Capturing Motion

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When you see photos like this can you sense the motion that is taking place?  In the example above you can clearly see that the wheels of the motorcycle are turning fast.  You also get the sense that the bike and rider are moving past the background.  I love capturing these moments where the subject is sharp and clear but the sense of motion is also clearly conveyed.

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I don’t get to practice this kind of photography as often as I would like.  As a result, I get way more bad photos than good.  I’m only going to show you a few of the good.  🙂

What makes capturing these photos difficult is the fact that you have to move the camera to track a moving subject.  If the camera is not moving precisely at the same speed as the subject, the whole photo will look blurry.  The intent is to make the background and foreground look blurry but not the subject.  It is relatively easy to increase the shutter speed and “freeze” all motion in the image, but that photo does not convey the same message or story as one where some motion has been preserved.  This technique is called “panning” and requires lots of practice to master.

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In the example above the rider’s helmet and parts of the bike are sharp, other parts appear out of focus, and the foreground and background appear to be moving.  The wheels are blurred because they are rotating.  The lower parts of the bike appear out of focus because the focus point is on the rider’s helmet.  “Depth of field” is the term defining how much of an image can be in focus.  The aperture setting of the lens controls how deep the field of focus will be.  So blurred parts of an image can be increased or decreased by changing the aperture.  But the goal here is to capture motion and the way you do that is by moving the camera to follow the subject.  Shutter speed is the most important camera variable when capturing motion.  The shutter was set to stay open for 1/100 of a second in the photo above.

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In the above example, shutter speed was set to 1/400 of a second.  The shutter opened and closed 4 times faster than in the previous photo, yet some sense of motion was still captured.  My success rate is much higher at this shutter speed, but my goal is to decrease shutter speed, not increase.  I have seen many examples from photographers who are masters at this technique.  Decreasing the shutter speed to 1/30 or 1/10 of a second or even slower creates an effect in the image that makes you say “How did they do that?”.  I now know how, in the same way that I know how NBA players can dunk a basketball, but I am not yet able to reproduce that effect in my own photography.  I am encouraged by the fact that, unlike dunking a basketball, I am not limited by my height, age, weight, or jumping ability.  Panning is a skill that can be mastered even by old guys.  I plan to keep practicing as often as I can.

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