30 Pro Tips For Creative Shutter Speed

Whether you are shooting a Formula 1 racing car or a ballerina, getting creative with shutter speed will give your shots an edge. Here we tell you to five high-profile pro photographers who all embrace the creative possibilities offered by shutter speed.

It’s an integral part of exposure, but shutter speed can also be harnessed for its creative opportunities, allowing you to turn run-of-the-mail subjects into exceptional, artistic shots.

Your shutter speed equips you with the ability to freeze time – whether that is a long shutter speed to make the most of a waterfall or employing a blazingly fast speed to catch the detail in the wings of a bee in mid-flight. However, in this feature we go beyond these basic principles and explore the creation of mood and feeling through a range of pro techniques.

We cover creative shutter speed for portraiture, sport, landscapes, motoring and light art, speaking to a pro at the top of their game in each genre. Discover exactly how they use shutter speed to show subjects at their best , create ambience and ensure their images stand out from the competition. Prepare to be inspired.


Lara Jade is an English fashion, portrait and commercial photographer who now lives in New York. Her clients include ELLE, 125 and Material Girl magazines, Sony Music, Schwarzkopf hair care and the BBC.

Lara teaches at workshops around the world and her sponsors include Canon, Broncolor, Bowens and Datacolor.


To make a creative conceptual piece use a slow shutter speed; try around 1/2 sec, 1/4 sec or 1/8 sec to create a blur on or around your subject. You will see this enhances the mood and also lets in more light, giving a ghost-like appearance. This technique works best on fine-art pieces or images replication an antique look. Remember to use a tripod if you have trouble holding your camera still.


To create a full ghost-like effect keep your camera on a tripod, shoot in low light and try various shutter speeds. Use the Bulb setting on your camera, with a low aperture and a high ISO; the grainier the better. The key to this tip is experimentation; you will need to test different situations to find the right picture. Once you have found a good combination, photograph your subject in a number of different poses.


Freeze-frame your subject in motion by using a fast shutter speed. Try capturing a dancer during a fast move, or taking a portrait where your subject moves their hair from side to side and you catch the movement in the flow. Capturing movement in this way is far removed from what the naked eye can see, so it creates a visually stunning piece.


A more advanced technique is either using a flashgun or studio flash head that supports rear curtain sync(meaning that the flashgun fires slightly before the shutter closes rather than when it opens).

Using rear curtain sync allow you to make a creative blur trail of light, but your flash (from the gun or light) is capturing your subject in focus as well. You will need to use either a flashgun or studio flash head that supports rear curtain sync. Experiment to get the right ambience of light between the subject and the light trails. Results can be amazing when you master this technique- keep going with it.


Zoom blur, created by focusing on your subject and then zooming in and out very quickly, can be a good technique for portraits. You need to employ a slow shutter speed to capture the zoom movement; focus on your subject first and then zoom in and out on your lens. Also try combining this effect with your subject moving back and forth, for some more interesting effects.


Combine various shutter speed techniques by compositing images in Photoshop.

Try combining your ‘fast’ mid-motion shots with your blur shots to create an artistic piee. Another idea is cloning your subject so that you have more than one of them in the same image.


Lara shoots with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 85mm f/1.2,50mm f/1.4 and 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses. When working in the studio she uses either Broncolor or Bowens lights, mixing ambient or flash light. On location Lara uses purely natural light or Sunbounce reflectors.


Award-winning photographer Matt Howell spent more than a decade editing consumer magazines before launching his photography business eight years ago. He now splits his time between editorial, corporate and advertising shoots for some of the biggest names in the media. Matt’s clients include McLaren, VW and Citroen, As well as magazines all over the world, from the UK to Australia.


When shooting action with cars you spend much of the time trying to create the sensation of speed using a slow shutter speed, but there are occasions when nothing less than 1/1,000sec will do. If something genuinely dramatic is happening in front of your lens you will want to nail it pin-sharp and frozen. A car drifting, jumping or hitting a puddle are perfect moments to turn up the shutter speed.

Use as long a lens as you have (200 mm is a minimum for this short of work ) and practice your focusing technique – it’s no good freezing the water droplets sprayed up from a puddle if the car is not perfectly sharp. Head-on tends to look best, but is the most difficult for your auto focusing system to handle. If it is a struggle, you could always try manually pre-focusing.


