Motion Blur for Artistic Effect

Trunks - 70mm, 1/90, f/4.0

Trunks – 70mm, 1/90, f/4.0

Here’s a scene from beside the trail at a local park with hiking trails. I was drawn to the vertical lines of the tree trunks and the lighter bark than the trees in the surrounding area. While it’s nice to see something like this while walking along (as opposed to a wall in front of you while you’re on a treadmill), it doesn’t make the greatest picture.

So I decided to try something I’ve seen done with photos I’ve viewed online. The technique involves setting a slower shutter speed and panning the camera while the shutter is open. It’s tricky because both the shutter speed and the speed you move the lens across the subject affect the results.  Shutter speed too slow or moving too fast and it’s all just mush with no definition. On the other hand, shutter speed too fast and moving too slow, and it just looks like a sloppy, blurred photo. Here’s what I got after a little experimenting:

Tree Blur - 70mm, 1/6, f/22

Tree Blur – 70mm, 1/6, f/22

It looks like an abstract painting, I think. I don’t think this is something I’d put in my portfolio, but it does look cool!  1/6 of a second seemed to work best with my medium speed, upward motion as I squeezed the shutter button. I started pointing slightly down and raised the lens as I squeezed off the shot. I found it’s very important to move upward (or sideways) in a straight line. Got some ugly shots that show what happens when you deviate from your course!

Tree Blur - 70mm, 1/6, f/11

Tree Blur – 70mm, 1/6, f/11

I used my 70-200mm f/4L lens at it’s widest zoom setting. I did try this with my 17-40 f/4L, but it works better with a medium telephoto – for the same reason that motion blur is harder to control the higher the focal length. You get motion blur easier from telephoto lenses, so it follows that they would work better for this. You can do it with a wider angle lens, but you have to move the camera faster, which makes moving in a straight line and timing your shutter squeeze a little harder. All this would probably have been more precise on a tripod and with a cable release.

This is my first attempt, but I’ve seen photos with a sharp bottom moving into a blurred top section. Guessing they either had a longer shutter speed and only moved after the exposure was half over, or did some image blending in Photoshop.

Anyway, go on and try it. Intentional motion blur can be fun!


Dark Leaves

Dark Leaf - 35mm, 1/90, f/8.0

Dark Leaf – 35mm, 1/90, f/8.0

This is a shot I edited in NIK Silver Efex Pro 2.  I tried to create a dark and dramatic look, and bring out the lines in the leaf while still keeping the texture smooth.  For the most part I think it worked.

I was using my new 35mm f/2 IS lens on both of these photos. The detail it shows is really great for a non-L lens.

Wet Leaves - 35mm, 1/45, f/5.6

Wet Leaves – 35mm, 1/45, f/5.6

This is another shot from the same day.  I think f/5.6 was not stopping down enough to get a good depth of field. Otherwise it turned out good.  It’s just amazing what a transformation my boring leaf drops photos can take in software!

Trailside Photography (again)

It’s a fun challenge for me to go hiking and try to find things that could make a good photo.  Most of the time it’s just a bunch of plants and trees, which, here in western Washington State, provide a lush, green environment to walk in. But a big mess of greenery does not make for an interesting photo.  It takes a trained eye to find and isolate pleasing compositions, and I am still in training. Practice makes perfect, right? So this is me practicing on a trail in the Capitol Forest near Olympia, Washington.


Snail – 35mm, 1/30, f/5.6, ISO400

I used to think in terms of aperture and shutter speed. Now I use ISO as a third component of exposure to make sure my shutter speed is fast enough to prevent motion blur at my selected aperture. I am pushing my luck at 1/30th of a sec, but I’m using an IS lens on a static subject, so I can get away with it. If I could do it again, I’d probably use ISO800 and stop down more to get a little more of the snail’s shell in focus.

Wood Duck - 1/250, f/5.6, ISO400

Wood Duck – 1/250, f/5.6, ISO400

This photo was taken with my 70-200mm f/4L at 200mm, so 1/250 is the slowest shutter speed I’d want for this type of shot, to make sure there is no motion blur. This lens doesn’t have IS, so I have to watch it.

