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How to Have Fun with Shutter Speed and Added Motion Blur

If you think learning is a boring task, you definitely haven’t studied photography. To make this point, I decided to explain the relationship between shutter speed and movement by spending the day at a theme park.

Image blur – unwanted or not

When you get an unwanted blur in your photograph it can be very frustrating. However, this shouldn’t stop you from experimenting with your camera’s shutter speed. Perfectly sharp images can be great for composition and color but they don’t really reflect everything that’s going on and can fail to convey the atmosphere.

Composition - shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/640th, f/9, ISO 200.

Movement shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/50th, f/22, ISO 200.

Theme parks can be the most fun, but even so, they can appear a bit dull in still images. However, just adding a little movement can do the trick. Don’t you agree?

Still shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/1000th, f/3.5, ISO 200.

Moving shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/15th, f/22, ISO 200.

If you are comfortable using Manual Mode on your camera, then please do so. However, if you are not used to adjusting your settings you can always do these exercises by using Shutter Priority Mode. To do this you have to set the dial of your camera to the S (Nikon, Sony) or Tv (Canon) symbol on your mode dial. This mode gives you the flexibility to choose the shutter speed that you want, and the camera figures out the rest of the settings for you in order to have a well-exposed photo.

However, there is one thing that you do need to know first . . .

What is shutter speed?

The shutter is a curtain inside your camera that opens to allow light to enter the camera and hit the digital sensor (or film) in order to create your photo. Shutter speed refers to how fast or slowly it opens and closes. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more light will come in.

Therefore, as long as it’s opened everything in front of your lens is leaving an imprint. In the case of a moving object, this results as a halo or a ghost and is why you get blurry photos when using slower shutter speeds. The longer the exposure time, the blurrier the subject will be.

Faster shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/60th, f/22, ISO 200.

Slower shutter speed

Shutter speed 1/30th, f/29, ISO 200.

Creative effects of shutter speed

#1 Blurry subject sharp background

Now that you have that clear, let’s dive into the fun part and start doing some creative effects with this knowledge. First, we’ll start with a sharp background and a blurry object/subject, as this is the easiest one to achieve. For this one, you need to be standing still and have something or someone in motion in the scene in front of you. As for your camera, you need to use a slow shutter speed. How slow depends on the speed your subject is moving, so just make a few tries.

Note: All movement gets registered in the image when you are using slow speeds, including your own. So if your subject requires for you to shoot lower than the length of your lens (i.e. slower than 1/50th with a 50mm lens) it’s better if you use a tripod or else your fixed background will look blurry as well.

Cars shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/6th, f/22, ISO 200 and an 18mm lens.

Twirls shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/50th, f/29, ISO 200 and a lens focal length of 33mm.

#2 Blurry background sharper subject

For the second effect, let’s do the opposite; a blurry background and a sharper subject. You don’t want the moving subject completely sharp because then you can lose the purpose and it will look dull or worse, fake (as in Photoshopped into the image). So it’s always better for the subject to have a small halo around it that shows its movement, direction, and speed.

This one is a little bit trickier because, on top of choosing the correct shutter speed, you also need to follow the moving subject with your camera, matching its speed (this is called panning). So please don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it right on the first try because the results are worth the effort!

Follow Circular shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/50th, f/29, ISO 200. The camera was moved in a circular motion to follow the subject.

Follow Horizontal panning shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/60th, f/22, ISO 200. The camera was moved in a horizontal motion to follow the subject.

#3 Mix it up

When you feel comfortable with the previous techniques, try introducing some mixed movements. In other words, your subject moving one way and you in another.

Mix shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/50th, f/22, ISO 200.

Mix shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/40th, f/32, ISO 200.

#4 Still objects

Liking it so far? It gets better! You can even put some movement into photos of still subjects.

Ducks shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/50th, f/22, ISO 200 with an 18-35mm lens.

To achieve this effect you need to use a zoom lens. What you have to do is to twist (zoom) so that you go from one focal length to another while the shutter is still open. The bigger the zoom, the more intense the effect.

Barrel zooming shutter speed

Shutter speed, ½ a second, f/29, ISO 200, focal length 18-28mm.

Barrell shutter speed

Shutter speed, 1/50th, f/29, ISO 200, focal length 18-45mm.

Barrell shutter speed zoom

Shutter speed, ½ a second, f/29, ISO 200, focal length 18-55mm.

Your turn to go try it

There you go, you are ready to enjoy your day in the park while making some amazing looking shots. Take a ride, have fun, and let all your problems all blur away!


Shutter speed, 1/15th, f/22, ISO 200.

Please share your comments, questions, and motion blurry images below.

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Ana Mireles
Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

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