Most of the time, we want a crisp, sharp photo. An image where we can clearly see our main subject. That works well when our subject is still, but what about when photographing a moving target? If everything is sharp in the image, we'll lose something important - the illusion of movement. Adding 'motion blur' to our image will convey our subject's action on the image, and is easy to do. Here's how.
Let’s say that you have a photo opportunity coming up – a cycle race possibly. You’ve done this before, aiming for sharp, well composed pictures. You got what you wanted, but somehow the effect is not all you hoped for – you don’t feel the speed, the jostling for position, the breathless excitement of it all, when you look at your pictures.
It’s time to change your technique a little!
All photographs are taken using a combination of aperture and shutter speed settings. To create a sense of motion in your pictures by using motion blur set your camera to shutter priority (TV on your mode dial). This means that you select the shutter speed you want to use and your camera automatically sets the aperture so that you get a properly exposed photograph. If you have a Point and Shoot camera, see my instructions below.
A fast shutter speed, say 1/1000th of a second, allows you to stop the action and minimize blur, like this shot of moving water:
While a slow shutter speed allows the camera to record what happens in a period of time, say 1 second or more, like the image below, and maximize the blur.
Practice makes perfect!
Set some time aside well before the big occasion to practice what you’re going to do. You won’t get the shots you want if you have to check your LCD display all the time. You’re there for the action and you need to move fast!
Pack your camera kit, tripod, laptop and a cooler box. Get a friend to dress appropriately and to ride in a large circle, perhaps in an empty parking lot, cycling as fast as possible between two marks, while you photograph her.
You can either shoot from a quarter angle like the shot above, or you can stand back (in the middle of the circle perhaps) and photograph from there at about a 90° to the cyclist. An almost head on shot is more suited to blurring the motion of cyclist as you will have her in your view finder for longer without having to follow her, while a side on shot lends itself to the technique of panning (more on that later).
Start the series by shooting roughly head on with a fast shutter speed to get a sharp, photograph, say 1/250th of a second, and with each subsequent photo reduce the shutter speed – try 1/250th, 1/160th, 1/100th and1/60th skipping every second shutter speed option. From there take a photo at 1/50th, 1/40th, 1/30th, 1/25th, 1/20th, 1/15th, 1/13th and 1/10th of a second.
You’ll have to judge how long your model will be able to keep circling and fit the number of test shots to her level of fitness or patience! Stop when you’ve got to 1/10th of a second and give your model time to rest and have a drink (keep the beer for the end of the shoot!), while you review your efforts on your laptop. You’ll find, depending on where you’re standing in relation to the cyclist, that photos taken somewhere between 1/60th and 1/25th of a second will probably give you the effect that you’re looking for.
If you can persuade your model to repeat the process, take a few more photos in the shutter speed range you think suits your purpose, possibly changing your position relative to the cyclist to gain an understanding of how your shooting position alters the difficulty level of the shot and the amount of blur that you can get.
If you are using a point and shoot camera and want to introduce some blur to your photos you’ll need to select the ‘landscape’ mode and combine this with a slow ISO setting to force the camera to use a slower shutter speed. Play with your camera; find out what it can do!
There is an alternative to blurring the motion of the subject, and that is to keep the subject sharp on a blurred background. By standing at a 90° angle to the direction the cyclist is travelling you have the option of most easily panning the shot. A good panned shot has a blurred or streaky background and a sharp subject, giving a great sense of motion and speed.
Keep your feet firmly planted and smoothly rotating your head and shoulders through your waist as you follow the cyclist in the view finder. Take your picture in the middle of this smoothly panned movement and follow it through for a few moments after you’ve pressed the shutter. You can either rely on your camera’s autofocus or you can pre-focus on the point you plan to take your photo to get a sharp cyclist. Your test shots will show you that this is a technique that needs practice and that the best shutter speed is again about 1/25th to 1/60th of a second.
The side on position is the easiest to use to learn this technique and means that the distance from you to the subject is not changing very much while you’re panning and photographing. In addition to this, a bit of distance between you and the cyclist will allow you to pan more slowly while you are learning. Once you’ve learnt how, you can then adapt the technique to other camera/subject positions.
Learn what your camera can do. Learn what you can do with your camera. Practice. Experiment. Once you’ve mastered the technique of using motion blur to enhance the sense of drama in your sports pictures you’ll find other ways of using this technique. Have fun!
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