I remember taking an endless amount of big cat portraits until a fellow photographer aptly pointed out that my portfolio had little diversity to it. Upon asking him what he suggested, the idea of Motion Blur Photography came up and he proceeded to give me a few basic ideas to keep in mind. These techniques that I learnt are great to try out for yourself as they will bring a whole new aspect to your photographic repertoire.
Motion Blur is primarily about capturing a scene in which an object is frozen still, whilst everything around it is blurred in motion. From a wildlife perspective, you might have seen images, such as this one below, of animals frozen in mid stride or flight whilst the background behind them is heavily blurred. If you wish to try them out when you are next on safari, or at home then take into account these basic pieces of advice below.
I have found the biggest things to remember in motion blur photography are:
Being prepared to take the shot:
Wildlife motion blur photography is different to staged motion blur shots in that you only get one chance to grab the shot. When specifically looking to capture motion blur shots, make sure you camera settings are where you want them, your stabilisation is ready and waiting and that your are conscious of which direction the animals are going to be moving in. It also helps to get yourself in a comfortable, yet flexible position to track the animal.
Correct camera settings – Shutter Priority:
By using the shutter priority on your camera, you are in control of how long your shutter is open for. In late afternoon or early morning light, I typically set my camera to 1/60s. This slightly slower shutter speed allows for the shutter to be open long enough to capture the moving image, but is also short enough to make sure that an excess of light doesn’t get in.
A Bean bag, Wimberley head or Tripod is critical to achieve a shot which makes the subject matter crisp against the blurred background. Once you are in position and animals are moving, begin tracking them through your viewfinder and then click your shutter open. In looking through your viewfinder, pick a spot on the animal (eye, shoulder, head, etc) and keep a navigation point on this spot. Alternatively you can also shoot a sequence of rapid photographs whilst tracking the animal, but always remember to begin tracking the animal before you open the shutter and keep following it until after the shutter has closed.
A Lower ISO:
Lowering your ISO impacts the sensitivity of your digital camera’s image sensor. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is to light, whilst the lower the ISO the less sensitive it will be. By choosing a low number, 200 or 400, you will be able to have your shutter speed open for longer without letting in too much light. This in turn allows for more of the background to unfold in the image.
You can use the above settings and twist your cameras lens to achieve a different type of motion blur. In the below photograph, I went from tight to wide in the duration of the shutter being open. The effect is of two different shots in one. This type of shot also works well if you have an object or animal moving towards you.
Despite not being wildlife focused, this video reiterates some of the interesting motion blur ideas and techniques discussed above.
Motion blur photography is a challenging technique that is, more often than, not based on quite a large amount of luck. I have taken hundreds of pictures to only have two or three come out nicely. So if at first you don’t succeed, keep at it! If you have any suggestions or other ideas about motion blur photography, please write them down in the comments section below as I would love to learn more.