Make motion your subject

(© Ian Plant) Photography is the art of taking a dynamic, three dimensional world and squishing it down into a static, two-dimensional image. Our job as photographers is to find a way to recreate the sense of energy, motion, and perspective that we perceive in the real world. One way to do this is to make motion over time part of your subject.

Motion-blur can add energy, direction, and depth to your images. A very common example of motion-blur found in nature photography is illustrated here—flowing water in streams and waterfalls. Such images are relatively simple to make: just put your camera on a tripod and exposure for one-quarter second or longer. The hard part is ensuring that the direction and flow of motion-blurred subjects supports your overall composition and artistic statement. Here, I was able to use the moving flow of the water to create a leading line, helping to encourage the viewer to travel from the foreground deeper into the scene. Although the motion of the water is technically "frozen"—literally suspended in time—in the final photograph, it does not appear that way to the eye. Rather, the illusion of motion is created by visual cues, not unlike when a cartoonist adds motion lines behind his or her subject to imply movement to the reader.

The trick with photographing moving subjects, including water, is to strike a proper balance between stop-action and motion-blur. Too little motion, and the subject appears frozen. Too much motion, and the subject loses texture and detail. Somewhere in the middle is usually just right—but of course, that "just right" spot is very subjective, giving you plenty of wiggle room to explore your own artistic vision.

To learn more of the story behind the making of this image, visit my daily photoblog.

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