Stretching the moment in time

Motion, frustrating simple! I see thousands of photos some stunning, some technically produced to the finest detail. For me it is not the perfectionism that makes the good photo. What catch my attention are photos that captivate my imagination. Motion; does just that. My curiosity receives a good kick, by the implied moments that lie just “before and after”.

We see a photo as a frozen moment of time, yet it is not! it is an aggregate over a brief period of time. The length of this aggregation of this time depends on the camera’s shutter speed; and can result in a blurry effect of the objects in motion. Photographer’s preference is most of the time to get perfectly sharp images, so blurry, shaky pictures is generally frowned upon, and is taken as inappropriate use of shutter speeds.

Blur if far from always undesirable; it gives the viewer a sense of speed. It can be the decisive factor that makes an otherwise uninteresting, half sharp picture really good.

This blogpost aims to bring motion blur back into your photography; and make you stop thinking of it as a problem to be avoided, instead of how to make it work for you. It isn’t supposed to be the ultimate and complete guide to the subject, but it is supposed to provide you with some inspiration of what can be achieved with motion blur. And you know what the effects can be pretty amazing if used correctly.

If this is your first treading unto this path, do braise yourself. You will need to retake the same kind of pictures over and over again and again … and again … and still come away with an experience of frustration and disappointment. That’s because this technique, which has the deceptively simple name “panning,” is extremely difficult to master. And even when you master it, you will still get it wrong some of the time –maybe even most of the time, depending on how challenging the subject is. But I’ll show you the tricks to give yourself a better-than-even chance!

A final word of introduction, certain effects can only be made successfully in camera; motion blur is absolutely among these. Photoshop the motion blur and your photos lose awesomeness and often come over fake. Should you be more interested in painting than photography, then this is a cool introduction to motion blur in Photoshop.

3 techniques, one delight

I am sure it is no surprise that shutter speeds not fast enough to freeze the subject will result in Motion blur. But what might be is that there are 3 techniques used to achieve the effect. All of them rely heavily on being in control of shutter speed, and the ability to know what technique to apply to which situation. Beware of that all of the techniques demands heaps of training; and is definitely not something you should start out with learning while shooting a priceless situation.


This technique is great for implying speed at horse races, car races and a like. The faster movement the better; this technique deals with Moving Subjects and a Moving Camera. By moving the camera at the same speed as the subject, is the motive kept sharp but the background is blurry.

No kidding yourself, this technique demands practice, but it helps only to move your upper body when following the subject and don’t try to move your whole body. Use the viewfinder, using the LCD will make it much harder to achieve the right pace in your panning.

A major challenge with this technique in keeping focus, if possible I try anticipate my position in relation with the subject, so I do not have to refocus before shooting, using the Back Button Focus technique is helpful.

Anticipate movement in plan and compensate in choice of angle; one directional is much easier than multidirectional. My daughter pony walking at the left photo; this is much easier than my son pony’s trotting the right photo. The reason is that the different horse gaits varies in moment; walk and gallop is more one directional opposed to trotting which is more two dimensional.

Ideally, you also want your subject to be moving parallel to your position. The goal is to keep the subject in focus and a subject who is moving towards you or away from you; even at a slight angle; will give you some focusing challenges. It is also more difficult to follow a subject who is moving at an angle away or towards you.

Remember the background; a bad or busy background can distract from your subject. When you’re panning, this becomes even more evident. Avoid busy background as they can create streaks and colors that are big and overwhelming and will therefore distract from your subject.

A variation of Panning is to freeze your image with SLOW-SYNC REAR CURTAIN FLASH; it combines the flash with slow shutter speeds in low light situations to emphasize movement and freeze the subject. This allows for better utilization of the ambient light when panning our main motive.


  • Camera mode : Manual
  • Set the Shutter Speed somewhere from 1/30 to 1/4 of a second, experiment from this range.
  • Set you Flash to manual 1/2.
  • Set flash to rear curtain sync

Now pan along with the subject and fire. The background will create plenty blur, but the flash will ultimately freeze the subject. Using the rear curtain sync will put the blur behind the subject, where a first curtain flash sync puts blur in front of the subject.


This technique is great for implying motion in pictures where both motive and camera is held completely still, secondary objects and lights is then allowed the blur out. This is perfect to portrait a busy crowded street, fireworks, waterfalls and more.

Having the camera on a tripod is essential to avoid any unwanted shakes, but when that is not possibly then I try to seek support in my shoot by other means.

What is so damn challenging with this technique is judging the needed shutter speed; it has to be slow enough get the main subject in sharp focus and the rest blurred by their movement. A shutter speed around 1/25 will be appropriate for walking people, you will need to adapt for higher speeds for instance will you the motion blur effect on a running person at 1/125s and less.

