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The World of Photography–Chapter Thirteen–Capturing Motion

R. Landry Gallery ( Sony SLT-A&&V Tamron 16-300mm F3.5-6.3, 30sec, f/29, 45mm, iso 64)
R. Landry Gallery ( Sony A900 Sigma 50mm 1:2.8 DG Macro, 1/250, f/14, 50mm, iso 200)
R. Landry Gallery ( Sony A900 Sigma 50mm 1:2.8 DG Macro, 1/250, f/14, 50mm, iso 200)
R. Landry Gallery ( Sony SLT-A77V, Tamron 16-300mm F3.5-6.3, 1/6, f/32, 50mm, iso 100)

Want to know how to capture motion in photography? Want to create the kind of motion photos that take people’s breath away? The first four photos are mine. 🙂

For instance, you may want to capture a dog running, a train barreling down the tracks, or trees blowing in the wind. Each of these scenes can come alive within your photographs if you learn how to convey motion properly.

Today, I’ll describe how you can use different shutter speeds and panning to capture motion in your photography. I’ll also explain a potential issue you might experience when photographing moving subjects – along with tips to resolve it.

Reasons to capture motion

Beginning photographers have likely seen captivating photographs that capture motion. There are several ways to achieve these photos, and each has a slightly different goal.

You see, sometimes there is a need to blur certain elements in the image while focusing sharply on a few subjects in the foreground. Other times, you may want to freeze or blur everything. The direction you take depends on your objective for your photograph.

A lot of photographers capture motion simply to convey that an object is moving. But there are also other reasons to do this. Movement can communicate mood. Trees rustling in the wind suggests serenity, while throngs of people on a busy city block implies hurried activity.

You can also use motion to eliminate elements in a scene that may serve as distractions to the viewer. For example, you may want to photograph a person standing on a sidewalk corner as cars move behind them. By blurring everything but your primary subject (i.e., the man on the corner), you can eliminate potential distractions and focus the viewer’s attention.

Two primary techniques for capturing motion in photography

The shutter speed you use while photographing a scene plays a key role in capturing motion in your image.

The faster the shutter speed, the sharper the focus on your subject. On the other hand, a slower shutter speed will blur a moving object. There are two main approaches here (though I’ll discuss a couple of alternatives in a moment).

1. Blurred subject with the background in focus

Let’s assume you’re photographing a speeding train against a wall of trees in the background. You can blur the train while leaving the trees in focus. Doing so would instantly communicate to the viewer that the train is moving quickly.

To accomplish this, you would use a slow shutter speed.

(It’s also important to use a tripod. That way, your camera remains steady.)

You’ll often see this technique used in nighttime photographs with car headlights cutting through the image.

2. Blurred background with the subject in focus

This second technique keeps your subject in sharp focus while the background is blurred.

Using our train example, the train would be in focus and the wall of trees would be blurred, thereby conveying the train’s movement.

Similar to the first method, you’ll need to use a slow shutter speed. However, instead of using a tripod, you’ll be panning your camera along the directional path of your subject.

Panning explained

Most beginning photographers are trained to “secure” their cameras. That is, beginners are taught that the camera should remain as still as possible for certain types of shots.

By contrast, panning requires that you move your camera with your subject. Specifically, you’ll be matching your subject’s rate of movement and the direction in which it is traveling.

In our bike example, assume the man on the bike is moving from east to west. In that case, you’ll need to pan your camera in the same east-to-west direction, matching the speed of the bike. The best results occur when you have a clear view of the moving object and ample room to swivel your camera along a parallel axis.

Panning effectively can be difficult. You can practice and perfect your technique by photographing athletes who move quickly (for example, basketball players). Try to capture their facial expressions while blurring everything in the background. It will take some time to get it right, but once you do, the technique can be a valuable addition to your repertoire.

Other techniques to capture motion

Besides the two main techniques described above, you can also freeze the entire scene or blur everything.

Freezing the entire scene can give your photographs a unique look, especially if the objects strongly imply movement. For example, consider a bird flying in front of a waterfall. Both imply motion to the viewer. Freezing the entire scene captures all that motion and can produce a breathtaking image. You should use a shutter speed of at least 1/1000s for that type of shot.

Blurring everything produces the best results when the scene offers bright, contrasting colors or varying tones. In most cases, capturing motion in this manner is done purely for artistic purposes.

Another effective method for capturing motion within your images is “chrono photography.”

Using the continuous shooting feature on your camera, you can capture a series of shots and join them together in the post-processing stage to create the effect shown above. A tripod is essential when attempting to shoot motion using this method.

Determine the proper shutter speed

A lot of novice photographers ask what the proper shutter speed is, given their objective.

But every situation is unique. One speed doesn’t suit all circumstances. To identify the right shutter speed, you’ll need to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. How fast is your subject moving?
  2. How much distance exists between the camera and the subject?
  3. How much motion do you want your photograph to convey to the viewer?

