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Techniques: Capturing Motion in an Image

Putting motion into a still image is an interesting concept in photography. It is also one where the techniques can sometimes be counter intuitive though there are, as with many things in photography, there’s more than one way to go about it.

The fun part is the two I find the most useful are complete opposites.

You either want to freeze the motion completely, or you want to put as much movement in the frame as possible.

Let’s start with capturing the motion.

To do this, you’re going to want to use a much slower shutter speed than you might normally use. For example, the photos below were taken with shutter speeds from 1/30th of a second (for the bikes) to 15 seconds (for the beach). You should notice that in these photos, there are blurred lines through the photos in each of these which demonstrate the movement in the image.


The difference between these two images however is in the still parts of the images. In the beach shot where you can see the rocks verry clearly, I had the camera on a tripod allowing the motion of the waves to create the blur. In contrast in the image of the bikes, I was tracking the riders, keeping them central in the shot. This created the blur in the background while keeping the rider almost in focus. This technique can take many attempts to get perfect and can be a skill learnt over time. It is often used in racing and other sports by some ambition’s professional photographers.

Speaking of ambitious, check out this photographer who managed to do this at the F1 with a 104-year-old camera. If he can do it, you can to!

Now the second way to capture motion is to freeze it. This can be done in two ways, either with a high shutter speed, approaching 4000th or even 8000th of a second, or by using a speed light. The speed light will work with the camera at a shutter speed between 250th of a second and a 60th of a second or slower, depending on the camera. In this instance its not the shutter rather the thousandth of a second that the flash has illuminated the frame, which freezes the motion.

In the photos below the first was taken with a flash illuminating the spray from a hose and the second was taken at 1250th of a second, almost freezing the spray from the snow and the lines in the image adding emphasis on the movement.

The last note to take on this would be framing. Having lines in the image which draw your eye into a focal point, like the carved snow to the figure on a board or the man leaning back down the leashes to the leaping dogs below can help to emphasize this movement. In the above image of the cyclists the blur is all in one direction as the movement with the camera panned to the left. These lines draw the eye and make the viewer create this movement in their own mind.

Now its your turn. Try some of these techniques out and leave a comment or tag our socials so we can see all the beautiful stuff you create.