Lori Pickens

Motion Blur for Couples Photography

3 Tips for Creating Successful Motion Blur

What is Motion Blur? Motion Blur is when you purposefully streak or blur an object in motion in a photo for visual effect. It is an incredibly fun technique to learn and once you have mastered it, you will find it is a great way to enhance your images. I also know that many photographers struggle with motion blur. Many times in photography we are concerned with having shutter speed and other settings that allow us to freeze our subject’s motion, but motion blur, when used INTENTIONALLY, can be a really powerful tool. I have compiled my best tips to help you master this technique below!

Three Tips for Creating Successful Motion Blur

  • Decide WHY you are incorporating motion blur
  • Choose your shutter speed and settings based on the movement of your subject
  • Stabilize your camera
ISO 320, f3.5, SS 1/40.
Taken with NikonD5 on a tripod and my 70-200mm at 70

Decide the Intention of your Motion Blur

Motion blur allows you to present the feeling of movement or action even in a still image.

Three Reasons You Might Use Motion Blur

  1. Tell a story
  2. Add dynamic movement or action to your image
  3. Add visual interest

An example of storytelling motion blur:

The image above is a photo of my son. This little guy LOVES to draw! He is so creative and sometimes it seems like his imagination is endless. I will often find random drawings on any unattended notebook in my office or around the house. We recently watched the movie ‘Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life’ and in the movie, the main character has this nice, leather notebook that he keeps all of his sketches and stories in, and Sawyer asked us if he could have his own notebook to put his art in. When his notebooks arrived, I loved watching him flip through the blank pages and all the potential that he could see in them, and I knew I wanted to remember that. I could have taken a picture of him looking at the book or even holding the new notebook proudly, but it was that story of them flipping the pages that I wanted to remember and focus on.

Example of showing movement:

f/6.3, Shutter 1/20

Adding Visual Interest with Motion Blur

One of my favorite places to use motion blur is at wedding receptions. If you’re a wedding photographer, you know there are only so many dancing reception images you can take before they get overly boring. I love to play around with slowing down my shutter speed, even adding some intentional camera movement to add some excitement to reception photos. This can actually even be really helpful to make the reception feel like more fun than it even was and they usually have neat DJ or room lights that look great with some movement.

In the below example, I could tell almost immediately that this was not going to be a typical father/daughter dance. Adding a little bit of motion blur, really plays up the fun and energy of the images.

Most of these were about ss 1/50

What Settings Do I Need for Motion Blur?

There is no exact shutter speed or aperture that will guarantee perfect motion blur – most of it will have to do with the speed of your subject or the motion you want to convey. I can give you some shutter speeds to start with:

  • A person walking: 1/60 or slower
  • A moving car/train – 1/125 or slower
  • Light trails – 10 seconds or longer
  • Waterfalls or moving water – 1/6 to 30 seconds

I find motion blur works best when part of your image is in focus and sharp, and then you have chosen something else to purposely have motion blur incorporated in.

I also typically RAISE my aperture to increase my chances of having the main subject in focus.

f/3.5, 1/125

Ways to Stabilize Your Camera for Motion Blur

When you are using low shutter speeds you will often have to stabilize your camera in order to avoid camera shake. Best case scenario for this is using a tripod, but when you don’t have one available you can try to rest your camera on a ledge or any nearby flat surface to support you. For the bike photo above, I tucked my elbows into my body and also slightly held my breath.

For the image below I had my camera resting on the support bar on the other side of the Merry Go Round.

24mm, f13, ss1/50

The best advice I can give for motion blur is to decide what your intention is before you begin, and don’t be afraid to play around. Not every slow shutter speed is going to be a winner – actually most of them will not turn out but play around and don’t be afraid to composite images to make the vision you are hoping for.

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