Grace and fluidity connote tranquility and peacefulness. These qualities conjure up serene feelings that alleviate stress and produce relaxed thoughts. When I equate this to intense action photography, it’s not one of my first thoughts. So the challenge began—how can I create images that depict action but have grace and fluidity? The answer was found in how the shutter speed was used to make the image. Rather than freeze a moment in time with a fast shutter, I chose to let the subjects paint pixels onto my sensor by slowing down the shutter. The action is depicted with implied motion.
There’s a fine line that differentiates making a photographic mistake using too slow a shutter speed and creating implied motion. The mistake image looks like the photo is either out of focus or the subject was moving a bit too fast to capture the movement. The photo doesn’t have “the painterly look” that’s necessary to make it successful. The key is to marry the “proper” shutter speed with the speed at which the subject moves to create the “proper” effect. It depends on how fast the subject is moving, its direction of movement to the camera, how much available light there is, the ISO, how much blur you want to create, and the necessary corresponding aperture to get a proper exposure. The digital age has made capturing successful motion blurs a lot easier as modifications can be made on the spot. A quick glance at the LCD provides feedback as to how the shutter needs to be tweaked.
A cool technique to try is to include stationary subjects along with those that are in motion. Set the camera up on a tripod so the part that remains fixed is tack sharp while the moving parts are recorded as blurs. The clichéd image that comes to mind is streaked car head- and taillights on a street, bridge or highway. Another common one is people on a crowded street photographed as soon as the light turns green. The surroundings remain sharp while their motion is recorded. Get creative using this technique to produce winners. Think of different ways to combine moving and stationary subjects.
There are a number of other ways to produce successful motion blurs. An easy one is to simply set the camera to a slow shutter and move it in any and all sorts of directions. Experiment using different shutter speeds and subjects. Pan a moving object. This is done by moving the camera at the same speed as the subject and, at the point where it’s perpendicular with the lens, gently squeeze the shutter. Another method is to create just a hint of blur by upping the shutter speed from the painterly effect. Go out on a windy day and find delicate subjects to let the motion of the wind create the blur.
The slower the shutter speed at which the image is made, the more abstract the movement. There’s no ideal shutter speed as there are so many variables as evidenced above. The key is to experiment with every situation. If you do it often, you’ll begin to nail a starting point to produce a given effect.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.