The faster the shutter speed, the more frozen and crisply-defined your subject will be. Most cameras today will allow you to freeze a scene using 1/8000s or faster.

That being said, the numbers only serve as a rough guideline. You’ll need to experiment with different shutter speeds in a variety of situations.

Potential issue: excess light

Here’s a potential issue you may encounter when trying to capture motion in photography:

When you slow your shutter speed to blur elements in your image, there’s a chance that too much light will enter and impact your photograph (which will result in overexposure).

This is a common problem, but there are a couple of ways to resolve it:

First, check the aperture on your camera. The wider it is, the more likely excess light will enter. Try adjusting the settings to reduce its size.

Second, review your ISO setting. When the ISO is high, the image sensor in your camera may be overly sensitive to light. This can create a too-bright image, as well as unwanted noise, so consider dropping your ISO.

Mastering the art of motion capture

Becoming proficient at capturing motion in photography requires practice and experience. You’ll need to spend time learning how different shutter speeds impact the quality of your images. Even if you’re just setting your camera on its tripod, timing a perfect shot of a fast-moving object can be difficult.

In the end, capturing motion in your photography is part technique and part art. Fortunately, with practice, you can master it!



Capturing motion in photography can be quite a challenge. When things are in motion you need to act quickly and go with the flow at the same time. But photographing movement can also be very fulfilling and exciting because it shows us aspects of life that are otherwise not seen by the human eye. 

Situations where capturing the motion is important are for instance when you’re photographing sports, dance photography, wildlife photography, moving objects and photographing kids.


There are basically 2 ways to go about capturing motion in photography. You can decide to freeze the motion by using fast shutter speeds and you can blur the movement by using a slow shutter speed.

When you freeze the motion the result is a hyper-realistic image showing things that are normally not registered by the human eye. Usually, the result of motion blur feels more abstract. The motion is almost visible leaving parts of the subject or the entire subject in a blur.

Both approaches are valid. The important thing is that you make a choice before you start to photograph motion because the roads that lead to these 2 outcomes are completely different. In this post, I will limit myself (and save you from overwhelm) to photography tips on how to freeze the action. And in another post, I will get into how to capture motion blur. 


As with almost every kind of photography, preparation is important. You need to prepare yourself on 3 levels:

  1. Before you leave make sure you have at least 1 memory card that’s formatted and has a lot of space for all the action shots you wanna take. Because when you photograph movement you need to shoot a lot. It’s important to have a card that can store a lot of files, think at least 64 GB. And the faster the better.
  2. Then when you arrive, you’ll need to investigate the environment and look for places of interest. If possible ask a local for the best spots to shoot from. Scour different places and be prepared to move from one spot to the other. This will bring diversity in your shots. Once you’ve established a few great places to shoot from you can start to worry about your camera settings.
  3. Then you select the best camera settings for action shots. Image Quality, Focus & Drive Mode and Exposure Mode are camera settings you can select before you start shooting. I’ll get into those camera settings for action shots more in-depth in the next few steps. 


To be honest shooting in raw is a total no-brainer for me. I shoot everything in raw. Even when I’m photographing with my iPhone. Shooting in raw just gives you so much more freedom in the post-processing phase it’s a shame to not take advantage of that. Photographing action is no different.

The great thing about shooting in raw is your margin for error is bigger. That’s like a nice little safety blanket when you’re capturing motion and things are moving fast.

The thing to consider when your shooting in raw is that your image files will be quite large. That’s why you need a large memory card. Another thing to consider is the files are not stored on your memory card immediately. It takes the tiniest bit of time but there is a delay before it’s taken from the image sensor to the memory card.

For you to keep shooting and not having to wait for your camera to process the data and store it on the memory card your camera is buffering. That’s why a fast memory card is better when you’re shooting action. 

When you feel the camera is really underperforming in this area and is taking its sweet time to process and store your files you could decide to select the highest quality JPEG files. But only if the slowness of the camera is getting in the way of you capturing the images you want.


Your DSLR or Mirrorless has a few different ways to focus, the focus modes.

To tell your camera that you’re photographing subjects in motion you need to set the focus mode on AI-Servo when you’re shooting with a Canon and Continuous when you’re photographing with a Nikon.

If you have a different brand look it up in your camera manual to find what the focus mode for continuously moving subjects is.

And the second thing you need to select is your drive mode. This is the number of photos per second your camera takes. Select any setting that allows you to keep shooting as long as your finger is on the shutter.

Sports and Dance are among the most challenging subjects when it comes to photographing movement. 


Shutter speed is king when it comes to capturing motion in photography. That’s why it’s best to shoot in shutter speed mode. Things are moving way to quickly to shoot in manual mode.

