Motion in Images

Motion in Images

Written 14 years ago by Mark Evans

One of my favourite types of photo is one that conveys the feeling of motion. For me it really adds something to a photo; adding another dimension that brings more meaning, increases understanding, and draws the viewer into the image, capturing the viewers attention so that they feel they have ‘experienced’ the image, and taken something from it, rather than perusing it, feeling nothing and moving on.

Motion can be captured, and when done well, can bring that ‘Wow’ factor to an image. Many objects lend themselves well to being the subject of a motion captured photograph. Things like waterfalls and babbling brooks are very popular subjects amongst Landscape Photographers, and in general, anything that moves can bring a little ‘Je ne sais quoi’ to a photograph.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the key ingredient in shooting motion. Too long and it blurs excessively, too little and you won’t know the subject is moving. So being able to control shutter speed on your camera is important for this. ‘Tv’ mode (Time Value, or ‘S’ on Nikons), AKA Shutter Priority, is the best mode to start out on here (Usually next to ‘Av’ or ‘A’ mode on your camera dial). It allows you to set what shutter speed you require, leaving the camera to decide on the aperture so that the correct exposure is achieved. But the camera is not the only equipment needed here; capturing motion usually requires the use of a tripod, not only because the shutter speeds being used will be too slow to hand hold, but also to enhance the contrast between static and moving parts of the image.

Traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam

Traffic in Hanoi, Vietnam

Not only that, but you will probably need a Shutter Release Cable. This is a wire attached to a hand piece with a button on it that plugs into your camera (can be wireless too) that allows you to stand away from your camera when you trip your shutter release, so that you don’t shake your camera when you press the button. These are really helpful when timing is critical and you have to trip the shutter release at a specific time (eg a car going past), but if timing doesn’t matter (photographing a waterfall or stream), or your budget won’t allow for this piece of kit, then before you take your picture, set the 10s timer, hit the shutter release, and step away from the camera for it to take the picture.
If you are taking pictures during the day, it will probably be best to start out by setting your camera to the longest shutter speed you can, without overexposing the image, and experimenting to see what sort of images you get. If you find you need more blur, and can’t increase shutter speed any more, then either, set a lower ISO(or use lower ISO film), or use a Neutral Density (ND) filter.
If you are shooting at night, then you may not need an ND filter at all, in fact, you may have to set your shutter speed to Bulb (B) in order to get a longer exposure. Bulb requires the use of a Shutter Release Cable, basically you hold down your button, or lock it in place for the period of time you need the shutter to be open for. Some really interesting shots can be had using this method and a bit of imagination.


Another effective method for capturing motion in a photo is panning. Although using a slightly faster shutter speed, whether hand held or on a tripod, panning with the subject as it passes has the reverse effect than previously. This way the subject will be relatively sharp, and will introduce a motion blur to the background, conveying the effect of speed. A little bit of experimentation with shutter speed may be required to get the best looking effect, try starting out at 1/60s with a medium zoom lens. The overall sharpness of the subject will not be entirely fantastic, but the motion blur in the background should counter it somewhat. Focusing may be a little difficult on a moving object, but most modern SLRs have an AI Servo (most Canons do), or similar focus mode which will constantly refocus on a moving object, so set your SLRs focus to this and you’ll have won half the battle.

Whatever method you try out, great results can be achieved with long shutter speeds on a vast array of subjects, these methods can be applied to star trails, moving cars, waterfalls, whatever takes your fancy. The important bit is to have fun doing it, and if you get some great photos along the way, then its a bonus!

Motion Summary

  • Use your cameras ‘Tv’ (S on Nikon) Mode when starting out capturing motion
  • Use a tripod and shutter release cable to avoid camera shake
  • Panning with a moving subject can also be used to convey motion
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JotPix  13 years ago

I find lowering the shutter speed very useful especially in a crowded area when your subject is not the people on the street, but a building.

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