Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

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Certain photos can be improved drastically by using a slow shutter speed (long shutter speed) technique. when you have moving water or moving clouds in your picture. You can create a nice blurred effect on these parts of the photo, while other parts of the photo will remain steady to anchor the photo.

In this tutorial, I will list some of the slow shutter speed ideas, and discuss the suitable gear to be used, and its proper settings.

What is slow shutter speed photography?

Slow shutter speed photography is a technique in photography where the camera’s shutter speed is set to a slow or longer duration than what is typically used to capture a still image. This is done to intentionally capture motion blur or create a sense of motion in the photograph.

In slow shutter speed photography, the camera’s shutter is kept open for a longer period of time, allowing more light to enter the camera sensor and capturing any movement that occurs during the exposure. The resulting image may show motion blur in the moving subjects or a sense of movement in stationary objects, like a flowing river or clouds in the sky.

The right gear for Slow Shutter Speed Photography

Be prepared by picking up the right gear for shooting, knowing that most of your shots will be taken in a low-light environment. The following gear is what you need:

  • Camera: any digital camera that is capable of shooting in manual mode and is able to adjust the settings of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
  • Wide-angle lens: Pack a wide-angle lens for the maximum amount of view from your vantage point. A wide-angle lens lets you capture more in the frame, so you don’t miss anything.
  • Tripod: a tripod is the number one piece of equipment you need to shoot long shutter-speed photography. It helps reduce camera shake and provides stability for your shots. The more stabilized your camera is, the less likely it is that your images will turn out blurry.
  • Shutter remote: The remote shutter lets you control your camera’s shutter from a distance. It helps reduce camera shake and limit blurry images.
  • ND Filter: an ND filter, or neutral-density filter, is a semi-transparent piece of glass that could be mounted in front of your lens. The filter prevents a certain amount of incoming light from passing to the optical sensor. In the case of shooting light trail photography, when using an ND filter, you can use a longer shutter speed than otherwise possible to soften the appearance of turbulent water and blur the moving water in a waterfall. It might come in handy when you want to reduce how much light is coming into your camera so that you can use a longer shutter without overexposing your photo.

Camera setting basics to capture long shutter speed

Understanding how to adjust your camera settings of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed is essential to capture long shutter speed photography. In addition, to be able to manipulate these three elements of the exposure triangle, you have to use the Manual mode in your camera.

  • ISO is a measure of the light sensitivity of the digital sensor of your cameras. The higher the ISO, the more light a camera captures. Most modern cameras have ISO settings that range from ISO 100 to ISO 1600 while other cameras may have even higher ISO options. Try to keep your ISO as low as possible to avoid adding noise to your image.
  • Shutter speed is the amount of time a camera’s shutter remains open to let light pass through the lens to the camera sensor. Shutter speeds range from thousandths of a second to many seconds or minutes. Slow Shutter Speed photography favors shutter speeds between 5 and 60 seconds, or more.
  • Aperture controls how much light your lens lets in the camera. The aperture is also called an f-stop and is labeled on cameras with measurements like f/8 or f/22. A favorable aperture setting for long shutter speed photography is typically about an f/16.

Slow shutter speed Guide

The below list shows shutter speeds guideline for some shooting scenarios:

Fireworks: 2-4 sec

Blurring water: 1-5 sec

Stars trails: 20-30 sec

Light trails: 8-30 sec

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

A slow shutter speed photography needs careful planning before actually taking the shot. To catch amazing silky clouds you need to watch out for the weather to select the right day. Also, you need a totally dark sky when planning to shoot star trails.

Generally, an optimal time to shoot light trail photography is during blue hour. Blue hour bumps right up against the popular golden hour (the time at night right before sunset). Blue hour is the time between sunset and nightfall when shades of blue appear in the sky, as the sun is far enough below the horizon to cause blue shades of light to illuminate the sky. Low-light sources are visible during blue hour, but it’s not so deep into the night that it shrouds your whole scene in darkness,

The following are some ideas to take amazing photos with a slow shutter speed:


Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Sơn Bờm

Light trail photography is an interesting and special type of photography because you’re able to depict something that isn’t actually real in any one instant.

Car light trail images capture the paths of illumination created by the headlights or taillights of a vehicle. Light trail photography creates art from moving lights; it is a type of long-exposure photography that highlights the movement of light.

By keeping the camera shutter open for a long period, you can collect more light and show how that light moves across the frame.

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Rudolf Kirchner

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Andrei Photo

2- Fireworks


Photo by Depositphotos

Fireworks photography is a type of photography that involves capturing images of fireworks displays in the night sky. Fireworks photography can be a challenging but rewarding form of photography because it requires careful planning, technical knowledge, and creative vision.

A slow shutter speed is essential for capturing the trails of light created by the fireworks. Start with a shutter speed of around 1 to 6 seconds, depending on the brightness and duration of the fireworks.

Adjust the aperture to control the amount of light entering the camera and the depth of field in your images. A smaller aperture (higher f-number) can create a deeper depth of field, while a larger aperture (lower f-number) can create a shallow depth of field and blur the background.

Further reading: Fireworks Photography Settings – Steps & Guidelines

firworks in a dark sky to celebrate 4th of july in washington

Photo by Depositphotos


Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Zukiman Mohamad

In order to make the water look silky and smooth, you need to use slower shutter speeds to show the movement of the waterfall. When you use a slow shutter speed, perhaps around 1-2 seconds, all of the water that moves during that time will blur itself onto the sensor. That’s what creates the silky look.

