Motion Blur Photography Guide

time lapse photography of city street during nighttime

Motion blur photography is a composition technique that uses lengthy exposures to create the illusion of movement or activity in a static image.

Whereas some action photographs employ quick shutter speeds to freeze a moving subject, motion blur uses slow shutter speeds for long exposure photos that blur the point of movement.

Motion blur allows you to observe a scene in a manner that allows you to convey a unique perspective on reality.

Mastering motion blur pictures doesn’t require huge amounts of sophisticated equipment or complicated processes.

It’s a simple composition technique that’s quite easy to implement. It would be worth investing your time to learn and practise this if you want to create some engaging photographs.

This photography guide to motion blur will cover the following:

Ready to learn about motion blur pictures? Let’s get to it

blur photo of roadway during evening

Essential equipment required

To achieve the motion blur pictures technique having a few key pieces of photography gear is important. Equipment recommendations include:

Camera settings to use 

Ideally you will shoot in manual mode to achieve the best motion blur pictures.

If you don’t want to go completely manual, shutter priority mode allows you to pick your shutter speed while your camera balances the other settings.

Shutter speed and its interactions with light are the two main factors in motion blur photography.

Slow shutter speeds are used to produce the blur. This is because more light reaches your camera sensor when your shutter speed is slower.

Therefore, when your shutter is open longer, more visual information is captured, including the blur of motion. 

To compensate for the possibility of overexposing motion blur pictures, you’ll usually need to alter your other settings to minimise the amount of light in your frame.

If you’re not familiar with the fundamentals of manual settings, follow the tips below:

Lower your shutter speed

Fast shutter rates, such as 1/1000 of a second, can freeze moving objects. However, to achieve the motion blur photography technique, slower, longer shutter speeds will provide you the blur effect you want in your photos. 

Longer shutter speeds can range from 1/60 of a second to 30 seconds. You will need to adjust the length of time depending on how much blur you want. 

Factors that will affect the amount of blur you can generate will be how rapidly your subject moves, and how much light is available. 

Adjust your aperture

Once you’ve determined how long your shutter should be open to capture the desired motion, you should change your aperture to correctly expose the shot.

When shooting in daylight, a higher f-stop is recommended. This decreases the amount of light that can pass through the narrower aperture opening.

When working in low light, a larger aperture may be advantageous to allow more light to reach your sensor.

Decrease your ISO

The ISO setting on your camera determines its sensitivity to light. A lower ISO will let in less light. So, your photos will be less noisy with a lower ISO. Try to shoot as close to ISO 100 as possible. However, if you’re shooting in the dark and need extra light, you may need to raise it much higher.

If this all sounds like complicated photography jargon to you, perhaps it is time to invest in a photography course to learn the basics. Check out these recommendations!

When to use motion blur

This composition technique can be used to create emotion or make a connection in your photos. It helps you as the photographer to tell a story. 

If you’re wondering what kind of subject to select for this photographic method, search for noticeable sources of movement.

Light sources that may be transformed into light trails, such as vehicles during rush hour, are one example. Water scenes are extremely popular among photographers who seek to capture motion blur pictures.

Popular subjects that benefit from the use of motion blur photography include:

motion blur pictures beige and red train

All types of moving traffic may produce attractive motion blur photos. Taillights blazing along a roadway at night may convey a sensation of speed.

Use the blur of a passing train to create a one-of-a-kind motion blur portrait. Alternatively, incorporate passing traffic to add a bustling atmosphere to a metropolitan scene.

man riding bicycle Motion Blur Photography

Sports photographers use motion blur to generate fascinating photographs of the action on the field.

Consider capturing a basketball player’s movements as he takes his shot. Rather than freezing the action, the motion is preserved, allowing you to build a narrative to present to your audience.

By capturing the sport in mid-action, motion blur photography allows the movement of the game to be portrayed. Alternatively, try panning to get your subject in focus while blurring the backdrop of your shot.

Check out some of the best shots here.

Motion Blur Photography standing on road

While strolling around a city, you will come across many different types of movement that you could use to integrate motion blur into your photos.

