Images by Chris Sidla
What is motion blur?
Motion blur is a long exposure photography technique that lets you convey the feeling of movement or action in a still image. “It gives us the ability to see things in a way that we can’t on our own,” says photographer Chris Sidla.
Whereas some action shots freeze a moving subject with fast shutter speeds, motion blur uses slow shutter speeds for long exposure photos that blur the point of movement.
Whether you want to create a sense of speed with taillights streaking down a highway at night or capture the abstract look of people crossing a busy intersection, motion blur lets you see a scene in a way that lets you express a new perspective on reality.
Tell a story with a bit of blur.
There’s no single correct application for motion blur. Rather, “it’s a storytelling technique,” as photographer Chris Low says. “You can use it to elicit emotion or some kind of connection. My experience with motion blur has been mainly with sports photography.” Automotive photography, busy city scenes, and conceptual shoots are other popular examples of motion blur.
Sidla uses motion blur in landscape photography, particularly when photographing waterfalls or the ocean. “It helps smooth out the water as it goes over the cliff, or waves on a beach,” says Sidla. “I have a lot of friends who shoot star trails, which allows you to capture the rotation of the universe around us.”
In most cases, motion blur doesn’t blur the entire frame; either the subject or the background will be in focus while the other is blurry. Thankfully, no matter what look you’re going for, it doesn’t take much special gear or complex techniques to master motion blur—all you need is a camera, a bit of know-how, and time for trial and error.
Image by Chris Sidla
Camera settings to capture motion blur.
Slow down your shutter speed.
Choose the right aperture.
Decrease your ISO.
Your ISO setting is your camera’s sensitivity to light. To let in less light, you’ll want a lower ISO. A lower ISO will also help your photo from becoming too grainy. Shoot as close to ISO 100 as possible, but don’t be afraid to crank it up to 800 or 1600 if you’re working in the dark and need more light.
Image by Chris Sidla
Trial and error is key.
Consider the time of day.
Pick up a neutral density filter.
Use a tripod to combat camera shake.
Try your hand at panning photography.
Panning is another way to depict motion in a shot. Rather than steady your shot with a tripod and blur an object in motion, use the panning technique to move your camera with the subject and freeze it in focus against a blurred background.
Put your skills in motion.
“Nail your shot in-camera as much as possible, and use the tools you have in post-production to enhance what you’ve already done,” advises Low. This way, you won’t be tempted to rely too heavily on editing to make your shot great.
While you can retouch your final image in both Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom, if you need to enhance the effect further, you can recreate a motion blur effect in Photoshop. Explore this tutorial to learn how.
“The best way to get better at any form of photography is to just go out and try it,” says Sidla. “Try and fail, but don’t get discouraged. Use every failure as an opportunity to get better.”
Especially with techniques like motion blur, happy accidents are more common than you might think. Don’t be afraid to experiment, get creative with your composition, and be open to opportunities as they arise.
“Get those reps in. It’s all about practice and the work you put in,” says Low. “You can expect photography to give you what you put into it.”
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