Turning down the shutter speed is a technique I use when I need to make a car look as if it is doing something more exciting than it actually is, or the vehicle just isn’t moving that fast, say under 30mph.

When I am shooting a panning shot-standing approximately 15-25 meters from the side of the road with a 70-200mm lens and the vehicle driving by – I usually set a shutter speed of 1/60sec to get a decent hit rate of sharp images.
However, next time you are out, why not try turning down the shutter speed?
Then down a bit further and see what happens…Make sure you are standing with your legs well apart for a solid stance and with your hips parallel to the road. Start following the vehicle early and when it gets close enough, squeeze the trigger softly, then continue to pan until you cannot twist your body any further. At1/15sec most of the car will be blurred but if your get it right, a headlight or the driver will be pin-sharp and the effect can look stunning.


I love night shoots, but a lot of car photographers get freaked out at the very thought. The truth is you need little more than a tripod, a long exposure and a bit of imagination to make incredibly dramatic images. This shot of the Land Rover was taken in a cave, where it was pitch-black. The only lighting was from the Land Rover’s sidelights and those of a second 4*4 just out of shot to the left, plus on of those silly 15-million candle-power torches I had bought in a service station on the way to the shoot. The camera was set up on a tripod with a 30sec shutter speed; then I painted in the cave walls with the torch, being careful never to point it towards the camera, so avoiding lens flare.


This is the staple diet of car magazines the world over: a moving vehicle is shot from another vehicle travelling alongside. The secrets to success are a smooth, clear road or track where the vehicles can hold about 30mph, plus a steady hand and a shutter speed of about 1/30sec. If you struggle, use an image stabiliser lens, or turn the speed up a little to a 1/60sec. Just remember, in car photography it has to be pin-sharp -magazine art editors always look closely at the headlights or see if they can read the postcode on the bottom of the number plate. If the answer’s ‘yes’, you’ve bagged a good one.


Static car shoots don’t have to be 100 per cent static; a little bit of movement is never a bad thing and a bit of fill-in flash can really help add excitement, too. A client sent me to McLaren to shoot a feature and we came across this £2 million Formula 1 road car having its engine removed. I wanted to show the engine moving as it came out, so I set the camera on a tripod with a shutter speed of 0.8sec to correctly expose for the white room while giving some blur to the engineers and engine. A burst of flash was directed at the car(from behind and to the side with two Bowens 1,000w Monoblocks ) to give some punch to the color of the car, while semi-freezing the engine as it was slid out backwards.

This technique can be a bit hit -or -miss, so experiment with your exposure times and strength of fill -in flash until obtaining an effect you are happy with.


More than any other shot, I get asked how this effect is created. While the theory is simple it requires some unusual kit and a lot of thought. The idea is to suspend a camera away from a car using a tripod or specially -constructed boom. These are often attached to the bonnet or roof with sucker clamps (Manfrotto does a nice selection).
When the car moves, the camera travels along with it, giving a sharp vehicle but blurred background .
A shutter speed of between 2 and 30secs is often used, while the car is pushed slowly by an assistant behind the vehicle (running the engine creates too much vibration and cause camera shake). The longer the exposure, the faster the car appears to travel, even though it’s only moving at walking pace. The tripod or boom is then retouched out in Photoshop. For the best effect try this shot at night or in low light.


Matt uses two Canon EOS-1DS Mark IIIs with lenses ranging from a 14mm fisheye to a 400mm f/2.8 IS.

His kit comprises 10 Bowens Gemini Heads and four battery packs, three Speedlites, two Turbo batteries and one 15 Million candle -power torch. He also uses two specially constructed boom rigs.



Mark Gray is an award-winning photographer who specialises in stunning, panoramic fine-art landscapes. He sells his work interationally in the form of limited-edition prints and a range of other products through his online gallery and retail gallery in Australia. He runs workshops in Australia that attract photographers from all over the world. www.markgravphotography.com


The best way to capture waterfalls is with a slow shutter speed. Using a shutter speed of at least one second will create a magical silky-water occurring in streams and rivers. Using longer shutter speeds will generally result in a similar effect, but may result in unwanted blurred trees and plants if there in any wind.


