panning shot of bike in the air

Shooting movement

How to convey movement in a still photograph

Action photography is all about capturing drama, movement and a sense of speed. However the dilemma photographers are faced with is how to get across that movement in a still photo.

A fast shutter speed is essential to freeze the action and achieve sharp images. However shooting, for instance, a car travelling at 200mph with a very fast shutter speed will result in a picture of the car that could actually be stationary. It’s hard for the viewer to get any sense of movement from that image.

You can read this article about panning, a technique to slow your shutter speed down and track your subject whilst you shoot. This is a great way to convey movement but it’s only suitable for certain situations. It is also takes quite a bit of practice to achieve good results consistently.

Using the principles of panning you can use shutter speed to convey movement without committing to a full pan, try slowing your shutter speed from 1/1000s to 1/640s, even this slight reduction in shutter speed can add a hint of blur to the faster moving aspects of your subject such as the wheels rotating on a car or the wing tips of a bird. Also get into the habit of tracking the subject through the viewfinder as you shoot, even at faster shutter speeds you may get a hint of movement from this technique and of course when you slow your shutter speed it is essential.

As well as varying shutter speed there are other techniques you can use to convey movement. Look for the key action of the event. Shooting one subject of the event is fine but two subjects moving in tandem can support the idea that fast movement and action are taking place.

As well as competitive actions look for features of the event that occur because of the speed and movement, tyre smoke, the wake in water-sports, dust or mud kicked up at horse racing are all examples of ways to capture the idea of movement.

You can also intentionally blur your photography. By focusing on the subject, applying a short exposure time and moving the camera against the movement of the action, it can create a blur of colours that convey motion.

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