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.