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Creative Use of Exposure Time (Capturing Movement)


Some travel images benefit from using the shutter speed or exposure time creatively.

In basic terms, the exposure time is the length of time that the shutter is open to allow the light onto the sensor. A fast shutter speed allows enough light to expose the image correctly and ‘freezes’ movement, whilst a slower shutter speed, will ‘blur’ movement. Slower shutter speeds can mean greater depth of field which needs to be factored into the type of image that you want to create.

Using the exposure time creatively can make an image more appealing as it gives life to the picture by adding the feeling of movement. Some scenes benefit from this so that the viewer has a sense of ‘being there’ and seeing what was happening rather than simply looking at a snapshot of time.

This image was taken on Brooklyn Bridge, New York. The scene is composed at f13 which gives a large depth of field ensuring that all the main elements are in focus, such as the bridge, the road and the overhead sign. A shutter speed of 1/80s was used so that as the iconic yellow taxi passed by, the exposure allows it to move. Any slower and the taxi would be too blurred, any faster and it would have been ‘frozen’. This technique gives the viewer the feeling of actually being on the bridge.


The image below has used a much slower shutter speed. It was taken at f10 with the camera mounted on a tripod. This aperture has enough depth of field to keep the entire building in focus which is the main subject of the image. It was taken during early morning rush hour so a slow shutter speed of 0.8s was used to allow the bus to pass through the frame whilst the shutter was open. This gives a more creative look to the picture rather than a static architectural type shot.


It’s not just vehicles that provide good subjects for creative movement in images. Some scenes hugely benefit from showing people moving. Grand Central Station in New York is a bustling hive of activity 24hrs a day. It’s full of commuters, travellers, passengers and tourists. The two images below were shot again with a slower than usual shutter speed to show the activity that is happening all day long. Because people are invariably smaller subjects that vehicles, they can quite quickly move enough during the exposure to almost disappear. When shooting a subject like the station, a balance was needed to show some movement, but also the people who were stood around including the flash from a tourist’s camera!


These two images were taken at 1/6s at f6.3 and 1/3s at f5 respectively.


Cityscapes can also benefit from a little exposure time creativity to give more ‘drama’ and certainly more impact than a fast shutter snapshot. The weather and in particular moving clouds, can give a great contrast to static buildings. By spending some time on the set up of an image, the result will set your image apart from the many hundreds of identical images that are being taken at the very same spot and at the very same time.

The New York skyline with One World Trade Center is an iconic view from Brooklyn across the Hudson River. On a windy day the water is choppy and can look quite messy in the foreground. This image was taken with the camera mounted on a Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod and the shutter was controlled with a cable release. The windy conditions and direction of the clouds was perfect for a more creative shot. Due to the bright sunny conditions, a Hoya Pro ND 10 stop filter was added to extensively limit the amount of light passing through the lens. This resulted in a shutter speed of 25s which was long enough to allow the clouds to move and also to ‘smooth’ out the water so as to be less distracting.


Finally, one technique for using a slower shutter speed to good effect is panning. So far, all the images have been taken with the camera static, the image composed, and the exposure time adjusted to allow elements to move within the frame. Another creative style with impact is to focus on the subject whist it moves and blur the foreground and background. This requires a few simple considerations. Because the shutter speed is slower than would normally be used for a moving subject, the camera has to be moved (or panned) at the same speed as the subject. Focusing is done by way of Servo (or tracking) and as long as the camera moves at the same speed it effectively makes the main subject static. This in turn means that a slower shutter speed can be used as if taking a picture of a motionless subject. By the very nature of a slow shutter and the camera moving, the foreground and background is ‘dragged’ or blurred through the image.


These two images are very similar, one urban taken at 1/40s at f3.5 and one rural taken at 1/50s at f8. If the shutter speed is too fast the wheels can still be frozen, this has less impact and also can look like the subject is simply parked. The panning technique gives a crisp subject but allows the viewer to experience the movement and the atmosphere of the scene much more.


All too often, slow shutter or long exposure time techniques are reserved for waterfalls and moving water, which does have its place and is a great way to photograph these subjects. However, there’s so much more creativity to be had whilst travelling, and capturing movement is one of the most fulfilling.


You can learn about these techniques and more on a Plus One Photo Tour, where we will take guests to popular locations, as well as less touristic areas to give a true flavour of a country as well as teaching photography techniques and camera knowledge.