As a young boy, I remember having to stay still and smile to the camera. It was important not to move in order to get sharp pictures.
Photographers are known to freeze time and capture snippets of still life. But adding even the slightest, purposeful motion blur into an image can imply a sense of movement—and help strengthen the story and make the image more saleable.
Fortunately, this neat little trick isn’t difficult to master. All you need is a basic understanding and control over your camera settings, to allow your shutter speed to slow down, and capture the movement as it happens.
Here are a few examples where adding motion blur can help enhance the story and make the images more saleable:
1. Car trails
This intersection is located next to an office I used to work in. It’s a busy and pretty uninteresting location during the day. But by simply returning at night with this skill and my tripod, I was able to capture the car trails passing below and add a sense of movement. (Note: The owner of the company—whose office overlooks this intersection—bought a big print of this photo which now hangs proudly in the entrance.)
2. Crowd movement
Sometimes, slowing time to add motion blur can help you enhance a story that otherwise wouldn’t show in a photo.
This man was trying to sell balloons during a street market in Thailand but wasn’t very successful. I captured this image handheld, from behind him, and blurred the moving crowd while he remained static. I wanted to isolate and make the vendor stand out to show his struggle while the crowd was rapidly flowing around him.
Panning is a fun technique that can be very rewarding when it’s done right. While, in the previous examples, the camera remained static, panning is about following a moving subject with your camera to capture a sense of speed.
In this shot, the motorcycle whizzed past me while I tried to follow it and capture multiple shots in burst mode. The main subject (the driver) appears static and fairly sharp while the rest of the background is blurry—implying speed.
Slowing down our shutter speed can allow us photographers to freeze time, while still implying movement, and make an image much more interesting and dynamic. It’s a simple technique that can make your photos rise above the “static” crowd.