What shutter speed should you choose for timelapses?

Shutter speed is one of the most crucial components of a timelapse and is one of the most important variables a creator has to pick. A fast shutter speed can show motion and help you shorten the length of time while a long shutter speed can add motion blur but will also lengthen the time of your video. From my experience shooting timelapses, these are the only two options (outside holy grails or day to night / astro).

Yesterday I went to Paterson Falls in New Jersey to shoot the waterfalls after the hurricane Ida storm. The water flow was very strong and I thought it be a good opportunity to shoot to different timelapses. I did a fast shutter speed (1/1000 second) with 0.5 second interval and a long shutter speed (4 seconds) with 6 second interval.

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Fast shutter speed – the main benefit of this is to capture any fast motion. I would typically only use a fast shutter speed and short interval (0.5 seconds) with fast motion objects. A perfect example here is the fast moving water (ocean waves and fog are other examples). The only chance you have to capture the motion is by going as fast as possible. If you do a interval of 2+ seconds then the scene will look too jittery. The half second interval for this video does show how fast the water is and another benefit is that this timelapse only takes a few minutes to shoot! 3-4 at most.

Long shutter speed: this is typically my go-to preference as it gives the perspective of motion blur. I think this is the most ideal viewing experience and looks much smoother. The motion blur looks great with people and objects like cars. The motion blur effect with water is very tricky. With water you need to have a very long shutter speed to make it look good. A shutter speed of 1 – 2 seconds and shutter speed of 3-4 seconds will make fast moving water very jittery and too fast. If you go longer then it will look much smoother but also takes longer to shoot (up to 20 minutes for a video like this). This video below was shot with a 4 second shutter speed and 6 second interval

Stacked long exposure images – 16 minute equivalent exposure

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