4 Ways to Capture Movement and Motion in Your Photos

Movement and motion can easily make an ordinary photo more compelling. When I’m out taking photos, I often look for ways to introduce this into my shots. They all require a certain amount of skill, but with a little practice, you’ll be catching the movement and motion bug in no time.

Panning is probably the most common way to introduce movement and motion into photos. Panning involves keeping a moving subject relatively sharp in the photo while blurring the background by panning the camera at roughly the same speed that the subject is moving. This is usually accomplished by using a slow aperture (in bright daylight, sometimes as slow as f/22), a low ISO (as low as it will go), and a slow, yet hand hold-able shutter speed (somewhere in the range of 1/50 to 1/3 seconds). Firing off several shots in burst mode increases the likelihood that one will come out good. If you have a lens with image stabilization, you will get better results. Some lenses even have a special image stabilization mode just for panning. Another tip for better results is to use a polarizer or neutral density filter during the day. This will make it so you don’t have to stop down to f/22, which is not an ideal aperture for sharpness (that being said, use whatever tools you have handy!).

Manhattan Cab
Taxi, New York City

Riding the Golden Zephyr at Night
Golden Zephyr, Disney California Adventure

Back Stretch Workout Pan
Horse and Exercise Rider, Saratoga Race Course

Slight Subject Movement
Essentially the opposite of panning, you can make a photo much more interesting by adding a little bit of subject motion. I like this best when the motion is subtle; i.e., the subject isn’t blurred so much that you can’t tell what it is. Depending on how fast the subject is moving, an appropriate shutter speed might be anywhere from 1/30 to 1/5 of a second. My favorite subjects to do this with are cars and people walking by.

Jackson Evening
Jackson Hole, WY

Silly Symphony Swings
Silly Symphony Swings, Disney California Adventure

Victorian Street Walk 2016
Victorian Stroll, Saratoga Springs, NY

The Fashion Spot
Hollywood Blvd, Disney's Hollywood Studios

NYC Cabs Zooming By
Taxis, New York City

A bateau mouche passes by
Bateau Mouche on the River Seine, Paris

Light Trails
Light trails are basically car lights captured at night during long shutter speeds. The cars themselves are not visible in the shot because the exposure is too long. In order to capture light trails, you definitely need a tripod, and a shutter speed of at least several seconds. It goes without saying that you’ll need some cars to photograph. If you’re dealing with traffic lights, wait until the light goes green to click the shutter button, allowing the longest length of time to capture the trails. Sometimes you might want to layer more than one shot in post to combine multiple light trails. Using a tripod will make this easy because the photos will line up seamlessly.

Glens Falls at NightGlens Falls, NY

Main Street Electrical Zooms By
Main Street Electrical Parade, Walt Disney World

Idaho Falls at Night
Mormon Temple, Idaho Falls

Natural Elements (Water, Clouds, Trees, Stars)
Natural elements in motion can make for a stunning photo. The more natural elements you can capture in motion in one photo, the better. During the day, you’ll need a neutral density filter to get exposures long enough to capture this kind of motion, but at night, you won’t need one. Different shutter speeds can yield very different effects on motion blur. For clouds, I tend to favor shutter speeds of 100 seconds or more for a sort of painterly effect. For water, 30 seconds or more will yield a pleasing smooth effect, but capturing splashing water at 1 or 2 seconds can also be a neat effect.

By the Beautiful Sea
Oswald West State Park, Cannon Beach, OR

Grand Canyon Long Exposure
South Rim, Grand Canyon

Silky Smooth Water
Shelving Rock Falls, Fort Ann, NY

Sunset on Swiftcurrent Lake
Swiftcurrent Lake, Glacier National Park

The More the Merrier
The more of these motion effects you can incorporate into one photo, the better. Most really compelling photos have several interesting elements that pull you in. Think of ways you can bring movement and motion into more of your photos.


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