There are many situations in the world of photography where you will have to decide how you want to capture a moving subject. Whether it is an athlete running down the field or a bird swooping over the water there are many different photo outcomes possible. You could end up with everything in the scene perfectly displayed without any blur or you could end up with the subject in focus while the background is blurred from panning. In this article we will discuss the different techniques you could use in order to end up with different results.
If you would like to freeze the motion of the subject along with the motion of the background, you should use a very high shutter speed. I would use a shutter speed of at least 1/300th of a second in order to make sure that you freeze everything. But there are other subjects you might find that will be moving unusually fast such as cars or thrown objects. If you would like to freeze a faster moving object you will probably need to use a shutter speed closer to 1/1000th of a second or faster. This shouldn’t be a problem now because the new cameras are coming out with shutter speeds of up to 1/8000th of a second.
Motion Blur of the Whole Scene
If you are trying to blur everything in the photo to convey how fast everything is moving to the viewer, then you should try a slower shutter speed. Anything below 1/100th of a second should do the trick. I have used this for more artistic photos of passing motorcycles or cars as well as running animals. This technique is best used when the scene you are taking a photo of is full of bright colors. In this type of photo the subject is blurred so it is not often used, people aren’t used to seeing this kind of work. And because people aren’t used to this kind of work, I have seen many excellent photos like this sell for a lot of money. This type of photo also works very well with patterns in nature. Such as colorful trees waving in the breeze or flowing water with colorful reflections. This combination of blur with a lot of color can create a photo that looks more like a painting.
This is a more difficult technique that requires a lot of practice and skill. In this type of exposure the photographer uses a somewhat slower shutter speed and moves the camera at the same rate as the moving subject. When done correctly, the subject is clearly in focus without blur while the background is blurred; giving the viewer the appearance of rapid motion. This is the most common method used by nature photographers and sports photographers when they want to show their subjects moving across a scene rapidly. Some of my favorite photos that I have taken involved using this technique with speeding dirt bikers and soaring birds with trees and flowers blurred in the background.
Many photographers work very hard to master the skill of panning. I myself have practiced following the movement of sports players with a slower shutter speed to try to follow the movement of their faces. Occasionally I would get it right and have their face clearly exposed while some of their limbs and the background blurred behind them from the slow shutter speed. These are most commonly the kinds of photos that win awards in a sports photography contest.
If you would like to have a clear scene while your subject blurs past with speed, you will have to figure out a way to keep the camera steady enough to capture the background clearly while your shutter stays open an extended amount of time. This method can obtain some amazing photos and is commonly used at night with cars and headlights. I’m sure you have seen photos of a freeway at night with the headlights of cars making lines through the exposure. This definitely required some sort of tripod and a very long shutter speed; a shutter speed probably multiple seconds long.
When I use this method I usually set my camera up on a tripod of some sort and simply set the self-timer so I don’t have to hold the shutter button down and risk moving the camera. By setting the self-timer the camera automatically takes the photo after somewhere around 10 seconds so you don’t have to hold it. The best night photos I have taken involved using this technique while some cars or trains sped through the scene leaving their trail.
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