Thoughts on Motion

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As photographers, we capture a slice of time with every shutter release. Usually this time slice is short, and the subject rendered perfectly frozen. But there is no rule saying that the time slice need be short; what happens when we lengthen it?

How is motion communicated in a photograph?

Freezing Action

A fast shutter speed can freeze the motion in our world. Typically this is combined with a wide-open aperture. What is fast?. Sports typically requires 1/1000 or faster; people walking in the park on a sunny day may only require 1/200. No tripods required for this technique.

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Sometimes motion is not about the obvious subject, but rather the other details in the photograph. Consider, for example, a hockey player sending up a spray of ice shavings when coming to a stop.

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Slow Shutter

Another tool to portray motion is to incorporate blur into your image. The main subject can be blurry, such as waves lapping on a shore or flowers blowing in the wind. In this case, you would  want to mount the camera on a tripod/stable surface to retain sharpness in the parts which are not moving (e.g. the foreground element, or the mountains in the background). Shutter speeds of 1/2 second and slower will work.

Alternatively, a panning technique can be used to render the subject sharp, but have the background blurred. It is useful to pick a focusing point in your viewfinder, and attempt to keep that mark on the subject during the panning motion. 1/100 of a second will work fine for fast moving subjects; the slower the subject, the slower the shutter speed. A tripod/monopod is optional for this technique.



Intentional Camera Movement

“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

How about giving motion to inanimate objects?

Our world may be rendered in the abstract by utilizing intentional camera movement. Often times we as photographers are obsessed with sharpness; of our sensor, or lens, our pictures. But it is important to realize that sharply rendered lines doesn’t necessarily make the most pleasing image.

Start with a slow shutter speed, something in the range of 1/40 -1/10 second. Adjust aperture and ISO to achieve a desired (not proper) exposure. The shutter speed and pan speed mix together to create the image. It is also helpful to begin the movement, and then click the shutter, and follow through after the shutter closes. Tripod usage is optional.

Now find lines in your environment. That fence flowing left to right across the land? Pan your camera left to right.

The tall buildings, or grove of trees? Try a vertical pan.

See some diagonal lines? Go for it!

And don’t forget that your camera can also do the twist!


by Stephen Anderson-Lindsay

All text & photos ©Stephen Anderson-Lindsay

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