Footbridge, Fake IR - 35mm, 1/60, f/5.6, ISO400

Footbridge, Fake IR – 35mm, 1/60, f/5.6, ISO400

This is an attempt to simulate infrared in Lightroom.  A little more work to make the tree trunks dark would make it look more authentic. I manipulated the luminance on the greens and yellows to be very bright, which is how IR radiation appears when it bounces off foliage.

Skunk Cabbage Drops - 135mm, 1/1000, f/8.0

Skunk Cabbage Drops – 135mm, 1/1000, f/8.0

This is another shot with the 70-200mm f/4L. If it focuses correctly, it’s good at longer range macro-type photos. I had a rear focusing issue with it for years and resorted to focusing manually when it was wide open. But the EOS 7D has a micro-focus adjustment setting, like many of the newer EOS dSLRs. I have to set it to -18 for this lens, which is near the limit of how much the micro-focus adjustment can compensate.  But many more of my shots are sharp where I was aiming at now. If I had realized after I purchased it 10 years ago, I should have returned it for a better copy. But I have to say the optical quality is very good for a telephoto zoom, especially for one under $1,000.

Creek Logs - 35mm, 1/6, f/11, ISO100

Creek Logs – 35mm, 1/6, f/11, ISO100

This 35mm f/2 IS lens is something else, and I am pushing the IS just past the limits here.  You’ll see what I mean if you look closely at the logs. There is just a tiny bit of camera shake blur at an incredibly slow hand-held 1/6 of a second.  I know for sure I could never get a usable image with a non-IS lens at that speed!  I suppose it helped that I squatted down, braced my arms on my knees, breathed out and held my breath while slowly squeezing the shutter button.  As far as I can tell, IS corrects camera shake, but not subject motion blur, which is why I can get blurred water and sharp (almost) logs and moss.

This photo is also very typical of western Washington woodlands, and that’s one of the big reasons I love living here.

Lightroom tryout

Tolmie State Park - Lightroom edit

Tolmie State Park – Lightroom edit

I decided to give Lightroom 5 a try. I’ve been using Aperture 3 for a couple years now. What I like about Aperture is the easy and clean interface, tone and color tools, and the simple-but-useful brushes. But lately I’ve felt a little frustrated because my images tend to be a little dirty and/or noisy. I knew that noise reduction and sharpening are two big holes in my post processing knowledge, so I began to research them.  It seems that these are two things Aperture doesn’t do very well. People say Lightroom does a better job, so I tried it out and found that to be true.

But I should back up first. When I first pulled the above image into Lightroom 5, everything is set up differently from Aperture. To be honest, after a few minutes, I gave up trying to get a nice result, and went back to Aperture. Then I reminded myself how it took some time to get used to Aperture and learn how to get the results I wanted to see. It takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what works to your taste. So I spent a few hours watching YouTube tutorials on basic Lightroom workflow and basic image enhancement.

Then I went back to Lightroom to try out what I’d learned. Wow!  I can get the nice, clean, smooth, sharp look I wanted to see but never could quite achieve in Aperture.  The problem seems to be that when I try to push exposure and colors too much in Aperture things get gritty and noisy fairly quickly. It feels like I don’t have a lot of latitude.  This can happen in Lightroom too, but Lightroom has really nice sharpening and noise reduction under the “Detail” adjustment palette on the right. It does an excellent job of sharpening things up but keeping it clean.

Here’s a shot I took last summer at Crystal Peak, looking toward Mt. Rainier. I used my EOS 7D and the 17-40 f/4L lens. Editing the RAW file again in Lightroom 5 gave a nicer result than I got in Aperture. I used a couple adjustment brushes and a graduated filter. There was a lot of haze that day, and a polarizing filter helped, but Lightroom adjustments also made a big difference.

Mt. Rainier - from Crystal Peak

Mt. Rainier – from Crystal Peak

So the lesson for me was (once again): Don’t give up if you are frustrated on your first attempt to jump into something new.  Try to learn from others and experiment.  Different environments require different approaches.  I still have a lot to learn before I could start posting my work on 500px, but I am always trying to learn something new.