Creating traffic trails is a great technique to use when shooting night ortwilight scenes. By using a long shutter speed of at least 10 seconds when shooting moving cars, or boats you will create lines of light in your photograph. Headlights will create white lines and tail – lights will create red lines. Generally speaking, the longer the shutter speed, the better the result will be with traffic trails.


when shooting seascapes with crashing waves, using a long shutter speed of arround five seconds or more will create a misty effect on the water in your scene. This works best when you incroporate rocks or other structures over which waves are breaking, as those will, of course, remain still. A beautiful sunrise or sunset will add to the overall resutlt.


Shooting seascapes with a fast shutter speed of arround 1/125sec, or quicker, will result in the motion of any waves or water being frozen. This will produce a very different effect to the ‘misty water’ mentioned above but can also work well creatively. Keep in mind that you will need plenty of light to freeze the motion of water, so it is best to shoot during the middle of the day and avoid periods of low light, such as sunrise and sunset.


Pointing your camera at a clear night sky while leavig your shutter open for hours, rather than seconds, will result in a nice effect called ‘star trails’. While the Earth rotates, the stars appear to move, which results in streaks of light in a remote area free from light pollution. Film cameras are much better than digital ones when shooting star trails as they are not dependent on battery power and you avoid long exposure noise creeping in.


When using long shutter speeds with landscapes, you can create unusual but highly creative effects by panning your camera or zooming your lens all the way in or out. Play arround with shutter sppeds longer than two seconds for the best results.



Photographer Michael Bosanko has been creatin light art since 2004, working with clients all over the world to provide stills and animated creations for magazines, booksm ad campaigns and TV commercials. He provides real light effects that interact perfectly with the environment and are almost impossible to create with computer-aided effects. His personal work is available to buy as prints at www.michaelbosanko.com


When creating light art there is art there is one common setting your camera will use: Bulb mode. If youshoot minly in the day. it’s likely that you have never turned the camera dial to the letter ‘B’. However, it is at night when Bulb mode truly comes alive, allowing you the chance to push the shutter boundaries to the extreme. We are not talking seconds here, but way beyond, and with a battery grip, you could be out all night.


Areas with little light pollution provide the best backdrops for creating light effects. The longer you can keep the shutter open, the more flexible and creative you can be. If the area is almost pitch-black, then take an extra-powerful torch to illuminate larger areas of interest by standing behind the camera and moving the torchlight over areas in gentle but steady sweeps.


Mark has a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Linhof Technorama 617s III Panoramic film camera. He uses a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 and Schneider 72mm f/5.6 and 90mm f/5.6 lenses. Also in his F-Stop Sator| Expedition pack are a B&W Circular Polariser, Cokin X Pro Series 2 Stop Soft Grand ND and Cokin X Pro Series 3 Stop Soft Grand ND.


Think of your camera’s sensor as a piece of wood, and your torch as a piece of metal that is red hot at the end and you are about to scorch a design on the wood. The more fulid your movements, thwe cleaner the light trails. If you keep the torchlight facing the lens for too long, like the red hot metal you will ‘burnout’ the image, leaving behind intense light flares you do not want. If you need to stop, then turn off the torc. when you are ready to add a new element to the image, turn the torch back on and immeduately start moving again. As you are shooting in Bulb mode, this can all be done with in a single shot.

The image on the let demonstrates what happens when you hold the torch still for to long. The image on the right demonstrates the correct way: clean, flowing lines.


If you are using a zoom lens, compose the scene and after you have created yourlight piece, gently twist the zoom ring on the lens. This technique is suited to areas where there atre street lights in the background. In the final image, they will appear as lines of light leading you drictly into the3 image.


By seleting Bulb mode, it’s likely you will keep the shutter open for longer than 30 seconds, so your camera needs to be as steady as as rock. You will require a sturdy tripod with independently adjustable legs to navigate the obstacles in the great outdoors. If you set up on soft ground such as sand or mud, spread the weight of the tripod by placing coasters underneath the tripod feet. A cable release is esential, allowing you to open the shutter and lock it open, freeing your hands to get on with the business of light art. If you have a friend with you, they can operate the cable release. Alternatively, use it in conjunction with the camera’s timer, preferably set to 10 seconds. This should give you ample time to step into frame and take a deep breath before beginning your creation.


