“Hans I think you photographed a ghost? No? A time traveler? No?? A teleporter? Ok seriously what is that, Sasquatch?” are some of the common things I hear when the magic of slow shutter/long exposure photography is seen in my portfolio.
As a portrait and event photographer, slow shutter photography would seem a counter-intuitive technique to use, particularly when you’re trying to capture those minute and elusive moments. Despite this, long exposure is an excellent skill for adding the flare of movement through space to your photos.
(Sony A7ii with Canon FD 70-200mm f/4; 5 second exposure at f/4, ISO 1250)
Photographing a subject that is not static can seem daunting, especially when considering that you will potentially be shooting at 2-6 second shutter speeds. Camera shake can be a common fear for photographers when performing this technique, but it can be bypassed so long as your intended subject is still and you maintain a swift and fluid motion in your desired direction or your intended subject moves in a fluid motion in your desired direction.
Setup & Gear
- Camera: DSLR
- Lens: Your Choice
- ND Filter (Variable or Fixed)
- Tripod (Optional as Needed)
- Speedlight (Optional)
(Sony A7ii with Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L; Panned Diagonally, 1/4 second exposure at f/9, ISO 500)
When photographing using this technique outdoors there are a few of ways for getting your ideal abstract look. Of course when you drop your shutter speed low enough you will find yourself dealing with an excess of light. To resolve this issue I use my trusted Polaroid Optics Variable ND Filter respective to my lenses. If you want to know which filter size works for your lens you can look for the filter number on the external rim or internal rim of your lens. Utilizing an ND filter will allow you to shoot as slow as possible without having an excess of light. A shutter speed of 3 seconds is the sweet spot for photographing people using this technique in my opinion, but experimenting to find your own ideal speed for this technique makes for a fun adventure as well.
(Sony A7ii with Canon FD 28mm f/2.8; Panned Horizontally, 6 second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 50)
A tripod is not always necessary since you will likely be moving the camera itself, especially with panning shots. Advancements of in-body-image-stabilization systems, such as the one found in the Sony A7 line of cameras, and image-stabilization on lenses, such as the Sony FE 85mm F1.8, being able to shoot at such low shutter speeds poses less of an issue for photographers. Nonetheless, if you’ll be photographing a subject that will be moving, a tripod will come in handy along with the utilization of the 2,5, or 10 second delay feature on your camera.
(Sony A7ii with Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM; Flash, 5 second exposure at f/2.2, ISO 400)
When photographing indoor events or at night, a speedlight can assist in creating abstract shots. Use of a flash photography combined with a slow shutter can create images that cleanly blend or separate your subject from its surroundings. Inexpensive speedlights such as Neewer models can be very effective in achieving this. Depending on your distance from your subject you can adjust your power output accordingly.
This technique can come in handy when playing around or shooting events from baby showers to weddings to fashion shoots. Practice it as much as you’d like if you want to keep it in your arsenal. It can seem difficult at first as you get your timing right, but as they say “practice makes perfect.” Happy shooting!