Motion blur photography is the purposeful streaking or blurring of an object in motion in a photo. It’s a great way to capture movement in a still image and can be used for any image in which you want to show motion. Motion blur can be used to capture images like those you see in National Geographic of animals in their natural habitat in Africa, to show lights juxtaposed with darkness, or vehicles zipping along roads and rails. The goal is to show speed, motion, and the passage of time. Below are a few easy tips to get started with motion blur photography.
You can’t capture motion blur if all you do is point your camera and click. There are three essential elements to capturing motion blur: slow shutter speed, adjusting for lighting, and keeping your camera stable. Let’s take a look at each one.
This is the most important part of capturing motion blur. The degree of blur you capture will be determined by how much you slow your shutter speed.
A fast shutter speed, such as 1/500th of a second, won’t capture very much movement and therefore won’t result in motion blur. In fact, if you have a really high shutter speed you’ll actually produce an effect called “frozen motion,” which is when an object in motion is in perfect or near-perfect focus. Think of droplets of water suspended in air after a wildlife photographer captures the image of a fish jumping.
But a longer shutter speed will result in a blurred background with even the slightest movement. And it’s that longer shutter you want when you’re trying to capture motion blur.
There are two ways to get slow shutter speed: manually or with Shutter Priority Mode. If you’re controlling shutter speed in manual mode, you have to adjust everything on your own. But if you use Shutter Priority Mode, the camera automatically selects the other settings on your camera when you change your shutter speed.
So how do you know the exact shutter speed for capturing the perfect motion blur on the subject you’re trying to photograph? The short answer is: Experimentation. There’s no set number for capturing motion blur. It depends on the motion you’re trying to capture, as well as a couple other factors, which we’ll go into below.
But this is where the art of photography comes into play. Playing with shutter speed when photographing different subjects will help you get a better idea of the range of speeds that apply.
Because a longer shutter speed lets more light into your camera, you run the risk of overexposing or blowing out a photo when you set a longer shutter speed. As a result, a lot of photographers choose to capture motion this way when the light is lower, like at dawn or at dusk. However, there are ways to control the amount of light that comes into a camera when you’re capturing motion blur in full sunlight.
The first way is to adjust your camera’s aperture. The aperture is an adjustable opening in the lens that lets light into your camera. If you’re using an automatic setting, the aperture on your camera should adjust automatically as you increase or decrease shutter speed. But if you’re using manual setting, you’ll need to adjust your aperture as you adjust shutter speed.
If that sounds complicated, don’t worry! It’s easier than you think. Both shutter speed and aperture are set up in “stops.” One decreased stop in shutter speed is equal to double the length of time the shutter is open. With aperture, a decrease in one stop is equal to a 50 percent decrease in the size of the shutter opening. The numbers are proportional, so one stop on one aligns with one stop on the other.
ISO is a little different depending on whether you’re using a film camera or a digital camera. On a film camera, it’s a measure of how sensitive the film is to light. It’s represented by numbers ranging from 100 to 6400 and the higher the ISO, the more sensitive the film is to light.
But on digital cameras, ISO relates to how sensitive the image sensor is. The higher ISO is, the more sensitive the camera is to light. When it comes to capturing motion blur when there’s a lot of light, using a lower ISO with a longer shutter speed will help prevent overexposure.
The final way to reduce the risk of overexposure when you’re capturing motion blur in ample direct light is by using a neutral density (ND) filter. ND filters reduce or modify all wavelengths of light equally. The effect is to dim the intensity of light, but not change the color. They’re a great option when you’re trying to capture motion blur in full sunlight.
Finally, if you’re trying to capture motion blur, everything else in the image needs to appear to be still. And there’s no way to do that if your camera is moving. So when you’re capturing motion blur, be sure to use a tripod or rest your camera on another stable object. Otherwise, that long shutter speed is going to result in everything looking blurry.
Whether you’re using motion blur to capture wildlife on the African Savannah or cars streaking by in a race, it’s a great tool for any photographer. Play around, see what you like, and get shooting!
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