This technique is great to blur the background of a moving car.

Or blurring the wings of an insect when doing macro

Giving the sensation of speed through a tunnel.

John Asbjørn Skajem adds the following comment “Use a small aperture to not burn out, 5 sec will allow the bombs to unfold and don’t go to high in ISO as we want to shoot for maximum Quality”

The static method is also great for taking photos of LIGHT TAILS from the passing traffic. Find a location where you can have a view of car or bicycle traffic, and set up your tripod. Be safe and wear a yellow safety west. Try to find a location where you get an overview over a road, twisting in an S-Curve as this will yield the best pictures.

  • Put your camera into shutter priority mode, and set your shutter speed to 10-30 seconds.
  • Set you ISO to 100. You will see heaps of light entering through the shutter, and as a result high ISO values are unnecessary.
  • Use a remote control or your cameras timer to avoid any shakes.
  • I focus on one of the street lights nearby, that will help my manual focus.
  • I use my 17-35mm ƒ/2.8 on my full frame camera, I recommend you to shoot as wide as possible.

Another great motive for Static is WATERFALLS. These look their best at 1/5 to 1 second exposure. Slower than that and you miss detail in the paths the water is falling. Faster than that and you get no blur. Try for ƒ/11 to ƒ/16 to get sharpness and DOF. Obviously ISO 100 film and a tripod are needed for the best image. If you can’t get a slow enough shutter with these parameters, use filters. A polarizer takes 2-fstops. After that add ND filters.

Gary adds the following comment “Be prepared to get wet and long walks! Don’t forget the tripod! Don’t shoot at mid-day! Do plan for the light. Bracket all of your shots up to 2 stops above and below what appear to be ideal, I shoot +- 1/3, 1/5, 1 at a minimum.”

Gary also points at another great hike he did; 3 hours each way with time lapse gear, batteries, and tripods but well worth it… Have a look

Another great example of where static motive is effective is Fire! Blur the movement of fire in the night.

  • Aperture ƒ/18.0
  • Focal Length: ~30 mm
  • Shutter speed : 1/1
  • ISO : 200

Daniel Ellwanger adds the following comment “When you want to shoot a storm of sparks you can easily get all the equipment in the supermarket and a hardware store. All you need is an eggbeater 2 meters of steel cable and some things to tighten it all together. To get the sparks all you need to do is put some steel wool (grade 0) into the eggbeater and light it gently at one end. When it’s glowing activate the camera with a remote and start spinning the eggbeater using the steel cable. The oxygen in the air the eggbeater is traveling through makes the steel wool glow even more. When it’s hot enough it melts and the drops of glowing steel start flying in the air. Please NEVER use this technique at a dry place. Don’t hurt yourself and be careful”

Burst Zoom

Perfectly still objects can still receive a vortex alike blur. This technique is also called Burst Zoom and is created by zooming in or out while exposing the photo. To make a burst zoom photo, choose a good defined object and ideally with some bright colors, then set your camera to slow shutter speed (generally under 1/60sec) and a wide aperture, and try to shoot in manual mode to execute the burst zoom. This will give the sense of high speed towards or from an object.

Obtaining Motion Blur

When holding the camera still, you need to be slower than 1/2 x focal length for objects moving (not fact moving). A place to start is to think in this interval. When panning slower than 1/3 X focal length if both subject photographer are moving (not fast). This interval will help you shoot into the right setting, in order to add motion blur to an image can increase impact by adding a sense of motion. The schema below assumes that the subject is traveling towards the camera. If moving across the path, more blur will be recorded. There are no hard rules for this. Experimentation is the trick. To enhance the effect include something static in the picture. For example, have one kid standing still while the others move, this will increase the impact of movement.

Subject Moderate Blur Extensive Blur Technique/Note
Waterfall 1/5 sec 1 sec Static, Blurring slow-flowing water close to the camera, going even slower will result in a soft milky water effect.
fast-flowing water close to the camera 1/8 2/1 Static
Person Walking 1/30 1 /4 Static,
Person, Kids, dogs Running 1/60 1/15 Panning
Horse Trotting 1/30 1/8
Horse Galloping 1/125 1/30
Car @ 40 mph @ 64km/h 1/125 1/30 Panning
Car @ 70 mph @ 130km/h 1/250 1/60 Panning
Cyclists 1/30 Panning, from a distance
mountain bikers
1/60 Panning, if they are relatively close to the camera

1 thought on “Stretching the moment in time

  1. Nice work, very useful and helpful; keep them coming!

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