How to capture movement in photography using shutter speed settings
Using movement in photography as a creative element to an image makes it interesting. In my world interesting equals fun. So, playing with camera controls to produce images that are not what we see with our eyes and even otherworldly is the best fun.
There’s so much more to knowing how to use shutter speed in manual mode, than just achieving the correct exposure, or capturing the kids without blurring them.
Shutter speed is a great way to get creative with movement in photography, bring drama to your photos and have some fun creating different images.
There are many routes you could take to portray movement creatively in your photos. Today we’re going to look at three techniques:
- Freezing movement in photos
- Blurring movement in photos
- Zooming movement in photos
Let’s start capturing movement with the shutter speed technique you’re probably most familiar with. We’ll build up and finish off with the really exciting stuff, so stay with us to the end.
1. Freezing movement in photos with shutter speed
You could choose to freeze movement with a faster shutter speed or the use of flash. There’s a reason why teenagers love the “jump shot”. You know the one – on the count of three everyone jumps in the air and the photographer takes the shot.
It’s the idea that for an instant they’re suspended in mid air, like magic.
When I photographed professional ballet dancer, Dani, the jump shot grew up and became oh so elegant. I just love photographing dancers! So many endless opportunities for gorgeousness.
Because we were shooting in a public park, where setting up lighting would have entailed purchasing a permit and jumping through hoops, I decided to go with natural light.
For this shot I was able to set a high shutter speed to freeze Dani’s movement as it was a bright sunny day.
Camera settings: shutter speed – 1/1000, aperture – f4, ISO – 640
One thing to bear in mind with freezing a subject’s movement in in photography, is there are times when not all of a person is moving at the same speed, such as a person cycling or someone running.
Their legs, and in the case of the runner, and arms will be pumping and therefore moving faster than the rest of them.
You might need to take this into consideration when deciding on your shutter speed, or you could allow their limbs to blur with a slower shutter speed to highlight their movement.
Further reading: Freezing motion in photos with a fast shutter speed
2. Blurring movement in photos with shutter speed
For really interesting photographs, you can allow movement blur by using a slower shutter speed. I’m not just talking about making waterfalls look like a creamy blur.
There are many creative options for incorporating movement in photography.
Bringing blurred movement into portrait photography
Have a look at the image at the top of this post.
In this example I asked Nicole to hold her position and took several shots while the ride behind her was going. The reason it took several shots, was that there were people on the ride, so I had to take that into account.
I wanted to capture the swirl of colours rather than fuzzy dark blobs.
The camera settings for blurring the ride’s movement, but not Nicole, were: shutter speed – 1/80, aperture – f9, ISO – 200.
It worked because I was able to use a shutter speed that was slow enough for the ride to blur, but wasn’t too slow. So, I avoided the potential for camera shake and subject movement.
Look for relatively fast moving objects and place your subject in front of them. Here are some examples:
- A fairground ride
- A train
Photographing movement in landscapes
Portraying movement in the landscape is another very satisfying way to photograph and create otherworldly images.
If you ever want to burn a couple of hours, this is the most productive, absorbing and fun way to do it! I went down to the beach in the golden hour and got so carried away that I shot through golden hour, then blue hour and came back when it was pitch black.
For this you’re going to need a tripod and a remote control, or use your self timer (which is what I did).
The tide was just on the turn and starting to come in and it was quite windy, so the surface of the water was rippling. It had been pouring down most of the day, so the sand was quite wet and therefore reflecting the colors in the sky.
Camera settings: shutter speed – 2″ (seconds), aperture – f22, ISO – 200
Movement in photography for urban landscapes
Landscapes are not just for scenic views.
Urban landscapes and cityscapes are amazing playgrounds for the slow shutter photographer.
In urban night photography car tail lights that flow like long red ribbons through a photograph always grab a viewer’s attention. Again, it’s the idea of being able to see what our eyes can’t see. You will of course need a tripod and a way to trigger your shutter without touching your camera – remote control or the self timer is the way to go.
Side note: You wouldn’t believe how slowly people drive when they see somebody standing next to the road with a camera! Which is kinda helpful, actually – they don’t disappear out of shot too quickly.
On my way back from the beach I set up my tripod on a bit of pavement that stuck out into the road a bit at a pedestrian crossing. Getting part way into the road (safely !!) helped with the composition.
Camera settings: shutter speed – 4″ (seconds), aperture – f16, ISO – 200
3. Zooming to create movement in photos
There’s nothing quite like zooming the lens during a long exposure to get dreamy abstract landscape images. Owning a camera with a zoom lens and not giving this a go is like having a cheesecake in the fridge and not eating it.
For these photos I didn’t need to use any filters, such as a neutral density filter or a polariser, to block out light as it was already beyond sunset and getting dark. If you try this during the day I’d recommend using a neutral density filter.
A tripod is essential for capturing movement in photography while zooming the lens.
Camera settings: shutter speed – 1.6″ (seconds), aperture – f18, ISO – 200
The best shutter speed to use for zooming movement in photos is anywhere between 1/15th and 2 seconds. The trick is to zoom smoothly to reduce camera shake, but also to get a smooth, steady zoom.
On that dreamy note, I will finish off by saying get out there with your camera and your tripod. Have some fun, get the creative juices flowing and start capturing a totally different view of your surroundings.
Shutter speed – so much more than just an exposure thing.
Next time we’ll look at other ways to capture movement in photography.
We’ve got a great post that goes into detail on shutter speed and the exposure triangle: The Exposure Triangle – what role does shutter speed play?
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