You start by selecting a fast shutter speed. Real fast. As in above 1/1000 sec. fast. Of course, this also depends very much on how fast your subject is moving. But let’s say above 1/1000 is the safe zone. You can be pretty damn sure you’ll be freezing the movement with this shutter speed. Anything between 1/350 and 1/500 you’re likely to see a slight blur when something is moving fast.

Then you select an iso setting that allows you to shoot with the fast shutter speed depending on the light. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice your iso for speed. The noise of a high iso is preferable to the blurriness of a slow shutter speed. And because you’re shooting in raw you can reduce the noise big time during post processing.

If you want to make your subject stand out against the background you can set a wide aperture to make the background blurry. (A wide aperture is a small number like f2.8). But try to stay away from the widest aperture because the range of sharpness will be very small which makes the margin for a focussing error bigger. 


Two more things to consider with the shutter speed are the direction of the moving subject and how close you are to the action.

  1. Direction: If your subject is moving toward you or away from you you can get away with a slower shutter speed. But if the subject is moving from left to right or in the other direction you need a faster shutter speed.
  2. Proximity: If you’re close to the action whether it’s through a longer lens or because you’re in the middle of it you need to select a faster shutter speed than when you’re further away. The closer you are the more visible the action becomes.

If you’re still shooting in Auto Mode go Manual Mode to take your first steps away from Auto Mode by learning to shoot in Program Mode.


Go where the action is but be safe. Try to find the sweet spot between immersing yourself in the action and keeping you, your camera and everyone else involved out of harm’s way.

Keep in mind that measuring distances is a little trickier when you’re looking through the viewfinder. You’re also completely focused on what’s happening in front of you so it’s easy to forget there’s a whole lot of living going on behind you. Be mindful of that. If it’s possible try to keep both eyes open.


Okay so now you have your camera settings out of the way let’s focus on the action. Because of the continuous focusing and the multiple shots per second you can just leave your finger on the shutter and follow your subject. Give it a rest every few seconds though so your camera can catch her breath and work through the files that are stored in the buffer. 

Keep your eyes on the motion and don’t look at your LCD screen all the time. Look through the viewfinder and follow your subject. Shoot through the moment. So start shooting before it gets interesting and keep on shooting until it’s beyond interesting. 


Shooting from a low point of view  is especially interesting for capturing motion because your subject will become larger. When you shoot from a high point of view your subjects become smaller. 

But there’s more going on than that. The low point of view makes your subject look more epic somehow especially during a jump. What it does is not only making the subject bigger but it also changes the distance between earth and sky. The proportions change.

Capturing motion is quite often about being detached from the ground. Letting go of the connection with the earth. With a low point of view, you emphasize the being suspended between heaven and earth feel. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all motion photography but when it does choosing a low point of view can lift your image up to extraordinary.


Well obviously your subject needs space to move but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Give your subject space to move in your composition and preferably you give the space in the area of the frame the subject is moving to. The rule of thirds is a great composition tool to achieve that.

Let’s say someone is running from left to right then you want that someone to be in the left third of your frame. As a result, she’s running into the open space of your frame. It gives more of a dynamic feeling because there’s literally room to move. 

Having said that playing around with this ‘rule’ never hurt anybody so experiment and reverse the idea. See how that works out and how it changes the feeling of the photo. The most important thing is to become aware of how these choices play out in the final image. Having room to move gives a photo a different underlying feeling than running against the frame of the image. You see what I mean?


In photographing action you should always shoot a lot. Especially when you keep your finger on the shutter your camera spits out anything between 3 and 6 images per second. And let me break your little bubble here most of those images are not worth a second glance.

Nothing to be ashamed about that’s just the way it works when you’re capturing motion. It’s the reason why you have a bin on your computer. Because most of them won’t even be worth keeping in the deep, dark dungeons of your harddrive. Be ruthless, throw them over the edge and be done with them.

Getting rid of the so-so and bad files will make the good images shine. That’s the upside of this process. You have to let go of a lot of rubbish to find the beauties in the post processing phase.

Go looking for those treasures. Find the one image that best tells the dynamic of the moment in motion. There’s always a point where the movement is at its peak, where everything is in alignment.


Capturing motion in photography is an exhilarating experience. It keeps you on your toes and requires you to be fully present in the moment. When you apply these steps you’ll be happy with the result as well.

And as in anything with photography practice makes perfect. Especially when it comes to shooting action.

You will get better over time and get to a point where you can anticipate the movement. You can visualize what’s gonna happen a split second before it actually happens. That’s the best place to shoot action from because you are fully prepared and completely in the moment.

How To Capture Motion and Moving Subjects


MODERN APPROACH TO COMPOSITION EBOOKLearn all about photographic composition with this ebook loaded with advice, techniques, and concepts to help you create stunning images that wow viewers.

