Motion blur is a great way to accentuate any movement occurring in a photo, video, or animation. We see the effect used all the time in sports photography, Formula One races, and images of bustling city life, but it can be employed in virtually any scenario. In essence, motion blur recreates the natural perception of the human eye, so in many cases, an action shot will look strange if it doesn't have some sort of blur. Below, we've outlined a few easy techniques to create intentional motion blur in your work.
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Keep Your Camera Steady
There are two main ways to achieve quality motion blur: capture an image of a moving subject, or move the camera while taking shots of a still subject. Most of the time you'll be doing the former, so it's important to have your camera perfectly still when taking these photos. We recommend investing in a sturdy tripod, but if you don't have the financial resources, you should at least set your camera on a flat, solid surface.
With your camera rock-steady, any captured movement will be from the subject itself. This will allow you to fine-tune the shutter speed and other camera settings, so you create conditions for the perfect amount of blur.
Slow Down the Shutter
Ultimately, motion blur happens because the camera shutter stays open long enough to capture the movement. The long your shutter is open, the more motion blur you can achieve. This requires you to set a slower shutter speed. Quick shutters will operate on the order of 1/1000th of a second, or even faster, while long shutters can stay open for a few seconds at a time. With the former, it'll be extremely difficult to capture motion blur, but with the latter, almost any movement will create the intended blur effect.
So, what is the ideal shutter speed? Every situation is different, and it all depends on your subject. For example, if you're taking photos of a running cheetah (be careful!), the shutter speed should be on the faster side. On the other hand, photos of people walking around a downtown boulevard can probably use a slower shutter. You'll also need to consider the amount of light in your shot, because long shutters will also let more light into the camera. With a little practice and experimentation, you'll find a happy medium between the motion blur and overall exposure.
Use Priority or Manual Mode
When you've gotten comfortable enough with your camera's quirks, you'll have more influence over the final image if you use Shutter Priority or Manual Mode. Both of these modes provide much more control than Automatic, allowing you to select a precise shutter speed, aperture, and more. We recommend starting with Shutter Priority, which just lets you set the shutter speed and then optimizes the other settings automatically. When you're feeling more confident, move on to Manual. Don't be afraid to make mistakes along the way!