How to Photograph Movement with Motion Blur

When photographing movement, you have a couple of options on how to capture it: either freeze the motion completely, or allow the subject to show a bit of motion blur.

(Don't know what motion blur is?  It's simply when you get blur to just certain parts of your image - those areas that had a subject or item moving faster than the shutter speed you chose. You'll see it in action on the images below!)  

Although unwanted motion blur is a bad thing, and we should do our best to avoid it, motion blur can also be a used as a creative tool -  the difference is that we are using it with intent, rather than getting it when we don’t want it 

So, this week’s blog post is all about how to capture movement with motion blur, as usual, broken down step by step.

Motion blur photography | motion blur photography tutorial

Before we dig in, I just wanted to let you know I have an AWESOME freebie for you if you’re learning photography. It’s my 90 Day Photography Learning Blueprint - 8 pages of actionable content that will make learning photography seem much less overwhelming and much more doable! Go here to grab it.

Step One: Set Up Your Camera

Ideally you want to shoot in manual mode for this, but if you are not a happy camper in manual mode you could try using Shutter Priority Mode, since in this instance, shutter speed is the most important setting. It won’t give you as much control as manual mode, but you should still manage fine :)

Since you will be letting in a lot of light through your shutter by slowing it down, you will probably need to use a higher aperture number (thereby giving you a smaller aperture to let in less light) and a low ISO number (ditto).

If that’s not enough to help you get a slow enough shutter speed, you will need to either seek out lower light situations, or use a polarising filter which helps cut down on the amount of light hitting the sensor - but you can normally get your shutter speed low enough without too much problems, unless it is a bright sunny day for example.


Step Two: Choose Your Shutter Speed

Alrighty, since we have our Aperture and ISO set, the next thing we need to do is set our shutter speed. 

How fast your subject is moving, and how much motion blur you want, will determine which shutter speed you should use when you want to capture motion blur. 

For example, if you were to shoot a moving car at 1/200 you would probably get some motion blur, but if you used that exact same shutter speed on a person walking you probably wouldn’t.

Secondly, it also depends on how much blur you want the moving object to have.

For example, do you want just the hint of blur around the edges? Or so much that they are a complete blur with no distinguishable features?

Remember, it's your photograph, so you get to decide!

Because there are a few factors to it, unfortunately there is no “magic” number I can give you for shutter speeds to use. However, as I never want to leave you without at least some guidelines to get you started, so here are some suggested speeds to start with.

Please note you will definitely, 100%, need to adjust up or down from this depending on how you want the scene to look, and the speed of your subject.

With that caveat in mind, here are some suggested speeds:

For slight motion blur of person walking : 1/50 or less

For slight motion blur of person running: 1/100 or less

For slight motion blur of a moving car: 1/100 or less

For car light trails: 10 - 20 seconds

For blurred waterfalls:  1/30 to 3 seconds

I really want to stress, these are not definite “magic” numbers to use, I am just listing them to give you an idea of where you might want to be, just to get you started 


Step Three:  Remain Still!

For this way of capturing motion to work well you need to make absolutely sure that you keep your camera perfectly still, otherwise the whole scene will be blurred and not just the moving subject, and that’s not what we want!

That’s why you pretty much absolutely need to use a tripod for capturing motion blur, so if you have one, now is the time to dig it out.

(Don’t have one but are in the market for one? Then check out these two posts on how to choose a tripod, and my review of the Amazon cheap and cheerful option that I have for moments just like these)

If you don’t have one, it can be a bit more tricky, but still doable. The trick is to make sure that your camera is absolutely stationary, maybe by having it sit on a still object like a table.

If neither of those are possible, make like a stealth ninja and aim to keep yourself perfectly still, and try not to use shutter speeds under 1/60 (which means not getting things like light trails), or it won't work.


Your Assignment!

As I really prefer my posts to be actionable if I possibly can, I have a little assignment for you.

Find a moving object that you can practise on: this could be a person walking or running, a motorbike on a road, a cyclist, a spinning wheel - anything that has motion.

Next, try to capture intentional motion blur of the moving subject using the guidelines above.

Remember, you only want the moving subject to be blurred, not the rest of the scene - this is why a tripod is so incredibly useful!

Experiment with different shutter speeds to see the different effects you can get when you slow your shutter speed down completely, compared to it being not quite just fast enough.

Don’t forget to download your 90 Day Photography Learning Blueprint before you go - you’ll kick yourself in about a week’s time if you don’t! Go here to get your free copy.