Consider portraying the abstract quality of people crossing a busy intersection in a city. Having the individuals in your frame blurred will boost the photo’s bustling atmosphere.

motion blur pictures of waterfalls

Landscape photographers frequently use rivers and waterfalls as subjects for long exposures that capture motion blur.

Since the water is moving, it blurs, while the rest of the picture stays in focus. The distance to the subject, the flow rate, and the amount of water all have an impact on the shutter speed that is needed.

For photographers to get the motion blur appearance, a faster shutter speed would have been required if they had been nearer the water. Slower shutter speeds would be necessary for water with a bigger volume and a slower flow.

intentional blurry photo of the ocean

Wave and ocean photography is becoming more popular. 

I’m never too far from the water, so the ocean is one of my favourite photo subjects. I frequently use the motion blur photography technique to capture the moment of the water or ocean waves by using a slower shutter speed. 

It can give your photos a fresh perspective and produce more dramatic and intriguing images.

If you like taking photos of the ocean too, check out this guide to surf photography.

star trails blurred photo
Star trails 

A particularly long shutter speed is used while taking pictures of star trails, which is a type of motion blur photography. 

To achieve this type of photo, a camera’s shutter can be left open for an exceptionally long time while it is in “Bulb” mode. 

Due to the earth’s perpetual rotation, the longer your shutter remains open, the longer your star trails will be. As the Earth moves and the position of the stars change, which in turn creates the star trails. 

Note: To take photographs of the night sky, keep in mind that you’ll need a camera with excellent low light capability.

Tips for capturing motion

Consider the time of day

Shoot in the early morning or later in the evening for the best chance of capturing a good motion blur photo. Lighting is key to capturing any photo. It is well known that golden hour is the ideal time of day for capturing photography. When it comes to motion blur photos, this special hour helps keep light levels low and generate better compositions.

Use a tripod

This is impossible to do when your camera is moving even slightly. While optical image stabilisation is available on many digital cameras, this technology is rarely as effective as using a tripod for long exposures.

Add a neutral density filter
Experiment with panning 

Panning is another technique for depicting motion in a photograph. Rather than using a tripod to steady your photo and blur an item in motion, try the panning technique to move with the subject and freeze it in focus against a blurred background.

Add motion in post processing

As an alternative to capturing motion blur with your camera, you could add your motion effect whilst editing your photos. By using Photoshop or a similar photo editing software you can add a motion blur photography effect to an existing shot. It’s a great way to experiment and spruce up older shots in your portfolio. 

How to use motion blur in Photoshop:

Open Photoshop and import your photo.

By using the Pen Tool, choose the area of the original image that you wish to blur.

Navigate to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur in the menu bar at the top of your screen.

In the pop-up window, adjust the blur’s angle and distance. Then accept the adjustments to see the results of motion blur

Additional composition ideas

Motion blur is just one composition technique which can help photographers create engaging photos.

However, photographers usually incorporate a range of composition strategies to create portfolios of exceptional photographs. Alternative photography composition ideas that are popular include:

Framing – This describes the use of scene components to enclose certain areas of the image. This serves to draw the viewer’s attention to your subject. It is also known as frame in frame or sub framing photography.

Leading lines – A leading line is a line that guides your audience’s eye from one part of the image to another. It is typically used to focus attention to the main object or region of interest in the photo, and it is an effective technique for altering how a viewer sees your image.

Rule of thirds – The rule of thirds is a theory that states that the points of interest in a photograph look best when they are positioned along lines that divide the image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. While shooting, the simplest method to view this is to divide the image into 9 equal portions using a 3 x 3 grid.

These are simply a few examples to try implementing in your compositions. Although, it is recommended to learn one at a time and practise until you are confident before moving onto another.

Final thoughts

While capturing motion blur requires talent, patience, and time, the results are well worth the effort. You should use motion blur photography to add movement and speed to your images when the composition screams for it to make them more alive.

For those who want to experiment with their photography skills, learning this method is ideal because it gives your photographs a professional feel.

Remember to keep an eye out for light and movement sources that could add a fascinating element to your photos while searching for the appropriate location for a motion blur shot!

DISCLOSURE: I may earn a small commission from some of the links above. For the benefit of the doubt, please assume all links might be affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

blurred photo vehicular traffic on the highway at night

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