Master your shutter speed- Understanding the Composition

Hi everyone

What i would like to speak to you about in this blog is how to optimise your shutter speed to get the most out of the composition you are using. I will be using a couple of my own images to illustrate the points i want to get across and hopefully you will learn a thing or two.

If you watch any of my vlogs or follow me on instagram then you will know that when i am shooting scenes with flowing or moving water of some sort i love to show motion and energy. I do this by using a short shutter speed, majority of the time. There are times when i use a really long shutter speed which i will explain in a minute.

I think when you begin photography and buy your first ND filter, the tendency is to really blur out that water into a misty look because lets face it, it looks pretty cool! However some scenes and compositions can be made feel much more dramatic and gripping when you show the slightest movement in the water while still retaining detail. Let me show you


The image on the left was captured in Ballydowane Bay, Co Waterford during a beautiful sunrise. For me, what gives this image its energy and motion is the incoming wave which i captured using a shutter speed of 1/3 of a second, i had a polarising filter on to reduce the light coming into the lens to achieve this shutter speed and i shot it at an aperture of F11. Now i could have put a 4 or 6 stop filter and blurred out all that water and it still would have looked nice, however, the incoming rush of the waves give the image a sense of drama. Particularly the waves crashing off the rock in the background as it caught the light of the sky.

Here is another example where using a shutter speed of 1/3 or 1/4 of a second captured the energy and motion of the water while still retaining detail

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This was in Connemara, Co Galway. I mentioned above about retaining detail and this is something i always like to do, particularly in a shot like this where i have a raging river that creates such beautiful textures and contrast as it moves and crashes over various rocks and boulders. Again, a shutter of 1/4 second was used with a polariser and 4 stop filter as it was quite bright even though it was foggy. I just think that if i had used a very long shutter speed here the effect would not have been the same.

Now let me show you an image where a long shutter speed did work. As i said at the beginning, you need to learn how different compositions suit a shorter or longer shutter speed, particularly when it comes to water.

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This is Minard Castle in Dingle, Co Kerry. I took this image around 5:45am when the light from the full moon was still bright and lit up the scene. This gave the image an almost ethereal effect (ethereal basically means something that is other wordly, sometimes spooky). By using a long shutter speed and blurring out the water completely i added to the mood of this shot and it gave the image an elegance and balance that matched the way the moon was bathing the rocks and castle with its light. The water looks misty and murky almost like it is trying to float up the rocks in a ghostly manner. Ok maybe i am getting carried away now but you get the idea!! This was a 2 minute exposure with no filters, ISO 64 and my aperture was F8.

So that is it, practice using different shutter speeds to capture different effects in the water and really think about how you can get the most out of your composition using your shutter speed.

Thanks for reading and until the next time, Good luck