How to Capture Motion Blur in Your Photos

Photographing fast-moving subjects doesn’t always mean using quick shutter speeds. In fact, adding motion to your still images can enhance the look and feel of the speed. Corey Rich explains how to imply movement in photographs with simple panning:

Rich, using a Nikon D4S and a Nikon 17-35mm ED-IF AF-S zoom lens, photographs mountain biker Jake Dorey speeding down a forest trail. By using a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, Rich easily captures the biker’s swift movements. In the true definition of a “still” photograph, the biker looks as if he is motionless, frozen in time.

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A fast shutter speed makes it look like the biker is sitting still.

So how do you create the feeling of speed on a mountain bike? Or any moving subject for that matter?

“By slowing the shutter speed down we can really create the illusion of speed. Often times that’s the challenge; you don’t want to freeze your athlete, you really want to create this illusion or this feeling that they’re moving fast.”

How To Add Motion to Your Photographs

  • Slow down your shutter speed. Adjust your shutter speed and then compensate with aperture. Since depth of field is not as much a priority against a blurry background, don’t worry if you must use f/8 or f/16. Rich uses a shutter speed of 1/40 of a second to photograph his biker using the Nikon D4s and a 17-35mm f/2.8 lens. It’s best to troubleshoot with your camera, lens, and subject—but try for a shutter speed of  1/100 of a second or slower.
  • Use a simple setup—your hands! Hold your camera with firm arms, and twist your torso to follow the movement of your subject. Move your camera consistently and fluidly along the same plane as your subject. (You can try it on a tripod or monopod, but it’s not necessary, and at times it’s even more difficult.)
  • Shoot in burst mode. You’ll probably need to shoot several frames to get the subject just right in the frame.
  • The idea is to get something from your subject sharp in the frame, while lines of motion appear in the background. You may want a less blurry background to preserve context, or you may not—that’s up to your creative vision.
  • Repetition and troubleshooting are the name of the panning game. Panning and creating motion in images can be a tricky thing; it takes practice to get the perfect shot. Don’t give up after 10, 20, or even 50 tries!
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It may seem counter-intuitive, but a slower shutter speed is often the best choice for quick-moving subjects.

“At the end of the day in still photography, what we’re really searching for is one great photograph… It’s about getting out there, perfecting the situation, repeating that situation over and over until you really have that perfect frame.”

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