Blurring Action with Shutter Speeds

Waterfall 1.6 seconds on tripod

Last time when I discussed shutter speeds I talked about stopping action to get a sharp image. However, there are times when you want to show motion in a still image. A good way to do this is by blurring the action. There is a fine line between creating an image with too much blur and the viewer asks “What is that?” not a good sign. Or one with not enough blur, the viewer says “That’s a blurry image” not in a good way.

There are several blur methods. Today we’ll talk about the subject moving through the image. I prefer this technique for water and other inanimate objects. Set the camera to shutter priority. Pick a slow shutter speed. What you picks depends on the speed of the subject. I usually start with 1 second for waterfalls and running water or 1/15th of a second for objects moved by the wind and adjust from there. Adjust the ISO to get this shutter speed. It will vary with the available lighting. Finally adjust the white balance for the lighting present.

Ferriswheel at night, 13 seconds on tripod

Using a tripod, let the subject move through the image. Make sure the composition allows for enough room for the subject to move through the image. Don’t get too tight or too far away! Take multiple images and review. Is the blur cool looking or not so great? Do you need to adjust the shutter speed faster or slower?

Next time we’ll talk about Pan blur, this technique works great for some sports and animals.

West Coast, wave action over 20 seconds on tripod

Spring Abstracts

Viewing the world abstractly offers a wealth of creative freedom. Blurring out recognizable subjects or using water reflections are 2 techniques to create abstract images. The first image blurs tulips by using a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second on a windy day. The wind moves the flowers around to create an impressionistic effect.

The second image uses the same shutter speed but now I moved the camera up and down while the shutter is open to create a blur effect.

The next set of images were taken on a pond right after sunrise. The intense warm light creates lovely color on the trees while the gently rippling water distorts the images for a creative effect.


















The final image of a lone feather is all that remains in the wake of an epic battle of Mallard males. The tranquility of this image greatly contrasts with how it came to be.

Get creative and try these techniques!