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Photographing motion is something we all deal with sooner or later. The world rarely holds still for a photograph. The question is what you want to do with that motion.

A World In Motion

Everything is always moving, to one extent or another. Last month, I thought I had a perfectly still subject when photographing the Milky Way over the Piton mountains in St. Lucia. Yet from one frame to another, I could detect the Earth’s motion in the photos. It seemed to cause the Milky Way to move just a little farther away from the Pitons in each image. That’s the problem with living on a spinning planet. It’s a real pain for post-processing. I’m literally trying to get a galaxy of stars to align.

Photographers deal with motion in different ways. Some want to freeze motion. We crave ever faster shutter speeds for sports or incredibly fast flash duration for splash photography. Folks want to see crisp photos without any blur in them at all.

Photographing Motion Creatively

Do they? We can go to the other end of the spectrum and use blur creatively. Some folks like photographing motion with neutral density filters. The classic image of a waterfall comes to mind. Long exposures create that silky ribbon of water, which is much more pleasing than trying to freeze the motion with a faster shutter speed.  Neither really looks natural, but we seem to like the softness of a long exposure more than the harsh reality of stopped motion.

Sometimes we take it to extremes by using a 10-stop neutral density. That can turn an ocean crashing onto the rocks into a soft mist that seems to permeate the scene. We use the force of motion to create a scene of serenity and stillness. It’s quite weird when you think about it.

Despite the fact that a lot of sports photographers show action by freezing it, some of them convey action with blur. It seems natural and even seems to add a sense of speed. Have you ever heard someone try to describe something by saying it all happened in a blur? We see an image of an object blurred in motion and the sense of speed comes to mind.

We have a lot of options when photographing motion. The idea of a photograph may be to stop time, but it doesn’t mean we can’t use creativity to move our viewer’s imaginations.


Crow #1: Did you ever see an elephant fly?
Crow #2: Well, I’ve seen a horse fly.
Crow #3: Ah, I’ve seen a dragon fly.
Crow #4: Hee-hee. I’ve seen a house fly.

This is another shot from my visit to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom earlier this year to photograph motion and try some long exposure HDR. Lights, color, motion – who says blurry photos are always a bad thing?

Photographing Motion

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  1. My first attempt at taking a set of bracketed photos there was a lovely moon in the sky. I had to use fairly long exposures because it was already quite dark. What I didn’t consider was that the moon would be in a different spot on each of the 5 bracketed shots … d’oh!
    How many frames did you use for this one? I like how you have the motion blur going in most of the picture in varying degrees, but the stationary core where the fountains are situated is perfectly clear.

    1. It’s very inconsiderate of the Earth to move when you’re trying to take photos of the celestial objects.

      This shot used five exposures, each 1-stop apart. Photomatix did some of the work, parts of it I did by blending portions of the original exposures – like the multiple colors in the fountain.

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