Beginner's Guide for Creating a Beautiful Motion Blur Image
- Motion Blur Image Basics
- Water Motion Blur Image
- Clouds and Sky Motion Blur Image
- People and Wildlife Motion Blur Image
- Gear for Capturing a Motion Blur Image
- Motion Blur Image Tips
- Recommended Photography Gear
- Low Angle Photography Tips
- Long Exposure Photography Gear List
- How To Perfect the Foreground in Landscape Photos
- How To Use Leading Lines In Photography (with Examples)
- 5 Essential (& Cheap) Photography Accessories for Beginners
- Simple Landscape Photography Tips for Beginners
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Those motion blur images we see online and in print have an appeal that causes people to get lost in appreciating the scene. They are peaceful, for one, and they show us a view of the scene that is not available to visitors with their naked eye.
A motion blur image may be created out of several different types of moving water, a stream, a waterfall, or wave movement. Some other motion blur imagery can be made from cloud movement in the sky or when taking photographs of busy locations full of people roving about. Sports and wildlife have a place in this discussion as well.
Do you want to try your hand at a motion blur image? Great, I have some tips, techniques, and equipment to assist you in creating a motion blur image. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents:
Motion Blur Image Basics
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What is a motion blur image? In a lot of photography, we are concerned with capturing an image that doesn’t have unsharpness due to camera or subject movement. A motion blur image is different because we deliberately introduce blur caused by movement.
There are two basic types of motion blur images. The subject moves while the camera stays still or the camera moves. A hybrid motion blur image style combines subject and camera movement, the panning technique.
Shutter speed is the main control to allow motion blur. A fast shutter speed like what is available from many modern cameras will arrest all but the most rapid movement. Some mirrorless cameras are capable of shutter speeds as fast as 1/32,000th of a second!
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In order to create a motion blur of any type, we must use slower shutter speeds. A panning action photo of a fast car or bird in flight might only require about 1/15th or 1/30th of a second. Water blur might need several seconds up to a minute or more, while star trails might involve exposure times spanning multiple minutes.
Obviously, this means we must adjust one or both of the other two parts of the Exposure Triangle to complete a good exposure. ISO sensitivity and lens aperture or f-stop are the other two legs that complement shutter speed or exposure time. There is a gear hack we can also use; details on that a little later.
Water Motion Blur Image
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A wonderful style of landscape photography is the deliberate blurring of moving water inside the scene. A small stream included in the scene’s point of view can add interest with a soft blur of water running over rocks. The moving water doesn’t even need to be the center of focus in the photo.
A waterfall is likely what many beginners will first imagine when thinking about a motion blur image. In this case, we would concentrate the compositional interest on the moving water or the waterfall itself. For a stream or a waterfall, exposure lengths of a long fraction of a second or a few seconds is all that’s necessary.
The wave action or tidal action motion blur image will require a much longer exposure time, perhaps getting into minutes or at least several seconds, adjusting exposure as needed to accommodate. With any of these styles of motion blur images, the camera remains motionless with the water moving.
Clouds and Sky Motion Blur Image
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Very similar to a water motion blur image, a cloud motion blur image uses the movement of clouds to add interest to landscape photography scenery.
The motion of clouds can be relatively rapid, especially if the cloud deck is low, so a shutter speed in a large fraction of a second to a few seconds should be adequate. If the cloud deck is higher or the winds aloft aren’t moving those clouds very quickly, then exposure times of multiple seconds may be in order.
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A sky motion blur image may also be referred to as a star trail photograph. It’s a form of astrophotography and is a simple and fun way to break into astrophotography for beginners. Exposure times of multiple minutes are usually needed for this. Alternatively, you could capture multiple shorter exposures and blend them together in post-processing.
For a cloud motion blur image or any astrophotography, the camera remains motionless while the sky interest moves rapidly or over a long stretch of time.
People and Wildlife Motion Blur Image
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A style of photography that is also fairly simple to do for entry-level photographers is the panning technique for action photography. It works for subjects as varied as a race car, a track and field sprinter, a bird in flight, or a pet dog chasing down a ball.
It’s a handheld technique, though a tripod or camera mount with a pan head or gimbal could also be employed. You move the camera to follow the subject movement and continue your camera motion while snapping the photo. Shutter speeds only need to be in a slower fraction of a second, perhaps 1/30th or 1/8th of a second, depending on how fast the subject is moving.
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One fascinating type of motion blur image made possible by digital photography is ghosting out people and maybe even vehicles when capturing a busy place such as a tourist spot.
The way it works is to set up the camera on a tripod or camera mount and take several pics at whatever exposure is correct for a scene as it is. Then, you blend the exposures together using either a stitching or bracket and merge function in post-processing.
The trick is you tell the software to “ghost out” any object captured in multiple spots of the scenes, such as people walking. Each program that allows this will call it something slightly different, and it won’t remove headlight or tail light trails from moving vehicles, but the results can be interesting.
Gear for Capturing a Motion Blur Image
The camera must be stationary in many of the above motion blur image styles. A tripod is one good tool for this, but you might sometimes need to use a tripod alternative, such as the OctaPad camera mount pictured above.
Octapad is nice in that it’s small and easier to transport than many tripods, plus it can be placed just about anywhere. It’s a compact disk with a little bit of heft to it. On the top is a ball head for attaching the camera, and underneath is a slightly flexible non-slip pad.
That configuration lets you put it on uneven surfaces such as a tree stump, rock outcropping, or brick wall. The non-slip pad allows you to use it on surfaces angled up to 45 degrees! Very useful for many outdoor situations but also usable indoors.
The exposure considerations may have some wondering how to accommodate the long shutter speeds and maintain correct exposure. Neutral dentistry (ND) filters are how we get this part done. Anywhere from 2X to 10X ND may be used. A 10X ND filter is great for landscape photographers and water or cloud motion blur images.
Some other helpful gear will include a remote release of some sort to reduce camera vibrations, a hard lens hood to protect from light glare and as a bumper, and a journal or notebook to keep notes so you can reproduce your efforts later.
Motion Blur Image Tips
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Since we will be adjusting exposure times, ISO sensitivity, and lens aperture, it's a good idea to use an automatic mode that allows user input or to become familiar with manual settings and how to still use a meter when manually adjusting the camera.
Autofocus can be tricked by the varied elements within our scenes and those ND filters so that manual focusing may also be in order. Except for panning action shots. AF is very useful here, though you would want to change to servo AF or whatever your camera maker calls it.
Try it all out; I’m sure you’ll find entry-level motion blur image photography quite fun!