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!


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