses , trains etc, Lets see some examples of panning photography.

slow shutter speed panning
Slow shutter speed : Panning
Slow shutter speed : Panning

Long exposure photography

Long exposure photography is one of the primary ways of slow shutter speed photography. IN this method the shutter speed is generally very slow i.e 1/4 th of a second or slower. In many cases the shutter speed is even slower and shutter can be open for few hours !

Light trails , seascapes , light trails , star trails are some examples of long exposure photography. Lets see some examples of long exposure photos.

Light Trail Photography

Light trails photography is one of the most popular techniques used in long exposure photography. In this case camera is mounted on a tripod and the shutter speed is set to 1 sec or in some cases a little longer also.

You generally need an underexposed image with only the lights getting highlighted. The headlights and taillights of the vehicles create beautiful trails due to the slow shutter speed.

You can see yellow color trails for headlights and red color trails for taillights.

Seascape Photography

Smooth, silky and mystic looking seascapes is probably the most widely used technique in long exposure photography. In this technique the shutter speed is set in the range of 5 to 30 seconds depending on the look you want to achieve and also the time of the day you are shooting it.

Seascapes are generally shot just after the sunset or can even be shot well after the sunset with very long shutter speeds.

Long or slow shutter speeds make the water silky smooth and creates a nice effect with stationary objects appearing sharp and steady.

Lets see some examples of seascapes in long exposure photography.

Light painting

Light painting is also a very creative way of using long exposure photography or slow shutter speed photography. In this case the camera cam be mounted on tripod or can be handheld also. Shutter speed can be in the range of 1/4 to few mins depending on the look that you want to achieve.

Night Sky photography

Night sky photography is a separate subject in itself. Slow shutter speeds are used to capture the star trails or milky way galaxy . We will see it in detail in another post but lets take a look at some examples of night sky photography in long exposure photography.

The camera must be on tripod and the shutter speed will generally be in terms of hours. Shutter release is used for this with camera in Bulb mode.

Night sky photography is done between the two astronomical twilight periods.

Slow shutter speed photography in daylight

Slow shutter speed photography in daylight is a little difficult to achieve unless you use a specific lens accessory. Imagine a bright sunny day, If you set your ISO to minimum of 100 and keep the aperture to the smallest size of say F22 you will still get a shutter speed value of around 1/50 sec for the correct exposure.

1/50 is by no means slow shutter speed and will not give you the desired results. The trick here to get the shutter speed even slower is to use the ND filter.

As you add ND filter over the lens , it cuts out some amount of light and this will mean a slower shutter speed to maintain the exposure. You can use a 1 , 2 or even up to 8 stops of ND filter.

This can give you significantly slow shutter speed even in daylight condition.

Slow shutter speed photography artists

Here is a list of some great slow shutter speed photography artists.

  1. Rosemarie Fiore
  2. Andrew Stawarz
  3. Sara Heinrichs
  4. Toby Keller
  5. Sam Javanrouh
  6. Brenda Ferguson

Slow shutter speed photography

To summarize , slow shutter speed can be used in so many creative and beautiful ways. It can be used in street photography , cityscapes , landscapes , seascapes and so much more.

Go on take your camera and create some stunning slow shutter photos !