I have recently purchased a DSLR ( Canon EOS 500D) and am going to Rome in May with it. As you will probably know Rome is quite well known for its great fountains. When in Rome I wanted to try to take some pictures of the fountains / water using a slow shutter speed to get the blurred / misty effect (apologies for a lack of the proper term for this, I'm sure there is one ...).

Since getting my camera I've been experimenting with different settings to try and get this effect.

I have used the shutter priority mode, with a tripod but all I get are near pure white failed images. I assume this is being flooded with light because the shutter is open for so long but how do I compensate for this? I've tried turning the ISO all the way down (and up!) but this makes no difference.

What am I doing wrong?

Thanks in advance all!


It's a common mistake to use shutter priority because you want a slower shutter speed: you're thinking mainly about exposure time so having full control over the shutter speed seems the right way to go.

Unfortunately, the problem is that cameras have a vast range of shutter speeds (mine goes from 30 seconds to 1/8000th of a second) but a comparatively tiny range of apertures (the lens that's on my camera at the moment goes from f/4 to f/22). f/22 is only around 30 times faster than f/4, but 1/8000s is around 240,000 times faster than 30s! Even if we limit ourselves to shutter speeds that are good enough to shoot hand-held (say, 1/30s and faster), my fastest shutter speed is still around 260 times faster than the slowest.

Or put simply: let your camera choose the shutter speed and it's got lots of latitude to play with. Let it choose the aperture and it hasn't. This is why using shutter priority so often ends up with a shot that's badly over- or under-exposed: the camera simply ran out of options.

(I'm ignoring ISO for now to keep things simple but on a typical camera ISO has a similarly small range to aperture. For example, ISO 1600 is only 16 times faster than ISO 100. And if you prefer a lower ISO setting to keep noise down, there's even less room for manoeuvre there.)

So, a much better place to start with your fountain shots is to let the camera choose the slowest shutter speed it can manage:

  • Set the camera to aperture priority and choose your smallest aperture
  • Set the ISO setting as low as it will go
  • If you have one, use a neutral density filter to darken the scene even further

Now take a shot and see how the shutter speed works out. If it's too slow, just ease back on the aperture and other settings until you get the shutter speed you want.

  • I deleted my comment since it's fixed. I'll delete this one too in a little bit. :)
    – mattdm
    Mar 29 '12 at 10:35

You are getting pure white images because there is too much light coming into the camera.

For smooth water you need a shutter speed of at least half a second.

To reduce the amount of light coming into the camera in this time, you can do one or more of the following:

  • Reduce the ISO to the smallest value (e.g. ISO 100)
  • Make the aperture physically smaller (e.g. f/11 to f/22)
  • Physically filter the light using a neutral density filter (ND)
  • Wait for there to be less ambient light (i.e. twilight or night)
  • :S I agree. But I would think shutter priority mode would automatically adjust the ISO and aperture to achieve proper exposure.
    – Stainsor
    Mar 28 '12 at 13:10
  • 1
    @Stainsor: there's only so much those can be reduced.
    – mattdm
    Mar 28 '12 at 13:23
  • 1
    I guess I'm underestimating the shutter speeds the OP is using.
    – Stainsor
    Mar 28 '12 at 13:31

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