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Monday, July 30, 2007

Working with Slow Shutter Speeds

Many digital cameras (from digital SLRs to simple point-and-shoot cameras) now include an option to adjust the shutter speed, or how long the shutter of the camera is open. This allows you to capture not just a moment in time, but maybe a few seconds, or more, in your pictures.

The above picture is of the Champs-Élysées, a very busy street, in Paris, taken from the Arc de Triomphe. For this shot, I left the shutter of the camera open for 30 seconds. During that time, cars drove down the street, and because the camera captures any light while the shutter is open, it results in streaks of white and red lines from the cars' lights.

To use this feature, you'll want to look for any kind of shutter-control mode on your camera. Canon (and probably a few others) call it "Tv" mode, for "time value." Once you've found it, try increasing the amount of time that the shutter is open (a typical amount of time for a regular picture is usually between 1/200th and 1/1000th of a second, but for these kinds of shots, you want something usually more than 5 seconds). The camera will automatically adjust the other settings so that the image is properly lit.

It should be noted that you'll want something to stabilize your shots. As hard as you try, you won't be able to hold your camera perfectly still for any longer than about a 10th of a second. A tripod will work perfectly, but if you don't have one, try to find something to rest your camera on. For the above picture, I had to rest my camera on a crooked ledge while reaching my arm outside of the fence they had on the top of the Arc. So anything stationary will work fine.

Next, you'll want to find a subject. Water shots can make some beautiful pictures (rivers and waterfalls will have a very soft feel to them, for example), as can nighttime shots of a city or a street, like the one above. Here are some examples:

(The Eiffel Tower at night)

(A fountain in Rome, with some cars going by)

If you don't use a tripod or surface to balance your camera, you can still get some interesting shots. This is a picture I took of the approaching metro in Paris. Because the blurriness conveys a sense of motion, it works pretty well with the high speed of the train.

So as always, experiment with it. Take a few shots with different shutter speeds. Let me know if you come up with anything cool.

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