Capturing movement in images is something that many photographers only think to do when they are photographing sports or other fast moving subjects.
While there is an obvious opportunity in sports photography to emphasize the movement of participants – almost every type of photography can benefit from the emphasis of movement in a shot – even when the movement is very small, slow and/or subtle.
There are two types of motion blur pictures. The first type is where you keep your surroundings static and bring out motion in the subject. This works pretty well with pictures where only a part of the subject is moving, like the arms or legs. The other type of blur is where you keep the subject mostly in focus and get a motion blur effect on the background. This works well when the entire subject is in motion, just like the bike in the image above.
Here are a few quick pointers for taking some cool motion blur shots.
The most important tip that you have to remember when shooting a moving object is to be alert and ready to shoot. You must be aware of whats going on around you, have your settings ready well in advanced, and always anticipate the next step. That way you’ll never miss that perfect shot.
Concentrate on your surroundings. What’s going to be in the background of your photo? Remember the background can make or break a picture.
For the first type of motion blur, keep the camera still so that the subject is blurred. Alternatively you can track your subject with the camera so that motion blur is applied to the background.
Motion blur is all about shutter speed. To bring out the motion in the backdrop and keep the subject in focus, start with a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second and slow down gradually depending on the results and the speed of the subject. This will help you to determine the optimum shutter speed for motion blur in those conditions.
Start tracking the subject before you press the shutter, and don’t stop until the photo has been taken. This will help in capturing sharp subjects. Also, using the cameras viewfinder rather than the LCD helps a lot. It helps to keep the camera steady and allows your pivot to be far more accurate.
Set the Focus to S-AF or Servo. On this mode, the camera will continue to focus regardless of whether your finger is on the button. This helps in tracking the fast moving objects because it saves the time spent focusing before a shot. It was built specifically for this reason, so why not use it if you have it.
Set the ISO to the lowest possible setting. If you cannot prepare for a test shot then set it somewhere between 200 and 400.
Select the focus point off the center. If you don’t have the ability to do this, select the center focus and crop it during post processing. The One third rule almost always works. Again photography is all about breaking rules. Break them when you feel they work.
Try to keep hold the camera tight. This will avoid some unwanted blur. A great tip this is to use the viewfinder instead of the LCD. By doing this your pivot will be far more accurate because the camera is following your eyes, not your arms.
Practice, practice and practice. This is the key to success.
Slow Down Your Shutter Speed The reason for movement blur is simply that the amount of time that the shutter of a camera is open is long enough to allow your camera’s image sensor to ‘see’ the movement of your subject.
So the number one tip in capturing movement in an image is to select a longer shutter speed.
If your shutter speed is fast (eg 1/4000th of a second) it’s not going to see much movement (unless the the subject is moving mighty fast) while if you select a longer shutter speed (eg 5 seconds) you don’t need your subject to move very much at all before you start to see blur.
How long should your shutter speed be? – Of course the speed of your subject comes into play. A moving snail and a moving racing car will give you very different results at the same shutter speed.
The other factor that comes into play in determining shutter speed is how much light there is in the scene you are photographing. A longer shutter speed lets more light into your camera and runs the risk of blowing out or overexposing your shot. We’ll cover some ways to let less light in and give you the option to have longer shutter speeds below.
So how long should your shutter speed be to get movement blur in your shot? There is no ‘answer’ for this question as it will obviously vary a lot depending upon the speed of your subject, how much blur you want to capture and how well lit the subject is. The key is to experiment (something that a digital camera is ideal for as you can take as many shots as you like without it costing you anything).
Secure Your Camera There are two ways to get a feeling of movement in your images – have your subject move or have your camera move (or both). In the majority of cases that we featured in last week’s post it was the subject that was moving.
In this type of shot you need to do everything that you can to keep your camera perfectly still or in addition to the blur from the subject you’ll find that the whole frame looks like it’s moving as a result of using a longer shutter speed. Whether it be by using a tripod or have your camera sitting on some other still object (consider a shutter release mechanism or using the self timer) you’ll want to ensure that camera is perfectly still.
Shutter Priority Mode One of the most important settings in photographing an image which emphasizes movement is the shutter speed (as outlined above). Even small changes in shutter speed will have a big impact upon your shot – so you want to shoot in a mode that gives you full control over it.
This means either switching your camera into full Manual Mode or Shutter Priority Mode. Shutter Priority Mode is a mode that allows you to set your shutter speed and where the camera chooses other settings (like Aperture) to ensure the shot is well exposed. It’s a very handy mode to play with as it ensures you get the movement effect that you’re after but also generally well exposed shots.
The other option is to go with Manual mode if you feel more confident in getting the aperture/shutterspeed balance right.
I mentioned above that one of the effects of using longer exposure times (slow shutter speeds) is that more light will get into your camera. Unless you compensate for this in some way this will lead to over exposed shots.
Below I’ll suggest three main methods for making this compensation (note – a forth method is simply to wait for the light to change (ie for it to get darker). This is why many shots that incorporate blur are taken at night or at dawn/dusk):
1. Small Apertures So how do you cut down the amount of light that gets into your camera to help compensate for a longer shutter speed? How about changing the size of the hole that the light comes in through. This is called adjusting your camera’s Aperture.
If you shoot in shutter priority mode the camera will do this automatically for you – but if you’re in manual mode you’ll need to decrease your Aperture in a proportional amount to the amount that you lengthen the shutter speed.
Luckily this isn’t as hard as you might think because shutter speed and aperture settings are organized in ‘stops’. As you decrease shutter speed by a ‘stop’ you double the amount of time the shutter is open (eg – from 1/250 to 1/125). The same is true with Aperture settings – as you decrease the Aperture by one stop you decrease the size of the shutter opening by 50%. This is great because an adjustment of 1 stop in one means that you just need to adjust the other by 1 stop too and you’ll still get good exposure.
2. Decrease Your ISOPhoto by bikeracer
Another way to compensate for the extra light that a longer shutter speed lets into your camera is to adjust the ISO setting of your camera. ISO impacts the sensitivity of your digital camera’s image sensor. A higher number will make it more sensitive to light and a lower number will make the sensor less sensitive. Choose a low number and you’ll find yourself able to choose longer shutter speeds.
3. Try a Neutral Density Filter These filters cut down the light passing through your lens and into your camera which in turn allows you to use a slower shutter speed.
It is sort of like putting sunglasses on your camera (in fact some people actually have been known to use sunglasses when they didn’t have an ND filter handy).
For instance, if you’re shooting a landscape in a brightly lit situation but want a shutter speed of a second or more you could well end up with a very over exposed image. A ND filter can be very helpful in slowing the shutter speed down enough to still get a well balanced shot.
It is the use of ND filters that enabled some of the shots in our previous post to get a lot of motion blur while being taken in daylight.
Another type of filter that can have a similar impact is a polarizing filter. Keep in mind however that polarizers not only cut out some light but they can impact the look of your image in other ways (ie cut out reflection and even change the color of a sky – this may or may not be the look you’re after).
Two More Technique to Try – one more technique to experiment if you’re wanting to capture images with motion blur is to experiment with Slow Sync Flash. This combines longer shutter speeds with the use of a flash so that elements in the shot are frozen still while others are blurry. Read more about Slow Sync Flash. Another technique worth trying out is panning – moving your camera along with a moving subject so that they come out nicely in focus but the background blurs.