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Beginners Guide to Motion Blur Photography

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May 21, 2024• Proven solutions

Creating crispy sharp images doesn’t always have to be your goal since some photos look much better if you add a little blur to them. However, the line between an unusable blurry photo and a motion blur photo is so delicate that even experienced photographers often cross it without noticing. The general rule is that as long at least one object is sharp and in focus, the rest of the photo can contain as much blur as you want. Of course, there are plenty of examples that don’t follow this rule, but quite a few of them are just bad photos. The trick is to learn how to use blur to your own advantage, and in this article, we are going to show you how to create stunning motion blur photos.

What is Motion Blur and When to Use it in Your Photos?

Streaking that occurs as a result of the movement of an object during the exposure is also called motion blur. Photographs freeze time and movement, but if the subject of a photo continues to move while the photo is still being taken by the camera, that motion will manifest in a photo as motion blur. However, this only occurs under certain conditions. The fast shutter speed shortens the duration of the exposure and as a result, the camera is less likely to capture motion blur.

The amount of available light also plays an important part in taking motion blur photos. During the night, the amount of light you can get in the outdoor conditions condition prompts you to slow down the shutter speed, in order to give the camera more time to absorb the light. By doing so you’re also prolonging the amount of time the camera has to capture the movement of the objects in the shot.

There are two commonly used types of motion blur photos. You can either blur the subject of a photo in the foreground or you can keep the subject in focus while blurring the background. Placing the focus on an object or a scene in the background, will blur the rapidly moving object such as a car or a train in the foreground and it will suggest to the viewer that the object was moving at a high speed.

Blurring the background of a photo while keeping its subject in focus is a common technique used for portrait and numerous other types of photography. Focusing on a subject in the foreground, and having a moving object in the background will create a nice separation between the two image planes and generate the motion blur effect. Keeping the foreground in focus and as sharp as it could possibly be essential because if both the background and foreground are blurry the viewer’s gaze won’t have anything to hold on to.

How to Capture Motion Blur in a Photo?

There are a few techniques you can use to create the motion blur in your photo. It is important to note that the camera settings are going to depend on the amount of light available on the location where you’re taking the photo. Experimenting with the ISO, Exposure or Aperture settings will help you achieve the best results, so arm yourself with patience and be ready to take the same shot multiple times.

1. Panning

This technique is rather simple, but it requires some preparation. Locations that don’t have too many objects in the background work the best because you won’t have too many distractions in the shot. Set up a camera at a position that is parallel to the object you’ll be tracking. Enable the AI Servo option or make sure that Manual Focus is enabled and focus manually on the spot in the middle of the shot you anticipate the object will go through. Start tracking the object, then press the shutter button and continue following the object with your camera for the duration of the exposure.

2. Zoom Blur

Instead of moving the entire camera, you can just change the zoom level on your lens. This method doesn’t work well on lenses that offer only automatic controls, like the lenses on compact cameras and Smartphones since you want to have complete control over the process. After adjusting the settings you just have to press the shutter button and zoom in or zoom out. However, it is often difficult to achieve stunning results using this technique, because controlling which part of the photo is going to be blurred is virtually impossible.

3. Rapid Movement During the Night

This is perhaps the most famous method of creating motion blur photos, that only requires you to find the perfect spot, adjust the camera settings and press the shutter button. Using the tripod to keep the camera still is of utmost importance because even the slightest movement of the camera can blur the entire photo. This type of photography is also known as long exposure photography because exposures can last for thirty seconds or even more. This technique is especially effective if you have several moving sources of light in the shot because it enables you to capture streaks of color.

You may also like: How to capture Motion Blur Photos with iPhone

Tips and Tricks for Taking Better Motion Blur Photos

Mastering motion blur photography requires you to practice a lot since there are so many factors you need to learn how to control. Additionally, the equipment you’re using to take motion blur photos can impact the quality of your pictures, as it can help you reduce the image noise or use exposures that last for several minutes. Here are a few tips that will help you take better motion blur photos.

1. Keep the Camera Steady

Regardless of the method, you’re using to capture a motion blur photo, your camera should be as steady as possible. Even if you’re tracking an object during the exposure, that camera must be stable, and its movement must be continuous and smooth. Placing a camera on a tripod is probably the easiest solution, but in situations when you can’t use a tripod you should look for a solid surface on which you can position the camera. Using a remote camera shutter, if you have one, is also a great way to ensure that shakes and quivers won’t ruin your shot.

2. Slow Down the Shutter Speed

Terms Shutter Speed and Exposure Time are synonymous and they refer to the amount of time during which the camera sensor is exposed to light. For instance, if you’re taking a photo in broad daylight, you don’t want to let too much light into the camera, because you’ll overexpose the shot. Conversely, in low light conditions, you want to slow the shutter speed down, in order to enable the camera to absorb enough light. Longer exposures are sensitive to movement and if an object moves during the exposure its movement will produce the motion blur effect.

3. Control the Light

Determining how much light you should let into the camera is perhaps the most difficult part of taking a motion blur photo. For that reason, it is important to avoid large discrepancies between the brightest and the darkest points of the shot. Increasing the exposure time too much can make parts of a photo too bright, especially if you have a direct source of light in the shot. That’s why you want to use ISO and Aperture values to reduce the amount of light you’re letting into the camera, while keeping the shutter speed slow enough to create motion blur.


Persistence is the most important ingredient of a breathtaking motion blur photo. Even if you fail at first, keep practicing until you manage to keep at least one object in the shot sharp. As time passes and as the number of photos you’ve taken rises you’ll be able to see the progress. Are you a photography enthusiast who enjoys taking motion blur photos? Leave a comment below and share your experiences with us.

author avatar
Liza Brown
Liza Brown is a writer and a lover of all things video.
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