Time Elongated – A Practical Tip


This is a good tip to get a different picture than most of us typically get. It’s also one that shows that breaking «the rules» isn’t a bad idea – although this tip is often enough used to maybe not be regarded as really breaking the rules any more.

Nevertheless, by using a longer shutter speed when capturing movement you are able to convey that flowing feeling of the subject being in motion. The longer shutter speed captures the movement as a blurring, elongated and very dynamic form. It creates a more moody expression than if the movement was frozen by a short shutter speed. Usually the rule is to use a tripod when you are going for a longer shutter speed, because the hands will no longer be steady enough to keep the frame fixed. My suggestion as part of the tip, though, is actually to shoot handheld with the longer shutter speed. Not only will the movement itself come out in the frame as a flowing motion, but the surroundings will also be blurred and add to that dynamic expression as well as add intensity to the photo. An additional benefit is that you never really know what you get. Which I think is exciting on its own. Of course, it also means that you often won’t capture a photo of any value, but every so often something magical comes out of the experiment. It’s just a matter of keep shooting long enough.

So true the longer exposure. More often than not, many photographers choose to freeze the movement. This creates often dramatic, singular moments. By blurring people’s movement, you create a different kind of moment, one that seems stretched out and more abstract. The longer the shutter speed the more abstract the result will be. If you are after an abstract expression, the longer shutter speed, handheld, can also be used on static subjects.

I used the technique in the photo accompanying this post. This is taken in New York, in the Wall Street area. Around lunchtime, I had noticed the businessmen and -women rushing to and from their office and a nearby coffee or lunch place. They seem rushed and don’t seem to have time to notice their lives passing by so rapidly. This sense is what I wanted to convey in the photo, hence the long shutter speed and a handheld camera.

To use the technique you need to set your shutter speed at 1/15 or longer. The «best» shutter speed depends on what you are after as well as the speed of the moment and its angle to the camera. The faster the relative speed is, the faster a shutter speed you may want to choose – and the more abstract an expression you are after, the longer a shutter speed is needed. There is really no right and wrong. Use the preview on the camera to experiment and find what works for you and the subject. This tip might not work on the simplest of point-and-shoot cameras but most camera, whether point-and-shoot or DSLR’s, let you choose a specific shutter speed (and if not, you may be able to get around it by shifting or dialing what the program mode has selected). If possible, choose shutter priority mode on your camera and then the appropriate shutter speed. You may have to lower your ISO-setting, too, to be able to get a proper exposure with a slow shutter speed.

This is another instalment of a series of tips that can improve you photography. However, as stated when I started this series, there aren’t really any simple and easy tricks that will magically result in great photography. Nevertheless, there are techniques and small secrets of the trade that may be handy to know about to handle certain situations or just to increase your creative toolbox.


58 thoughts on “Time Elongated – A Practical Tip

  1. I love photos like this–and cars at night where their lights create a blur. It conveys exactly what you said–their lives passing by too rapidly. I do enjoy these tips, Otto. Thank you so much.

  2. I am in New York right now and the movement and “pulse” of the city is fascinating. I keep thinking that a blurred image could capture some of the energy that permeates this city but was not sure how to do this.

    Thank you for the great tip! Now I am set to go and try it out tomorrow! Thank again – I find a lot of inspiration in your blogs!

  3. You describe this well: the need to break the rules to fully understand where photography can a photographer (so unique for each person), and shutter speed can be such a creative tool to capture the feel of the scene.

  4. Very well written and instructive, Otto. Long exposures are most often used in landscapes and they are very interesting in other settings like street photography.

  5. Otto, since quite some time I use a variation of the technique you describe here: As many camera offer stabilisation, either for the sensor or in the lens, I concentrate on a speed that I can hand-hold for good sharpness but at the same time can get blurred pedestrians, like here in the “Lyon Runner” or the Octoberfest outfitter and some more.

    The idea for these images I got from Otto Steinert, one of the important photography teachers in Germany after WWII. His image “Ein Fussgänger” (A pedestrian, but you might also read the title as “Einfussgänger”, which would be translated one-legged-pedestrian) I loved since the first time I saw it. Find it here on artnet

  6. This image certainly flows! I’m not a huge fan of this technique, although I have sometimes seen it used to great advantage. I think I feel better when some part of the image is in focus. I get a little anxious with the “underwater” effect. 😉

  7. This is one I’ve thought about and not tried until I read this post Otto. I used a longer shutter speed whilst taking landscape shots from a moving car. I got some interesting results! It’s a great tip!

  8. It’s been interesting for me to follow a couple of landscape photographers who use long exposures to achieve certain effects, such as silky water. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it seems affected. I’m beginning to think that, as with most photographic techniques, the skill lies in knowing how to use shutter speed to freeze motion or elongate it, but the art lies in knowing when the technique will add to the photo, or achieve a particular goal.

    At present, I’m more interested in learning how to stop motion, as with grasses blowing about in the wind. But I can foresee a time when allowing for blur could be very effective, and your tips are great.

    1. You are very right in your assessment about different techniques. In and of themselves they don’t create any value, but used as a tool to tell some specific they add to the photographer’s toolbox to be able to create art.

  9. I think you captured the feeling you were going for very well. I’ve recently begun experimenting with capturing blurred motion with my iPhone, using an app called Slow Shutter. It’s a new area for me, since I’ve never been a fan of the “silky” water look and have always tried to stop motion in my landscape and nature photography. I really like your use of the motion blur here.

    1. I agree with you in that sometimes those silky looks on running water are over the top. But it doesn’t mean that sometimes it’s a technique that works for the subject and whatever the photographer is trying to tell.

  10. It’s so interesting to me how looking at your photo I see it as compelling and very artistic, but I’ve never really looked at the photos I’ve taken, albeit they weren’t intentional, that blurred the action. I just immediately dismissed them. I can see how the blurring of these images may tell a stronger story than a still action shot of the same people. This is a delightful new challenge to me, Otto.

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