Creative Camera Effects with shutter speed and aperture

Lesson 3 Module 1

First, an apology!

I know you've joined this class to have fun with your camera and the past three lessons have been a little more on the technical side and maybe even a little boring. Fear not—that ends now!

So get your cameras out because we're going to see how you can use what you now know about shutter speed and aperture to get some pro-level results with your little point and shoot.

The Action Photo Speed Blur

This is one of my favorite effects for capturing the idea of speed and energy.

The idea is pretty simple, but it takes some practice (but don't worry, the practice is fun!).


Set your camera to the 'Shutter priority' (the 'Tv' setting on many cameras) and dial your shutter speed down to something like 1/20 of a second. If you're shooting in the middle of a sunny day, you'll also need to switch your ISO setting to something around ISO 100. If you're shooting at night, IS0 400 or 800 should be ok.

Practice on the corner of a road with regular traffic going by in one direction and at a relatively constant speed.

For the photo above, I set up on a street in Bangkok across from a bright yellow display of posters.

I was trying to capture the craziness of riding in a tuk-tuk taxi (sort of like a three-wheeled scooter with a roof). I spent a half hour shooting every tuk-tuk that sped by, and as they passed, I would pan (move) the camera at the same speed of the scooter and snap the photo just as it passed in front of the yellow posters—creating a very nice contrast that made the tuk-tuk stand out from the background.

Basically you need to have your camera following whatever is moving at exactly the same speed and keep the camera moving even after you click the shutter button (sort of like a follow-through on a golf swing).

It's going to take a lot of attempts before you get a couple shots that are good, but I've found that anywhere between 1/15th of a second and 1/25th of a second are good choices. These speeds are slow enough to create the speed effect, but also fast enough so that some of the shaking from your hands will be reduced.

The Magic Waterfall Effect

You might think this is done in Photoshop, but photographers have been creating the waterfall motion blur effect with film for decades--it's actually a shutter speed technique.

For best results you're going to need a little inexpensive tabletop tripod or try balancing your camera on a nearby rock or log so that the camera is resting on something very solid that won't move.


Set your camera to the 'Shutter priority' (the 'Tv' setting on many cameras) and dial your shutter speed down to something like one full second or even slower. If you're shooting during the day, you're going to need to need to switch your ISO setting to something around ISO 100. The slower the ISO, the better really.

Use your camera's automatic timer to set the shutter to open automatically after ten seconds. This might seem unnecessary, but to really get the best results with this effect, your camera has to remain perfectly still and even the slight bump you give the camera when you click the button can be enough to make the photo blurry.

Your camera will automatically adjust the aperture to reduce the amount of light coming through the lens so that it's possible for the shutter to stay open a long time. While the shutter is open, water will be flowing, flowing, flowing, as the rest of the scene is sharp and in focus.

When you check out your finished shot you'll see that the water looks white and misty, kind of surreal. This effect also works great on shots of ocean waves, rivers, or even a windy day when tall grass or leafy trees are moving a lot.

Try it out, I'm sure you'll find some places you can use it. And if you get any really cool shots, please e-mail them to me!

Night Photos

Taking photos at night was the reason I wanted to get an SLR.

Back in high school, my brother and our friends used to sneak out at night and go over to the rival high school to climb their bell tower. Yes, it's not the smartest thing to do, but perhaps like Sir Edmund Hillary we wanted to bring back photographic proof that we had made it to the summit.

Of course Hillary was summiting Everest and we were only summiting Handley High School, but there was still an element of risk to climbing a dark building with a steep roof while carrying a camera. When we finally made it to the roof, we posed triumphantly with the glittering background of Winchester's skyline behind us, kings of all we surveyed.

The next day I scraped a few dollars together to take the roll of film to the one-hour photo place so we could show our friends that we'd made it. I was devastated to find out that all I had was a roll of black, empty frames—none of the lights or the view had made it on film!

The problem was that my cheap point and shoot camera didn't allow adjustments to the shutter speed and had been calibrated for daylight photos only. This meant that I couldn't slow the shutter speed down enough to properly expose those frames.

Luckily for you, even the least-expensive digital point-and-shoot cameras available today will allow you to shoot a shutter speed slow enough to capture amazing night shots.


Set your camera to the 'Shutter priority' (the 'Tv' setting on many cameras) and dial your shutter speed down to something like 2 seconds or more. You'll need to switch your ISO setting to something around ISO 400 or 800 to make your camera more sensitive to the light.

Ideally you'll want to use a little portable or tabletop tripod like the one here. You can also set up with a rolled up sweater, a stack of books, a fence post, or anything else you can find nearby that's not going to move.

Again you should use your camera's automatic timer to set the shutter to open automatically after ten seconds to prevent your hand from making the photo blurry as you click the shutter.

Choose a city skyline, a well-lit street, or other place that has a lot of electric lights. The long exposure will allow the relatively low light level to properly expose the photo and you'll have an amazing night shot.

It's actually best to shoot 'night' shots at twilight when there's just enough light in the sky to illuminate some of the deeper shadows in your frame. The finished shot will still look like it was shot at night because many of the electric lights will already be turned on, but the extra ambient light from the sky will give a lot more 'depth' to your photo, making it look like a pro shot it.

What's next?

I hope you have a chance to get your camera out to try some of these techniques before next week's lesson—if you get any really cool shots please send them to me.

Next week I'll be covering one of the most important things that separates pro photographers from everyone else: sharpness.

Photo editors will often say that the shots they publish should be 'tack sharp', and if you want your shots to look great that's how they should be. The good news is that if you understand the factors that make a photo sharp, you'll have a much better chance of bringing some home from your next shoot.

Thanks again for reading this far and I'll see you next week!