Utilizing Slow Shutter Speeds!

by William Lulow

I thought I’d spend some time on the idea of using slow shutter speeds to make a subject stand out from the surroundings. I’ve used this technique before and there are several caveats. First, the shot:


If you wish to draw attention to a subject in an otherwise “normal” street scene, try slowing down the shutter speed so that everyone else will be blurry. If you do this, you will notice that the overall exposure will become too bright. However, with your camera on MANUAL mode (which mine always is), you can then stop down the lens to compensate. This image was made with an exposure of about 2 seconds and an aperture of f/18. The image was also lit by a single strobe on the camera in TTL mode! Since you are trying to blur out the surrounding action, you don’t have to worry so much about depth-of-field. My instructions to the couple were to stand as still as they could. Depending on the overall brightness of the scene, you might even have to use an ND filter (neutral density) or two to cut down on ambient light. Here, some of the neon signs in Times Square were still too bright, but I was still able to capture enough of the surrounding ambiance of one of the world’s busiest places.

When you carry the technique of using a very slow shutter speed to its logical extension, extremely slow shutter speeds (say 5 minutes or so) will usually make people disappear completely – that is, if they all keep moving! Here’s an example of that technique which I used to photograph a large store atrium:


Here, there were people walking about in the middle of the scene. I couldn’t tell them to stay out of the picture while it was being made, but I did tell them to keep moving! Several strobes were set up in strategic places within the space which were fired successively about five or six times. A neutral density filter (ND) was placed over the lens to cut down further on the ambient light, and the exposure was about 8 minutes at f/22! Just about everyone disappeared from the scene with the exception of one man who was sitting in a chair on the left side of the image.