Some of the best and most memorable moments in life are in motion. Be it your daughter dancing, or your brother hanging ten on a surfboard or a friend hotdogging on a skateboard, you will want to learn how to capture your loved ones’ most defining moments in photos.

Unfortunately, digital cameras hate moving. Most of the time, moving subjects register as a blur on photographs. So how do you shoot moving objects? Here are some tips:

Shutter Speed

When the subject is moving and you want to take a shot of, say a basketball player getting the ball on a rebound, then you should opt for fast shutter speeds. You should use a shutter speed that is at least 1/500th of a second or higher.

However, remember that fast shutter speeds may result in underexposed photographs. Fast shutter speeds limit the amount of light that comes into your image sensors, so the higher your shutter speed is, the more likely that your pictures would be dark.

This would not be much of a problem outdoors, but if you are indoors, you might need to address this. You can counter underexposed photos by using a flash, increasing your ISO or changing the aperture.

Increasing The Aperture

The aperture is the hole where light comes into your camera into the image sensor. Choose a low f-stop to open up the aperture and allow more light in. This will help you counter the low light you get from the fast shutter speed.

However, increasing the aperture may lessen the depth of field of your photograph. What does this mean? It means that aside from your subject, a lot of the other elements in your photograph might look out of focus. A high f-stop can help you get the entire scene in focus, but a lower one such as f2.8 may make it appear like the whole background is out of focus.

Use A Flash

Using a flash with your motion shots is a good way to counter the low light conditions when using a faster shutter speed. It is extremely easy to correct dark photos by using your flash.

However, most cameras have flashes that have a very short range. This means that you must be no more than a few feet away from your subject to benefit from it. For sporting events, flashes might also be a no-no as they can be very distracting.

Use A High ISO

Using a high ISO can help you increase the shutter speed and aperture of your camera without increasing the likelihood of getting blurry or dark photographs. However, using high ISOs can usually result in a grainy picture with a lot of digital noise.

The secret to getting a sharp focus on a moving subject is to increase the shutter speed and correct the dark photos by using flash, increasing the aperture or using a high ISO speed. But for a more dramatic shot that captures motion, you could also try panning.


Imagine a photograph that shows the city lights with a trail of light from passing cars visible. To take this kind of shot, you hold your camera steady so that it could capture the lights from the city. As a car passes through, you camera will capture it as a trail of light.

Panning works in reverse. Instead of holding your camera, you move — pan — it to follow the moving car. As a result, the car is captured in focus while the rest of the city goes behind it in a blur.

Admittedly, this is easier said than done. You would probably have more success if you have a slow moving subject, such as a running dog or a walking baby.

In any case, you would need to practice panning your camera in order to get absolutely beautiful shots. But how do you do panning?

  1. Go for a slow shutter speedYour shutter speed should be slower than what you normally use to take “normal” photos. Remember that other factors such as light and your subject’s speed will help determine just how slow your shutter speed should be.Because you are using a slow shutter speed, you should keep your hand very steady or else you will have a whole lot of camera shakes showing up on your shots. You can also use a tripod that has a swivelling head to help you keep your camera steady.
  2. Choose a great background for your shotWhen panning, the background will be blurred while your subject will be in focus. That does not, however, mean that your background would not be distracting. Choose a background with a single color or plain ones without distracting shapes.
  3. Pre-focus your camera on the spot that you intend to take your shotFor example, you can start following the subject when he or she comes into view at the end of the block even if you want to capture the subject when he or she gets to the middle of the block. You should set your camera so that the focus is sharpest when the subject reaches the middle of the block.
  4. Release the shutter as gently as possible to reduce camera shakeAfter you release the shutter, continue following your subject to ensure that the photograph looks smooth.

If after all these, you check and see that your photograph is disastrous, do not lose heart. Panning requires a lot of practice and a lot of patience too. In fact, if you want to master panning, it may be wise to do so while in a busy street where you can have a lot of cars or traffic to practice on.

Chrono Photography

Chrono photography allows you to capture movement by taking several frames of a moving subject and then displaying them alongside each other to suggest successive phases of motion. This would achieve a photo that looks like this:Image by MunsterNet

To do chrono photography, you should use a tripod. Set your camera to shoot continuously then join these photographs in post-processing.

Remember, it takes some practice to master taking shots of moving objects. Aside from these tips, you will have to need lots of patience. So if you are expecting to get photos at a certain event, be sure to give these guidelines a try beforehand. With lots of practice, you will be able to easily capture defining moments.


Photography-school. Com, “A Beginner’s Guide to Capturing Motion in your Photography. ” BY Darren Rowse; Photography-playground. Com, “9 Essential tips in Capturing Motion in Photography. ” BY Karin Von Mierlo; Co, “How to Capture Motion and Moving Subjects. ” BY Michael Gabriel;

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