Once you have managed to get your head around the basics of ligh art, it’s very easy to get carried away for the rst of teh night. So, if you are planing a night out i nthe wilds or on the city streets, be sure to change absolutely every battery you plan to use, and prepare your gear before you set out, as the comfort of your own home is better than fumbling around in the dark.


Michael mainly shoots with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens, and uses Manfrotto tripods (055CXPRO4 or 19OCL) with 804RC2 heads.
As you might expect, Micheal uses literally hundreds of light in his work: some bought, some homemade and all different types and style. If you are just starting out, he advises buying a couple of small inexepensive LED or bulb torches. As fcheap torches are not rush over details. As you progress, try to use the torches in combinations by binding them with tape, or keep a lookout for more obscure light sources. One handly torch you should buy is one that attaches to your head. This will free up your hands so you can cope better in the dark with the fiddly things, such as changing filters, camera settings, or making a brew. Experiment with colour too-use coloured sweet wrappers, or buy a few sheets of coloured acetate or gel, cut to the size of the torche head, and fix down ovwer the torch glass with clear tape.



Mark Pain, who was named Sports Photographer of the Year 2011 at the British Press Awards, has more than 20 years’ experience covering major sporting events, including the Olympic Games and Ryder Cup golf. He works for both editorial and corporate clients and is chief sports photographer of the Mail on Sunday. Last year Mark launched the first school in the UK dedicated to sports photography, offering keen ameterus the chance to shoot with full pro accreditation at UK sporting events. See www.markpain.com and www.sportsphotographyschool.co.uk


Shooting sport and capturing great action are not always about choosing the heighest possible shutter speed available to you; many people make that mistake and end up with static-looking images. However, one of 1/750sec to 1/800sec would be quick enough to freze the action, but not with diving where you really have to school at 1/2,000sec or more to guarantee no movement at all.


Fast-moving actor dosen’t always require a super-fast shutter speed to get a great picture. You can create a real feeling of speed and movement by slowing your shutter speeds right down. Panning a car in Formula 1 and other motor sports will crate a nice sense of speed from about 1/125sec and below. But the real feeling of movement and drama is created by getting down to some really slow panning at shutter speeds such as 1/15sec or below. It is an extermely difficult technique to master quickly but serious amounts of time practising can produce a remarkable improvement in your hit rate. Don’t forget that some of the worst and messiest backgrounds can make for some of the best pan shots. Having more colour and mess to blur can lead to great effects.


Get ready for that amazing picture by keeping your shutter speed set as high as possible when moving from one positon to another during an event. Just because you are moving to your next vantage point to get a different angle does not mean that the action will stop as well. You never know that is going to happen, so always have your camera at a setting ready to freeze the action if you have to pic up your camera suddenly with little time to change setting.


Try to be more creative and experiment with even slower shutter speeds at sports events, such as this fencing picture taken at the Beijing Olympics at 1/4sec. The effetcs achieved can very hugely with different sports under varled lighting, but the beauty of digital cameras is that you have an instant idea of the effect you are creating. Try finding something solid to lean your camera on when shooting shutter speeds of 1/4sec or slower.


When experimenting with your shutter speeds try firing a little bit of flash into the image (if allowed). A flashgun’s duration can be as low as 1/30,000sec at 1/64 power and around 1/2,000sec at half power. A little ‘ping’ of flash during a longer exposure can help to give your image some necessary definition rather than just a continuous blur.


Just a hint of movement is sometimes all you need. Here the speed of Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren is exaggerated by the lack of movement or interest in him shown by the sun-worshippers of Monaco. On this occasion 1/60sec was fine to convey the feel of the picture I wanted. Too much of a blur and the car would be unrecognisable; too little and the car would be too static.


Mark uses a Nikon D3 along with 24mm, 70-200mm and 300mm lenses. He also uses Think Tank Photo camera bags, such as the Lens Changer 50, which lets you carry zoom lenses with the lens hood attached, and the Lens Changer 25, with its zip-down extensions. Mark also uses other elements of the Think Tank Photo modular component systems, such as the Pro Speed Belt, Speed Changer and Lighting Fast, as well as the Whip it Out side-zipped storage for lenses.

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