Thursday, September 5, 2019

How to photograph with motion blur and do it correctly

If you have followed my work any time over the past ten years, you know that I do a lot of motion pan photography. I have done this for a couple of reasons:

1. I love the final outcome of the photos.
2. This effect allows me to show a subject to you all in a different way.
3. The technique is difficult to master and presents me with a great challenge.
4. Most people do not shoot this way, and so this helps me create unique photos.

For those of you not familiar with this type of shooting, let me explain how this works. To create a motion pan image, I purposely change the shutter speed of my camera to a very slow speed and then I take photos of my subject while panning the lens at the exact same speed as my subject. The speed of the shutter really depends on the speed of my subject and my ability to track that subject as it passes by me. For fast moving subjects the shutter speed might be 1/100th sec and with slower moving subjects the shutter speed might be as low as 1/4th sec.

There are three ways to achieve a slow the shutter speed:

* Shoot at a time when there is not a lot of sunlight (early in the day, late in the day or on a day with overcast skies)
* Adjust your ISO down to 100 (or even 50) and lower your aperture to something like f/22 or f/36
* Use an ND filter in front of your lens to cut down the amount of light coming into the camera.

Having just come back from another safari in Africa, I thought I would share more motion pan shots from this trip.  But first...


Two years ago I took this photo of a zebra running in Tanzania. It is one of the most requested images I have ever taken. The shutter speed of this shot was 1/30th sec (ISO 100, f/22). I was lucky enough to get the face of the zebra nice and sharp with nice motion in the legs, and all hoofs of the ground.


I even tried motion panning this group of zebras to see how that would turn out. Some people might love this and some might hate it, but I really like the effect.


Here are some wildebeests running through the plains of Tanzania (taken at 1/30th sec).

With the success of these previous images, I was challenged to create some more this time around.


Before starting our safari, Mike (the owner of M&M Photo Tours) and I arrived a day earlier than the rest of the group for a couple of meetings. Towards the end of the day, I decided to walk along the main road to check out a local marketplace. I grabbed my Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 24-105mm lens and went for a walk. There was not a lot to photograph in the outdoor market, but I saw the opportunity to shoot some of the passing traffic at slow shutter speeds. I took this photo of a local motorcyclist at 1/25th second as he breezed by me.


I saw this oncoming truck filled with banana leaves and wondered if I could motion pan it. Because the truck was so close to me, I was only able to get the middle of the frame sharp, but I like the effect nonetheless.


As I mentioned, this technique is not easy to master and not every one of my attempts yields top notch photos. I saw this jackal walking in the Serengeti and tried to motion pan it at 1/15th sec. As you can see, it was moving so slowly that there is not tons of movement in its legs and the face is not tack sharp. A good try but...


A couple of days later, I had better luck with this running giraffe. As soon as I saw the giraffe start to run, I quickly rolled my ISO down to 100 and changed my aperture to f/11. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/15th sec and I shot numerous photos (at the slow burst rate of the Canon 1D X Mark II) while panning the Canon 100-400mm lens along with the running giant.


Since we up in the northern area of the Serengeti for the Great Migration, I thought it appropriate to motion pan some of the wildebeests migrating. Since these guys were moving pretty slowly, I changed my shutter speed to 1/6th sec to capture the movement. I panned with the animal closest to me and hoped for more motion in background animals.


I saw this one wildebeest who stopped to check us out. Since he was standing so still, I decided to shoot with a slow shutter speed, and hold steady on him. For that 1/10th sec he stood still while most of the other wildebeest maintained their movement.  I would have preferred more movement in the background, but since I did not have a tripod to hold an even longer shutter speed, this was the best I could do.


We watched as a group of Impala jumped ahead of our vehicle. After capturing a couple of photos at 1/1000 sec, I slowed the shutter once again and took this at 1/40th sec.


On our last day on safari, we watched as thousands of wildebeests crossed the Mara river. Towards the end of the pack, I had already taken hundreds of photos at fast shutter speeds and thought it would be a good idea to bring motion into these photos.  My goal was to show the motion of the migration.


Both of these migration shots were taken at 1/15th sec, and show you a different view of the scene that unfolded in front of us.

I hope that the next time you have a chance to try motion panning, that you give it a try. Remember that this technique takes practice and some patience as well. It works best with subjects that do not move their heads a lot when moving, since the goal is to get the face really sharp with movement in other areas of the body.

It might take tens or hundreds of photos to get one you love, but the end result is worth it!

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