Saturday, August 16, 2014

Capturing Motion in Photography

There are so many options for capturing and documenting motion in photography. This post provides an overview of methods for photographing motion with links to a plethora of articles with more details and information. The topic of motion has been broken down into three sub-categories: arresting motion, highlighting motion, and celebrating motion.

Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

(This month for the Boost Your Photography: 52 Weeks Challenge we are working on popular photography subjects and styles. The week of August 17th will focus on motion. Join the Google+ Community to share your weekly photographs and receive feedback.)

Arresting Motion

One method for dealing with motion in photography is to use a quick shutter speed to make a moving subject appear frozen. This is often the strategy employed when photographing portraits, whether of people, pets, or wild animals. We want to capture the subject frozen in time, without noticeable blur, which can be tricky especially if you are dealing with fast moving pets or constantly-in-motion toddlers.

The post pinned above, Shutter Speed Guidelines, provides a quick-and-easy handout to help you remember what shutter speed to use in such a situation. If you want a quickly moving subject to appear still in your photograph, you want to use a shutter speed equal to or quicker than 1/250th of a second. You can get away with a slightly slower speed (like 1/125 or 1/60) if your subject is moving very slowly, but you may need an even quicker shutter speed (like 1/500) if you have a very quick subject like a cheetah or a car.

The limiting factor in freezing your subject is the amount of available light. Quicker shutter speeds require more light. If you are shooting in Shutter Priority Mode (S or Tv), start by setting your ISO to 100 and your shutter speed to 1/250. Your camera will choose an aperture. If there is not enough light or you do not have a lens with a wide enough aperture, then you may need to raise your ISO to get your shot. (Read more about Aperture and the F/Stop Conundrum or ISO Basics for details.)

Water Drop - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

The other option is to add additional light to your scene, either by adding continuous light (lamps, for example) or by using a flash (whether on- or off-camera). The shot of the frozen water droplets, above, was shot at ISO 100, f/8, and 1/200th of a second. I wanted to use a mid-range aperture like f/8 to get more of the drop in focus, so I needed to use flash to compensate. You can see the bright reflection of the off-camera flash in the droplet itself.

Arresting motion and making a moving subject appear still is only one way to think about photographing motion. Sometimes you want to capture more of the feeling of motion in the shot, in which case you would want to focus on highlighting motion.

Highlighting Motion

Blur in a photograph is a good indication of motion, and blur can be used for both artistic and practical effects. Blur is often achieved through the use of a slower shutter speed. There are two main types of blur in a photograph: blur caused by a moving subject and blur caused by a moving camera. Let's begin with blur caused by a moving subject.

Cranes in Flight - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This photograph of cranes flying overhead was shot during sunset, and there was little available light. The settings were ISO 100, f/6.3, and 1/6th of a second. (F/6.3 was the widest aperture available for that lens zoomed out to the maximum.) Because of the slow shutter speed of 1/6th of a second, the rapidly flying cranes appear blurred through the motion of their wings and flight. This creates a more impressionistic image but one that clearly highlights the feeling of motion, more so than a photograph that captured them all frozen in mid-flight.

Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This is another example of motion blur caused by a moving subject. Here, I used a tripod to make sure that the camera was stable. The photograph on the left was shot at ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/2th of a second (0.5"), and the photograph on the right was shot at ISO 100, f/1.8, 1/10th of a second while the sculpture was stationary. The blur of the subject contrasts against the stability of the stand holding it. Another great subject for motion blur is waterfalls. Read all about how to create smooth, silky waterfalls in the article Yes, Go Chasing Waterfalls.

You can use light in combination with very slow shutter speeds to create amazing photographs of motion. The post above, Light Painting: How to Spin an Orb, provides step-by-step directions for creating perfect orbs out of inexpensive little LED lights. You can also apply the same techniques to capturing Long Exposure Light Photographs at the Fair or by Spinning Fire with Steel Wool.

The second method for highlighting motion is called panning, where both the subject and the camera are moving. When panning, you want to use a slower shutter speed to highlight the motion, but you move your camera to follow your moving subject. This creates the effect of a static subject surrounded by motion blur of the background. Read the complete details about Panning in Photography here or click on the pin above.

Panning a Moose - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

For this shot of the moose, I decided to try panning to highlight its lumbering motion. This photograph was shot at ISO 100, f/6.3, and 1/15th of a second. I moved the camera from left to right, keeping the moose in the left-hand side of the frame while the picture was being taken. This resulted in a nearly-still subject (the moose), with his motion conveyed through the blur of the trees and the leaves.

Celebrating Motion

Finally, you can really go all-out in your ability to capture and celebrate motion. These techniques are often grouped together under the term ICM or intentional camera movement (which also includes panning, above). You can read my detailed post about ICM over at Digital Photography School: Creative Reasons to Use Intentional Camera Movement.

Ferris Wheel Zoom Burst - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This photograph was taken using a method called a zoom burst, where you zoom your lens in or out while the photograph is taking. This one was shot at ISO 100, f/9, and 4 seconds, using my Tamron 18-270 mm lens, starting wide and zooming in. The spiral effect is created by the Ferris Wheel itself spinning during the shot.

ICM at the Fair - Capturing Motion in Photography | Boost Your Photography

This even more chaotic composition was created by zooming the lens and swinging the whole camera around in a random motion during the shot. The settings were ISO 100, f/22, and 5 seconds. The most fun thing about this technique is how difficult it can be to predict the final results, and you may be quite surprised at the outcome!

Summary: Capturing Motion in Photography

Motion is an inherent part of nearly all photography, and there are many, many techniques available for deciding how to capture motion. Think about what you want to convey about your subject - do you want to freeze a moving subject (arresting motion) or do you want to impart a feeling of motion to a moving subject (highlighting motion)? Perhaps you want to go a little wild and embrace intentional camera movement (celebrating motion). Whatever you choose, why not try something new? Feel free to share an example or advice in the comments below.

(Looking to grow more in your photography? Consider joining the BYP 52 Weeks Google+ Community to share your weekly photograph and see what others are capturing.)

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.
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