When you think of landscape photography, if you’re like me, you immediately think of aperture.


Because aperture is one element that impact depth of field, and landscape photography typically benefits from a large depth of field.

So, you dial in a small aperture, frame up the shot, and you’ve got a sharp photo (hopefully!) from front to back.

But there’s a different camera setting that has a much more visible impact on how your landscapes look…

Shutter speed.

Sure, like aperture, shutter speed is intimately involved in controlling exposure.

And, again, like aperture, shutter speed can also be used as a creative element to freeze or blur movement in your photos.

If you want to use shutter speed in your landscapes, check out these three classic effects of shutter speed.

Get Set Up

Before we dive into the ways you can use shutter speed, let’s first get a few settings out of the way.

Since we’re going to utilize shutter speed creatively, it’s easiest if you put your camera in shutter priority mode, which is indicated as S or TV on your camera’s dial.

In shutter priority mode, you select the shutter speed you want, and the camera will choose an aperture that works with that shutter speed for a well-exposed image.

You can also control the ISO value when you’re shooting in shutter priority mode.

That’s helpful because if you find that the shutter speed you need and the aperture the camera selects result in a photo that’s too dark, you can boost the ISO to rectify the problem. Likewise, if the image is too bright, you might be able to adjust the ISO downward to darken the shot a bit.

That’s the short explanation of shutter priority mode, but if you need more detail, give this resource a quick read.

You also need to consider something else when shooting in shutter priority mode – is the shutter speed you need too slow to hold the camera in your hand?

When freezing movement, this shouldn’t be a problem because you’ll be shooting at such a fast shutter speed.

But later on when we discuss how to blur movement, that’s another story.

Be sure you have a solid tripod for slower shutter speeds, that way you don’t cause camera shake and ruin your photos.

Freezing Movement – 1/125 Seconds and Faster

Let’s start with the fastest shutter speed effect – freezing movement.

Obviously, the faster that the subject is moving, the faster your shutter speed needs to be to freeze that movement.

For example, using a shutter speed of 1/250 seconds will probably suffice for slower moving subjects like a person walking at a normal pace.

But to freeze the movement of a bird in flight, you might need something along the lines of 1/2000 seconds to prevent any blur.

So, the first rule of thumb is that the faster the object that’s moving, the faster your shutter speed needs to be. See this and other concepts related to freezing motion in the video below by PHLEARN:

The second rule of thumb for freezing movement is that you have to actually predict where the object will be so that you can get it in the photo and in focus, no less.

To do so, you need to track the movement of the subject while keeping the active focal point on the subject.

To do this, put your camera in Continuous AF or Al Servo autofocus mode, which will allow the camera to help you keep the subject in focus.

From there, it’s all about timing.

Timing the shot just right means the difference between a subject that’s placed well in the frame and missing the subject altogether.

This aspect of freezing movement is hard to master, but not impossible. It just takes some practice.

Technique Summarized:

  • Put your camera in shutter priority mode.
  • Select a fast shutter speed that corresponds to the speed of your subject.
  • Use Continuous AF or Al Servo autofocus mode so the camera helps you keep the subject in focus.
  • Practice tracking the moving subject such that you maintain it in the frame of the shot.
  • If your images are too dark, try again with a higher ISO to brighten the scene.

Blur Moving Elements – 1/15 Seconds and Slower

To introduce blur into your landscape shots, you can opt for a much slower shutter speed in the range of 1/15 seconds to about 1/2 seconds.

In this range, you can get a little more creative with your shutter speed because it allows you to show moving elements like water or clouds as being beautifully blurred.

The trick here is to keep your camera absolutely still.

At even 1/15 seconds, holding the camera in your hand is not an option for getting a tack-sharp photo.

So, get a tripod, set up your camera, and frame the shot, remembering to have your camera in shutter priority mode.

The primary obstacle you’ll face when using a slow shutter speed is to determine what shutter speed you’ll need to get the effect you want.

Naturally, the slower the shutter speed, the more the subject will be blurred.

However, finding the ideal shutter speed for what you want to do will simply take some practice. Once you have a few tries under your belt, you’ll be surprised at how much easier the process becomes for future landscape photography outings.

Something else to consider is the type of movement you want to be blurred.

For things like a stream flowing through a forest, its movement is more or less in a straight line. As a result, the water will have a structured look to it as it follows the path of the river bed.

However, if you’re photographing something like leaves blowing in the wind, their random movements will create a random blurred effect in the shot.

Lastly, if you’re shooting during the day with a long shutter speed, you’ll often need a neutral density filter for your lens.

A neutral density filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens, thereby allowing you to use longer shutter speeds without overexposing the image.

Technique Summarized:

  • Put your camera in shutter priority mode.
  • Mount your camera on a tripod and frame up the shot.
  • Add a neutral density filter to your lens and calculate how much it impacts the shutter speed.
  • Take several shots of the same subject, each with an increasingly slower shutter speed.
  • This will help you identify the best speed for the look you want.

Long Exposures – Up to 30 Seconds (or More)

First of all, a long exposure doesn’t have to be more than 30 seconds long, but for simplicity’s sake, that’s just how I’ve organized these three classic shutter speed effects.

The great thing about exposures of up to 30 seconds is that you’ll get plenty of motion blur, even if the subject is moving quite slowly.

As a result, this is a great shutter speed range for things like rendering ocean waves as milky smooth, creating long light trails as cars pass by on roads, and even astrophotography of the night sky.

Just like with the previous examples of using shutter speed, you’ll need to work on predicting how your subject will move over the course of the exposure.

Naturally, at such long shutter speeds, the subject will have more time to move around, so be aware of that when composing the shot.

Also be aware that at these shutter speeds, a neutral density filter is not an option (unless you shoot after dusk and before sunrise).

In some cases, you can still use shutter priority mode to get a pleasing long exposure.

However, you might also find that working in manual mode with manual focusing will generate better results.

If you aren’t sure how to shoot in manual mode, watch the video above from SnapFactory.

Technique Summarized:

  • Put your camera in shutter priority mode, or, if you need more control, use manual mode.
  • Mount your camera on a tripod and frame up the shot.
  • Add a neutral density filter to your lens and calculate how much it impacts the shutter speed.
  • Be aware of how the subject moves over the course of such a long exposure – even the slightest movement will be blurred.
  • With that, you have a short guide to using shutter speed to improve your landscape photos.

As mentioned throughout this article, mastering shutter speed is as much about time, practice, and patience as it is about understanding the technicalities of how it works.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab your gear, head out, and start practicing these shutter speed effects!



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