Minimalist Fine Art Photography

Creative Photography – creating blur using movement

Creating Blur using Camera Movement

As we saw in our last blog post, not all photos need to be sharp. In fact, you can engage in forms of abstract photography that result in images where nothing is in focus at all. This time we look at creating a different kind of artistic blur using camera movement. This can be done with a variety of subjects. It creates streaks of colours through your image as you move the camera. Here is an example of using camera movement to create an artistic blur for a sunrise photo:
Abstract Photography using movement blur-5

As you can see, the result is an image with streaks of colour that almost look like brush-strokes. The image is quite abstract on the one hand, but at the same time it is also fairly easy to decipher. You might not be able to guess the location, but you can see it is sunrise (or sunset) over the sea. It is an interesting way of softening the water instead of having either waves mid action or the smoky, milky, ethereal effect of a long exposure. So, how did I go about creating blur to get this effect? The essential technique involves panning the camera (moving it in a straight line from left to right or right to left). The smoother your pan, the straighter the lines will be, including the horizon. If you want wavy lines, then the panning motion would include some up or down motion as well. It may help to think of the camera movement as being the way you would drag a brush to create a particular type of mark. So, if you want vertical lines, you need to move the camera up and/or down while taking the image. Your movement creates the “brush-strokes” during the exposure. To get really smooth lines and a straight horizon it is important to start and finish with a smooth action. Don’t just start moving when you press the button. Practise the movement, then start moving before you press the shutter and continue the movement in a smooth sweep even after the shutter has closed again. It is a bit like a golf swing, I suppose. Obviously, if you aren’t worried about it being straight or smooth, then ignore that advice!

Creating blur for artistic photography - cyclamen streaks of colour
Creating blur for artistic photography – cyclamen streaks of colour


In order to get the movement appearing on your image, the shutter needs to be open long enough to register it. So, if you have a very fast shutter speed, it will cancel some or all of your movement out and you will get little or no blur. To get more blur, increase the time your shutter is open. One way to do this is to use a small aperture (a high F number in A or Av mode, for example) and a low ISO. However, you might find that during the day there is still too much light and so your shutter speed is still too fast. If this is the case, try using a polariser or a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. This should enable you to keep the shutter open longer.

The speed at which you need to move the camera will depend on how long the shutter is open. If you have a slower shutter speed then you can move more slowly. Faster shutter speeds need faster movement for creating blur. The best thing to do is experiment with different settings on your camera and with moving at different speeds.

You can also control your image further by deciding to keep some parts of your image more in focus. This is done by keeping the camera still and pointing at the area you want sharp. The longer you stay in one place and keep still, the sharper that part will be. It is possible to combine movement with remaining still on a subject in one image to create a picture that combines both a clear subject and some movement blur. It is often easiest to start by pointing the camera at what you want in focus and to focus on that before pressing the shutter release. Then, keep the camera still for a while before moving it for the rest of the time the shutter is open. Here are a couple of examples showing progressively more clear, in focus aspects, looking at a group of cyclamen flowers:

Abstract Photography using motion blur 3
Abstract photography using motion blur – cyclamen
Abstract Photography using movement blur - Cylcamen part in focus
Abstract Photography using movement blur – Cylcamen part in focus

Finally, here is an image taken on a sunny day of a field of barley with the blue sky above it. The camera was panned up and down to create the blur after having focussed on the barley. You may find when you come to edit these images that you have a few dust spots to get rid of. This is because using a small aperture (e.g. f16, f22) makes any dust on your sensor show up in the images. With a bit of patience you can soon edit these dust spots out.

Abstract Photography using movement blur-4
Abstract photography using movement – barley field and blue sky

© Joe Lenton, October 2014


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