Shutter Speed in Landscape Photography

  • The precise choice of shutter speed may not at first glance seem to be of great importance to the landscape photographer. The land itself is a static subject, literally as steady as a rock, but nevertheless, shutter speed provides a valuable and versatile control over the appearance of those parts of the subject that are not firmly anchored to the earth.

  • In fact, the list is quite long: most small plants move in a slight breeze, and whole trees sway in stronger wind. Fields of crops form swirling patterns as the wind chases across them, and smoke or clouds drift quickly across the sky on even quite still days. All these subjects look quite different depending on whether you picture them with slow or fast shutter speeds, but the landscape subject that is most profoundly affected by shutter speed is water. Moving water can take on a multitude of disguises, turning from cotton-wool soft at a two-second exposure, to frozen crystal at 1/1000 sec or faster.

  • Man-made objects move, too, leaving trails across your picture if you leave the shutter open for long enough. Aircraft and cars leave behind straight traces from their lights.

  • Choosing a fast shutter speed to freeze an active landscape usually creates few problems: set a fast speed using your camera's aperture-priority mode, or with the camera on "manual". You'll probably need to select a wide aperture and low ISO or fast film unless the light is bright.

  • To blur moving objects you must use shutter speeds so slow that you can't handhold the camera, so use a tripod or another support.

Slowing the Shutter


In sunlight, the slowest shutter speed you can use with the lens set to minimum aperture is likely to be around 1/30 sec - faster if you using film camera with sensitive film - and this isn't slow enough to get the full effect of blurred moving water. If you want a softer image, you'll need to fit a neutral density (ND) filter that cuts down the amount of light reaching the film. The most suitable filter has a density of 2.0, and cuts down the light reaching the film by 99%. This filter lets you set a shutter speed nearly seven stops slower, so that in sunlight you can use an exposure measured in seconds, not fractions.

More about Camera Shooting Techniques


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