The Waterfall Effect
One of the most effective uses of long shutter speed is photographing flowing water. Itâ€™s a stunning effect, and really easy to do. First, find yourself a waterfall or fast-flowing stream, anything with white splashing water. It doesnâ€™t have to be the Niagara Falls, just something in your local park will do. This one is at Canonteign Falls Park near Chudleigh in Devon.
If you just point the camera and shoot, youâ€™ll end up with something like this. It looks nice enough, but itâ€™s a bit dull. This example was shot on a Pentax *ist D SLR in program auto mode, at a shutter speed of 1/180th of a second and an aperture of f4.
By fixing the camera on a tripod we can eliminate camera shake. Set the camera on shutter priority mode and select the slowest shutter speed you can. Anything over about half a second will work. This second example was taken from exactly the same position as the previous shot, but with a shutter speed of 0.5 sec and an aperture of f22.
This is a couple of weeks late to be useful to anyone in the UK this year, but keep it in mind for next bonfire night. The way to take good fireworks photos is to set your camera on a tripod some distance from the display, with the zoom set far wider than you think youâ€™ll need. Set a shutter speed of two seconds and as wide an aperture as you can manage. Getting the framing exactly right is simply a matter of luck, timing, and then cropping the photo later.
Car Lights at Night
Another interesting effect achieved using long shutter speeds is streaking car lights at night. For this shot I positioned myself on a footbridge overlooking a busy junction on the A30, a major road between Exeter and Plymouth. Although most modern digital SLRs are very good at focusing in low light I set the camera on manual focus anyway, and set it to just short of infinity. With a wide angle 18mm lens the depth of field was sufficient to produce a sharp picture.
With the camera on a solid tripod (Manfrotto 190 Pro) and using a cable release, I took a series of shots with an aperture setting of f3.5 at several different shutter speeds, starting at four seconds and increasing by two seconds per shot. Bracketing exposures like this is the best way to ensure a good result. This shot proved to be the best of the lot, taken at a shutter speed of ten seconds. I particularly like the dotted-line effect from the indicators of cars approaching the junction.
Since you will be near heavy traffic at night itâ€™s obviously important to stay safe. Wear something reflective, and donâ€™t get too close to the road. Also, never use a flash when taking photos of traffic. You could dazzle a driver and cause an accident.
For long-exposure shots using slow-sync flash, including night portraits and other night-time flash effects, see a forthcoming tutorial on flash photography techniques.