Motion blur is one of the ways you can create interesting images. However, it can be a little tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing.
If you want to know some tips on how to effectively show a sense of motion in your images, this post if for you.
What is motion blur?
In photography, motion blur is the evident streaking or blurring of some or all portion of an image caused by the fast movement of an object in the frame.
It mostly occurs when a subject is moving faster than your current shutter speed setting can handle. Motion blur enables photographers to convey a sense of speed or movement in a single frame.
It is the same phenomenon that happens with your eyes when something is moving very fast in front of you. Except that in cameras, we can actually control the amount of streaking, and in some cases, even completely remove it.
Why would you want to capture motion blur?
It’s pretty hard to convey motion or speed in a single image, don’t you agree? This alone is a good reason why you might to capture motion blur in your photos.
For most people or at least non-photography enthusiast, it is often regarded as something “bad” for your image.
In some cases, yes, it can make your photos look bad if it shows up by accident. The key to capturing awesome images with motion blur is to be intentional about it.
A good example is cars. If you capture it by simply freezing its movement, wouldn’t it look like it is just parked? Especially if no elements around it that suggest it is actually moving?
The photo below is a great example.
Instead of freezing the whole motion, use slightly slower shutter speed setting, enough to make the wheels blur. This way, even if your photos shows only the car, something tells the viewers it is actually moving when you captured it.
Tips in Capturing Motion Blur:
Shutter speed, exposure and the actual speed of the subject go hand in hand when it comes to capturing motion blur.
These factors will affect how you’ll go about capturing the movement.
Here’s are a few tips to get you started:
1. Use a slow shutter speed:
Using a slow shutter speed is the most important thing when trying to capture motion blur. While you may not have control over your subject’s speed or amount of light in your scene, it is something you can totally control.
Basically, the slower your shutter speed, the more blurs you get out of the image.
Anything below 1/50th of a second can be considered slow because motion blur can become apparent at these settings.
However, this still depends on the subject’s speed.
If the subject is already moving fast, then you might not need to slow down your shutter speed too much to capture motion blur. But if your subject doesn’t move too much, the blurs you’ll get might not be significant enough to make a difference.
At 1/40 or even 1/30 shutter speed, motion blur might just look like it was a mistake. So if you’re going to show movement, be intentional about it, blur the hell out of the image.
Just kidding. Too much motion blur might not look too good unless you have a specific look you’re going for.
I usually start 1/15 of a second and move up and down from there, depending on the amount of motion blur I’d like to show. Once you get the hang of it, you’d be able to estimate better depending on the subject’s speed.
2. Shoot in shutter priority mode as a start:
I’m a firm believer of shooting in manual mode. But it can sometimes difficult to gauge proper exposure on the fly. Switching to shutter priority mode can help you tremendously on this.
Basically, you only have to choose your desired shutter speed setting. Then your camera will choose what it thinks the best aperture for your photo. Make sure that you’re on auto ISO too so you only have to choose the shutter speed.
This will give you the initial settings you can use as a base for proper exposure.
From there, just switch back to manual mode to do some fine-tuning.
For example, if the settings your camera selected is at 6400 ISO, then the image will probably have too much noise. To solve this, you can bring it down to 1600 then use 2 stops wider aperture.
We are prioritizing movement so choose the most appropriate shutter speed setting in terms of the amount of motion blur you want to show in your image.
3. Stabilize your camera:
Excessive motion blur is one thing but camera shake blur is worse.
It affects the whole image and can ruin an otherwise good shot. So you want to avoid it at all times. If you’re not stabilizing your camera, there’s a high chance that you’ll encounter this issue.
That said, use a tripod whenever you can, so you can reduce camera shake blur.
If you’re shooting handheld. It’s best to utilize handheld techniques.
And if you’re doing a panning shot(which we’ll tackle right after this) you want to pivot with your legs instead of your hand. You’ll essentially be the tripod for your camera.
4. Move your camera along with the subject:
Motion blur is not only created by your subject’s movement. You can also move your camera to create streaks. Doing so will have your camera merge different frames and background in a single shot.
You may be able to interesting abstract shots by moving your camera left or right in a fast movement with a still subject. But the real power of this is when you incorporate it with a moving subject.
Essentially, you want to follow your subject’s movement and keep them in the same position in your frame. This will make your subject sharp while blurring out everything else in your frame.
This technique is called panning.
The image above was taken at 1/60th of a second which is somewhat still a fast setting. But the motion blur is still apparent due to the camera’s panning movement when the shot was taken.
It’s pretty tough to do this with a tripod so you have to do your best to keep your camera stable while following your subject’s trajectory.
5. Use ND filters:
Trying to capture motion blur during daylight or any environment with plenty of light can render your image overexposed. After all, the slower the shutter speed you use, the brighter your image will become.
Using ND filters in these situations can help you achieve proper exposure. Essentially, it will block some lights enabling you to use slower shutter speed.
It can block 1 to 16 stops of light depending on the filter. ND filters that block 3 stops up to 6 stops might be enough for most motion blur shots.
It goes without saying that you should also be using the smallest aperture and lowest ISO for daylight shooting. But if you find that your ND filter is blocking too much light, adjust your aperture first.
Using too small of an f/stop might be susceptible to diffraction. And using a low ISO as much as you can is always good practice.
6. Be aware of missed focus:
Since we’re dealing with fast motions, it would not be wise to use the “half-press” function of your camera or you’ll probably miss your shot.
A better way is to use your camera’s continuous auto-focus function. This way, you only have to worry about keeping your subject inside your frame.
Another way is to pre-focus on an area and wait for your subject to come in. You’ll have to anticipate your subject’s movement for this.
7. Shoot in Burst Mode:
While we’re on the subject of missed focus, it is actually more normal to miss some of the shots even on continuous auto-focus mode.
To effectively capture motion blur, you want to switch your camera to burst mode and shoot at a high rate.
You can then choose which one looks the sharpest. You’ll also be able to select the best framing out of the many shots you took.
8. Rinse and repeat:
At the end of the day, capturing motion blur is like a process of trial and error.
The more you do it, the more you get a hang of how much blur you can capture at a given shutter speed and subject speed.
If you can’t do it the first time, just do it again. The beauty of digital photography is you can afford to make a lot of mistakes as opposed to using films.
Capturing motion blur is a creative way to make your images more interesting. It can convey a sense of speed, set up a mood, conceal distractions or even bring that abstract feel in your image.
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