Shutter speed is one of the many variable that can be used in landscape photography to change the look and feel of your photos. Your choice of shutter speed in landscape photography depends upon what you are trying to capture. When you’re working with moving subjects – waves, waterfalls, grasses waving in the wind, boiling mud pots – you can use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion, or a long shutter speed to erase motion in your photos.
Here are few tips to get you started to capture motion in your landscape photos.
Freezing motion with fast shutter speed
Yellowstone’s bizarre boiling mud creates amazingly beautiful bubbles.
For this shot, I used a fast shutter speed and zoomed in close to fill the entire frame with thick, white mud. Getting in close gave me a minimalist composition with a single bubble as the point of interest. Because the sunny day allowed for a faster shutter speed, I was also able to capture the darker shadows inside the bubble, which allowed the patterns to stand out.
In this shot, a choppy sea caused thick foam to form on the water’s surface. As the waves crashed against the rocks, the heavy foam exploded into incredibly complex liquid formations.
With the help of a very fast shutter speed, I could freeze the motion of the foam to capture its beautifully intricate details. I also chose to convert the shot to black and white to showcase the detail and patterns.
Slow shutter speed to create sense of motion
In this next image, the sun had just set, and it was starting to get dark. Because of the fading light and windy conditions, the moving flowers and clouds made it impossible to completely ‘freeze’ the shot. Windy days provide excellent opportunities to get creative.
I set up my tripod low to the ground, framing my shot so that I was really close to the pretty purple and yellow flowers that dotted the hillside. I guessed that I needed about fifteen seconds to get the effect I wanted, so I chose my camera settings accordingly… f/11, 15 seconds, ISO 100). I made sure my ND Grad filter was adjusted appropriately to help even out the exposure. And then I stood back and waited while my shutter was open.
15 seconds produced just enough blur to produce an interesting effect – but not so much that the flowers became unrecognizable. To me, the scene feels like something out of a story book.
Long exposure to eliminate motion
This photo from Glacier National Park in Montana is all about capturing the mountain’s beautiful alpenglow (the glowing red light on the mountain opposite the sun). On this day, the water was extremely choppy. It was splashing my face and camera, and I had to frequently wipe the lens to ensure it was dry enough for a 30-second exposure.
Maybe you already know that I love minimalist compositions… so it may come as no surprise to you that my goal here was to simplify. For this shot, my camera was on a tripod with its feet in the water, and my camera about a foot above the surface. The 30-second exposure smoothed the motion of both the water and the clouds, drawing your eye to the main point of interest – the mountain’s beautiful red glow.
Photo Stacking for Super Long Exposure
In this photo, the North Star appears stationary over a moonlit Balanced Rock as other stars orbit around it.
Taken with my camera on a tripod, this photo is a combination of 180 shots – each with a 30 second exposure. Thirty seconds is enough time to capture tiny shifts in the position of the stars. To capture the motion of the stars over a few hours, you need an extremely long exposure… or a series of exposures that capture the motion in increments. I chose to create and blend a series of images. One extremely long exposure would create too much noise for a high quality photo. I blended the images in Photoshop.
Getting creative with shutter speed
With this first shot, I wanted to make the most of both the color and the circular movement of the leaves in the water.
A fast shutter speed would have captured small spots of color on the surface of the water. Because the swirling leaves were creating such an interesting pattern, I used a long shutter speed to capture long lines of color. These streaks fill a larger portion of the frame and make the image even more colorful than it was in reality. I also blended two exposures – one for the foreground, and one for the brighter waterfall in the background.
Whether you choose to ‘freeze’ a moving subject… or to capture its movement as a blur… or to hide moving elements with a long shutter speed, your options for playing with motion are endless. How do you most enjoy expressing motion in your photographs?