There’s something incredibly exciting about capturing motion, probably the idea of conveying speed and energy through an otherwise still photograph. The motion blur effect as it is known is exceedingly beautiful not just in conveying the motion of an object but also in conveying the mood or emotion associated with that movement. For instance, capturing the lights on a freeway brings out the speed and energy of the city. Some photographers also use motion blur to eliminate certain elements in the frame and to bring out focus on the subject.
If you’re an amateur who has been captivated by blurred motion photography, or has recently been inspired to learn how to take blurred photographs, here are a few tips and tricks, and equipment requirements that will take you a long way in replicating blurred professional photography and the best part is you don’t actually need professional photography cameras. A few tweaks and techniques with your digital camera should do the trick.
A good camera with shutter priority mode is good enough for motion blur. What is important though is having a tripod. Other helpful equipment include-
– Cable or remote release
– A set of Neutral Density filters, which will give you flexibility over your camera’s settings and also more control over the light exposure for shooting at any time of the day.
How to use motion blur
Shutter speed is the key behind motion blur. The faster the shutter, the sharper the focus is on the subject. A slow shutter speed will however, blur a moving object. Thus in order to capture motion, you will need to select a longer/slower shutter speed.
There are a few ways to bring out motion in your pictures-
1) Bringing out motion in the subject with background in focus
If you’re attempting to photograph a speeding car through a street at night, you can blur it to convey how quickly it is moving by using a slow shutter speed.
It is important that the camera remains steady as you attempt to do this.
2) Blurring the background with subject in focus
In this technique you maintain a sharp focus on the subject while the background becomes a blur. For example, you want to photograph your subject walking in the middle of a busy street. Similar to the above method, you will employ a slow shutter speed, however instead of using a tripod to stabilize the image, you will have to pan your camera along the steering course of your subject. This will make the subject appear to be still since the camera is moving with it, while the rest of the background will remain blurred.
Another technique used in motion blur is called freezing, where the whole scene is blurred. This gives the image an abstract appeal that conveys the transitory and fleeting nature of things in continuous motion.
For freezing, the ideal shutter speed must be 1/1000th of a second at the least.
An easy method to capture motion is to follow the subject with a camera. If your shutter speed is correct and you are able to follow the subject relative to its speed, your subject will appear still in the photo while the surroundings will appear to be blurred in the direction of the subject’s motion. This creates an incredible effect.
A more complicated technique is using flash. Flash combined with slow shutter speed causes it the light from it bounce off the subject, making it crisp and detailed while everything else in the surroundings will appear to be blurred for the duration of the exposure.
What should the shutter speed be?
The speed that you are trying to capture determines this aspect. Since the speed of a moving train and an opening flower are very different, results at a particular shutter speed will vary for both.
Another factor that determines the shutter speed is exposure to light. How much light is available to you will decide the amount of time you want the shutter to be open. Over exposing your shot with an extremely slow shutter speed in bright light runs the risk of blowing out your shot.
Ideally, there is no straight answer. It is rather a process of adjusting your shutter speed to compensate for light and speed. In order to capture a fast moving object you decidedly need a slow shutter speed, however, if the scene is well lit, you might want to tone it down to prevent over exposure from allowing too much light in with a slow shutter.
A setting that helps to strike a balance between slow shutter speed and over exposure is the Shutter Priority Mode. What this does is that it allows you to set your shutter speed and makes automatic adjustments to the aperture and other aspects to allow you to take a shot that is well exposed.
Manual mode on the other hand will let you play with the amount of exposure you’d like and is generally recommended for more experienced or professional photographers who are confident about getting the aperture/shutter speed balance right.
Now the usual problem that arises is how to compensate for long shutter speeds when there is too much light so as to avoid over exposure.
1. Adjust the aperture
If you use the shutter priority mode, the camera automatically adjusts the aperture. However, in case you’re going for the manual mode, you will have to decrease the aperture proportional to the decrease in shutter speed.
This is not very difficult to do since the speed and aperture settings are systematized under ‘stops.’ What this means is that if you decrease the shutter speed by a ‘stop’, it doubles the amount of time the shutter stays open for. Similarly, if the aperture is decreased by a stop, the size of the opening decreases by half. Therefore, an adjustment of one stop in one means you need to adjust the other by 1 too in order to get good exposure.
2. Decrease your ISO
ISO is another way to compensate for over exposure in longer/slower shutter speeds. The ISO setting on the camera impacts the sensitivity of the image sensor on your digital camera. Choosing a higher ISO number will ensure more sensitivity to light. Thus adjusting the ISO to a lower number for longer shutter speed will decrease over exposure to light.
3. Neutral Density filters
Neutral density filters are in fact a favorite among most photographers. They give you the flexibility to play with shutter speeds while taking care to cut down the light passing through the lens. This is akin to taking a shot through sunglasses. In fact in the absence of neutral density filters, photographers often do resort to using sunglasses.
Capturing motion with professional photography cameras and becoming proficient at it requires practice and a lot of experience. Adjusting shutter speed to compensate for motion and light is intuitive for most professional photographers who after a lot of observation and practice have become familiar with the relationship between shutter speed and image quality.
Besides practicing the impact of different shutter speeds, becoming good at timing shots is also important as you attempt to capture a fast moving object.
In the end, motion blur photography is heavily based on technique and the artistic eye of the photographer, so practice using the trial and error method is really the key to becoming good at it.