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Setting Mood with Shutter Speed

Setting Mood with Shutter Speed

May 14, 2018
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One of the biggest variables in landscape photography is your shutter speed. Not only is it the main driving force in your exposure for this type of photography, it also helps determine the mood of the final image and gives us creative control.

Setting a Mood

Flat, "foggy" or glassy water suggests a calm mood, especially when combined with cooler color temperatures like blues in the final edit. 
The photo above was taken with a shutter speed of 1 minute, 7 seconds. This creates enough of a motion blur to make the waves seem flat and calm and is often the preferred method among landscape photographers.
How to do It
For calm, or glassy water even when waves are present, set a shutter speed of ten seconds or longer.
It's not as easy as it looks to simply "set a longer shutter speed" because this often means too much light hitting the sensor for too long a duration, resulting in a bright, overexposed image that is not usable. In order to achieve this look, it is usually necessary to have a neutral density filter attached to the lens which will block a significant amount of light (5 to 10 stops). The camera is set on a tripod and triggered with a remote control. (See "4 Must-Have Tools for Landscape Photographers"). Additionally, a graduated neutral density filter will help darken the sky while keeping the landscape dark, balancing the overall exposure. 

The shutter time for this photo above was only 1.3 seconds. As you can see, the waves are kept intact and although there is indeed some motion blur, there are more things to indicate to the viewer that the water is turbulent and moving forcefully toward the camera. The warm color temperatures evoke a more dynamic mood. To preserve some motion in the water and create a more realistic image like this one, set a shutter speed of 2 seconds or faster. 

Complete settings

Image #1 - calm and cool - 67 seconds, ISO 100, f/16, 16mm 

Image #2 - Warm and Turbulent - 1.3 seconds, ISO 100, f/18, 16mm

As with all things photographic, practice and experimentation are critical in developing your skills and determining the best settings to suit your taste and personal sense of style. So get out there and shoot! 

(Photos & Article by instructor Rob Andrew)