Wasim Ahmad
Wasim Ahmad

Wasim Ahmad is a technical specialist at Canon USA specializing in EOS cameras. Previously, he was a journalism professor at Stony Brook University and a multimedia journalist for newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York. He holds a master's degree in Photography from Syracuse University.

Using slow shutter speeds to create interesting images

March 22, 2016

When trying to capture the world around you, it’s only natural to want to use a fast shutter speed to get things in your image nice and sharp; to freeze that moment in time.

But sometimes, it can create a more interesting image to stop trying to freeze the moment and instead drag it out with a slower shutter speed. You’ll get some interesting results when using motion blur to your advantage to make a dynamic image.

Photo by Wasim Ahmad


In this example of the Zipper, a common amusement park attraction, you can see the differences between using a fast shutter speed (1/160) on the right, and a slower shutter speed (1/2) on the left. The faster shutter speed makes the ride appear as if standing still, an image we can see with the human eye anyway, and a far less interesting photo than one that incorporates motion. With the slower shutter speed, the ride in motion takes on an other-worldly quality while the world around it remains stationary, adding to the effect. In this instance, photographs taken in environments with little ambient light also require slower shutter speeds to capture more light, which allows you to lower your ISO and chances of noise.

Photo by Wasim Ahmad


Slower shutter speeds can also be used to turn running water into something that looks like glass. In the photograph of Niagara falls, above, you can see this effect at work. At 1/30 of a second (on the bottom), the falls look like they are frozen in place, but at 4 seconds (4") from the same spot (on the top), they look like the rushing water that they should be.

Photo by Wasim Ahmad


People are also great to try out this technique on. New York’s Grand Central Terminal is usually filled with them, and so using a slow shutter speed during rush-hour traffic can turn the whole lot of them into ghost-like figures hurriedly moving through the station. 

Balancing the camera on a stairway railing here helped me keep the station sharp for this 15-second exposure, which brings up a good point about stabilization for all of these shots – where you can, you’ll want to balance the camera on found objects, use a lens with Image Stabilization or use a tripod to get the best results. Slow shutter speeds can often result in blurred photos because of camera shake from the photographer’s hands.

Along those lines, while changing your settings to compensate for the slower shutter speeds (for instance, if your shutter speed slows down, you’ll need to lower your ISO or close your aperture a little) can work, it might also be a good idea to invest in a neutral density filter, to cut down the exposure and use longer shutter speeds without compromising too much on the other settings.

Here are some instances where you can apply the slow shutter technique:

  • Light painting
  • City/night life
  • Landscapes
  • Movement in water
  • Moving vehicles
  • People

Playing around with different shutter speeds is definitely a way to create dynamic and interesting photos. Go out and experiment. 

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