You need to try different speed settings in manual mode until you find something you like, you also need to consider the size of the cascades. If it’s a large, forceful waterfall, you can use shutter speeds like 0.5 seconds to start with. If you’re shooting waterfalls that are smaller or without as much flow, use a longer shutter speed like 5 seconds, and see how it looks.

Further reading: Photographing Waterfall Tutorial- Tips & Equipment You Should Use

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by NADExRioTic

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Anastasia


Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Image by dominador from Pixabay

If you get to witness a sunrise or a sunset with puffy, stormy clouds that are lit up from underneath with colorful sun rays, creating a fiery view, including the clouds in your photographs would make the scene appear much more colorful and alive.

In fact, clouds can be so beautiful, that they could become the main element of composition in your photographs.

There is no magic formula for the shutter speed, as clouds move at different speeds according to the wind speeds, and their latitude.

Using a polarizing filter can help separate the clouds from the sky and darken the sky. Just attach the polarizing filter in front of your lens, then rotate it until you see the effect in the viewfinder. At the right angle, a polarizing filter can make a huge difference and make clouds really “pop” from the sky, by blocking certain light waves from entering the lens. If you are new to photography and want to read up more on using different types of filters, check out my article on lens filters.

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Eyrie Photography on Unsplash

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Pixabay

5- Motion Blur

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Felix Büsselmann

Motion blur is a long-exposure photography technique that lets you convey the feeling of movement or action in a still image. Whether you want to create a sense of speed with a high-speed train or capture the abstract look of people crossing a busy intersection, motion blur lets you create a photo in a way that lets you express a new perspective on reality.

When photographing objects in fast motion, such as trains, the blur can turn the lights on the moving object into beautiful streaks of color.

Motion blur doesn’t blur the entire frame, it blurs the moving object only and leaves the main subject in focus.

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Pixabay


Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Thgusstavo Santana

Panning is another way to depict motion in a shot. It is the opposite of the motion blur mentioned in the last paragraph. Rather than steady your shot with a tripod and blur an object in motion, use the panning technique to move your camera with the subject and freeze it in focus against a blurred background. Ideally, the subjects will be sharply defined against what looks to be a blurry moving background.

For a good panning shot, the camera should match the speed of the subject and move as they do. Having the shutter open longer is key to getting a nice motion blur. A shutter speed of about 1/30 to 1/80 of a second may be adequate.  While that’s not a lot of time in human terms, it makes a great difference for the equipment. This exposes the sensor to light longer. It also gives a moving camera time to capture motion.

Shooting panning needs a lot of practice to match the speed of the subject, so try first at slow-moving subjects.

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Dmitriy Tarasenko

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Philipp Fahlbusch


Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Alexey Chudin

Star trails photography is Capturing the apparent movement of stars across the sky as the Earth rotates, it can give you surreal and compelling images. Longer exposure times give longer star trails.

You may use a very long shutter speed (long enough to register some noticeable star movement; at least 30 minutes). When photographing stars under one exposure, you need to do it during a new moon night (completely dark sky)

Further reading: Milky Way Photography Tips

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Ehab Amin

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Ehab Amin


Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Photo by Adam Hornyak on Unsplash

This technique is called light painting, painting with light, or light drawing. Since the 1880s the technique is used for both scientific and artistic purposes, as well as in commercial photography.

A light painting photographer opens a camera’s shutter and keeps it open as they draw in the air with a light source. Painting with light is a popular photographic activity mostly because it is fairly easy to achieve great results, requires little specialist equipment and you can get some really interesting results.

Besides the required gear for long shutter speed photography listed earlier in this post, a light source is required, this can be a wireless flash, torch, led tubes, or anything that emits a bright light. The more variations in size and color of the light source the better.

Further reading: Light Painting Photography Technique

Slow Shutter Speed Photography Ideas

Image by Merlin Lightpainting from Pixabay


Slow shutter speed photography involves using a longer exposure time, allowing more light to enter the camera and creating interesting effects such as motion blur, light trails, and smooth water surfaces. Some popular ideas for slow shutter speed photography include capturing car headlights on a busy street, photographing fireworks, creating long exposures of waterfalls or rivers, and taking photos of people or animals in motion.

Additionally, experimenting with different shutter speeds and camera settings can lead to unique and creative results. Slow shutter speed photography offers endless opportunities for artistic expression and can result in stunning and captivating images.

Related posts

What Is Shutter Speed In Photography

Long Shutter Speed Photography – How To Apply It?

Milky Way Photography Tips

What Is The Exposure Triangle In Photography?


Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the article, in case you have any questions just drop them below & I will be happy to answer you.

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  • I have always wondered how photographers get this effect, because when I try and take a movement photograph, it just comes out like a blurr.

    I didn’t know that it had to be done in low light, and I see you do need some extra equipment like a tripod, adjustable camera and a wide angled lens, as well as an ND filter. So that is how the pros get it looking so perfect.

    And now I know how they do light trail photography in a similar way, but I am sure this is going to take a whole lot more practice on my part. I think it is going to be a lot of trail and error to get those shutter speeds perfect? 

    • Hi Michel, thanks for your feedback. With modern digital cameras, the cost of taking photos became nothing, if you are really interested then you would not mind spending more time practicing.  I wish you all the success in your next long shutter speed shooting. 

  • Wow this articleis very informative and it is a very good guide 

    even as a beginner to taking photos, the guide has made everything 

    simple for me and it has literally rised an intrest in me to want 

    to order a pair of the camera and take photos myself the only question I have is 

    do you get a discount if you buy at cameras

    • Thank you for your comment, and really appreciate it. The site only will earn a commission if you buy through our affiliate links. But we are not sponsored by any camera brand or any photography equipment makers. 

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