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Film - Digital

Time lapse effect with slow shutter speeds

If we have the camera in a stationary on a tripod and take the image at a fast enough speed as the subject enters the frame, we will stop the action and have a sharp image. Then as the shutter speed is progressively increased to a longer time, the moving subject begins to look blurry and out of focus. But as we continue to decrease the exposure time, there is a point where the blurring of the subject looks convincing and as though the subject has momentum. However if we keep increasing the shutter speed, there is another point where the moving subject disappears completely and we only get the background. So, there is an optimum shutter speed to gain the blurred speed effect. Of course this optimum shutter speed depends how close you are to the subject, the focal length of the lens and speed of the subject.  Rather than have the camera in a stationary position on the tripod, if we follow the movement of the subject, release the shutter and keep following the subject during the exposure, the subject can be recorded relatively sharp while the background is blurred. There is a bit of experimenting needed with these techniques, but start with a shutter speed of about 1/10 sec and experiment from here.

The time lapse effect is achieved through a very long exposure usually during the night or at dawn or dusk – This might vary from as short as 1min but could be even longer than 12 hrs or at night.

To do this set your camera on a sturdy tripod and the shutter on either B or T. You can also of course lie the camera on the ground facing up at the sky or on a solid support base.
Some cameras have two settings – B and T.
When we set the shutter to B the shutter will stay open but you will have to keep it depressed with a shutter release cable, while on T it will stay open until you click it again.

Remember the slower the ISO setting the longer the exposure time becomes and the more you stop the aperture of the lens down the less light that gets in and again the exposure becomes longer.

in this image taken at f 6.7 @ 1/1000 second - 300 mm lens 400 ISO hand held - we see the helicopter is relatively sharp and each of the rotor blades are visible.
in this image taken at f 22 @1/90 second 300 mm lens 400 ISO hand held - not only do we see the helicopter blurred from camera movement, but the rotor blades are also blurred.

This image with a 10 hr exposure has been shot with film


A long exposure of several hours where there of the stars will produce a series of circles in the sky which are actually the trails of the stars as the earth rotates.

Sometimes I have left the camera exposing all night - I set the camera up under a tent to keep any dew off the camera and lens.


Digital or Film ?

There is no problem working with film in fact in some situation film has advantages over digital. For instance if you wanted to expose for several hours at night digital cameras will shut down after a certain period – this is because they need power to keep the shutter open and the battery run flat very quickly. So your old film camera is not obsolete yet.

However when working with film you need to consider reciprocity failure.

  You can also leave the shutter open while you paint a subject with light – perhaps from a hand held torch or several flashes with a hand held flash. Coloured filters can be placed over the light with great effect. This technique is called painting with light.


While we can simply leave the shutter open to expose a static scene to record, we can also use the technique to create images with trails of light from moving objects. Perhaps airplane trails, car lights etc. Flowing water also works well.



We see many time lapse images of a bush scene with water flowing down a stream or an ocean scene where the water has turned to a misty like material. These are usually shot after sunset when the sun has disappeared and there is still some ambient light in the sky.


Here the exposure is 30 seconds at dusk after the sun has set and the light level is much lower.




However , I used this technique to create enigmatic images of the Kawarau River in full sunlight. By using 3 ISO film, an aperture of f32 and a 16x neutral density filter the exposure was about 1 min.

  This image is from the same series - and again by using a series of neutral density filters, stopping the lens right down I was able to expose in full sunlight with the sun reelecting from the water like a series of sinus for more than 1 minute.


The use of slow shutter speeds can give impact to an image - when you use these you need to play with the shutter speed to gain the required effect - if the shutter speed produces an image with a small amount of blur the image can be unconvincing and just look un sharp. However, when we use a much longer shutter speed the subject can gain a sense of visually vibrating which can be inter testing.

This image is taken with a shutter speed of 1/20 second and with a wide angle lens produces a relatively sharp image.



This slower shutter speed of several seconds gives the image a sense of movement.

This image, taken of a reflection out the front of an underground transporter, is taken with the same shutter speed (1/10 sec) as the image on the right - the difference is on the right the transporter is moving faster.


However, in this image, (taken with the same shutter speed) the faster motion of the transporter produces blurred lines and extenuates the feeling of motion and speed.


In these three images shot in the moonlight with a shutter speed of 30 seconds we see different effects of movement. Here the body is relatively still and the hands have ben moved to a second position during the exposure. The body appears solid while the hands appear transparent.

Here the hands have been moved along with the whole body which give more of a sense of movement rather than transparency.
Here the subject has stood stationary for about 15 seconds then moved and stood stationary again for the remain time of the exposure - in this case both figures appear transparent.


Here are two shots taken ins succession from the window of the TGV train in France which travels over 300kmph.

In this first shot the shutter speed is 1/60 second - note that because the objects in the foreground are closer they appear to move at a faster rate than the background and are more blurred.

In the second image the shutter speed is 1/20 second and the foreground is now blurred even further. So because of the laws of perspective - when the camera is moving - objects closer to the camera are more likely to blur in the image than those further away.





When we look at moment - we can have three situations -

one - where the camera is stationary and the subject moves

two - where the subject is stationary and the camera moves

Three- where both camera and subject are moving

The image on the right is from a series titled Gathering Falling Light - the exposures are made for 30 second while walking in the falling dusk light.


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