I love using slow shutter speeds to create artistic photographs. When we use a slow shutter speed, what we are doing is recording a slice of time rather than a split second of time. This results in an ‘impression of reality’ rather than a realistic representation of the subject we are photographing. The use of very slow shutter speeds not only results in a blurring of subject movement but also a blurring of reality. It gives us photographers a chance to create abstract and (possibly) more creative images in a way that painters have always been able to.
The development of dark neutral density filters have really opened up the creative potential of long exposure photography. By using a dark neutral density filter, long exposures of many seconds can be set in bright lighting conditions without over exposure occurring. Of course if you are shooting at twilight or in a dark forest, an ND filter is unnecessary because the light levels are low; so longer exposures can be used without over exposure being a problem.
Using a “big stopper” which is generally the name given to dark ND filters is great fun. In fact the effect can be quite addictive. A big stopper will reduce the amount of light by ten stops normally. This amount does vary from make to make. Most filters come with a table that makes it easy to set the correct shutter speed when the filter is in front of the lens, but it’s very easy to work out the shutter speed for yourself. Set the desired aperture first then take an exposure reading without the filter in front of the lens. Set the camera to manual exposure if you haven’t already done so. Now count back ten full shutter speeds. For example, if your shutter speed, before the filter is fitted is 1/125th sec., then once the ten stop ND filter is fitted the shutter speed required for correct exposure would be 8 seconds. You would then take a test shot and check the exposure histogram. Because the filter is so dark you will also need to set the camera to manual focus and of course compose the picture before the filter is attached to the lens.
By setting a shutter speed of say 30 seconds, this enables us photographers to record any movement as a soft blur. Moving clouds appear like a milky smudge across the sky, waves merge into one another creating a misty impressionist representation of the scene, quite different to what we are seeing in real time. Even if there is no movement present we can still create a picture with movement. In this case we move the camera to create image blur. These days it’s often referred to as “ICM” – intentional camera movement.
Creative use of shutter speed is a wonderful technique. Why not give it a go yourself?