Essence of Photography: Motion

Learn how to use motion in your photos to create dreamy scenes.

October 05, 2021

Photography is often thought of as a static frozen moment in time. However, adding motion to your images can create dynamic and engaging photos.

If you've already tried experimenting with freezing action in your photos, motion can be seen as an opposite technique. While freezing action requires a fast shutter speed, motion is most effective with slower shutter speeds.

If you need a refresher, take a look at these long exposure photography tips to better understand how to setup your camera for these types of images.

The amount of motion can range from a subtle blur of a speeding vehicle, to an abstract blur of colors and lines streaking through an image.

How to Capture Motion

The look of the image will depend on a few things including how long the shutter is open for, how fast the subject is moving, and whether you are using a tripod or some way to stabilize the camera during the exposure.

You can experiment with any of those things to get different types of images.

For example, this New York City scene is lively, but even more so with just a little hint of motion from the taxi on the right side of the frame. Here the shutter is set at 1/30" of a second which is was fast enough that the people are not blurry but the moving cars are.

So far the example photos portray motion in one direction such as horizontally across the image. If you use a slower shutter and do not have a tripod, the motion in the image may go in multiple directions. This can be seen as a mistake in some cases, or perhaps as a deliberate experiment to create unique effects.

This photo of a dog had a shutter speed of 1/10" of second and did not use a tripod. Due to the colors and scene, it has a look a little like a chalk drawing effect.

At 1/6" of a second this merry-go-round creates a colorful blur.

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM)

While photographers tend to strive to create sharp in-focus images, there is an art to adding intentional motion to your photos. Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) is a technique of moving the camera while taking a picture to get blur in a single direction or all directions.

With some practice you can create unique and dreamy images using this technique. As with all motion photography, a longer shutter speed helps to create motion.

For more inspiration, you can find many successful ICM experiments that have been posted on Aminus3.

Panning vs Motion Blur

If you have learned about panning in photography you have seen how this is a special kind of motion where you try to follow the subject as they are moving. This gives the effect of a sharp moving subject with a blurry background.

You can also do the opposite and film a static background with an object going by creating a motion blur across the frame.

Consider how these two different types of motion make you feel or how they change the look of the image.

More Examples

Here are more examples of motion in photography for ideas and inspiration.

Essence of Photography is a series of tips, tutorials, and visual inspiration on a variety of photography skills and techniques.

You can practice these skills and more by purchasing a deck of Photo Cards from Zoom In Reach Out, a non-profit with a mission of teaching to see the world from a different perspective.

All photos in this article were posted to the Aminus3 Photography Community and are copyrighted by their respective photographers.

Click on any photo to see a larger version or to leave a comment for the photographer.

Want to share your own photography experiments with motion?

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TOPICS: essence of photography

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