Photographing Motion

Photos may capture and ‘freeze’ a subject, but that doesn’t mean they have to reflect a single moment in time.  Here are a few methods for reflecting movement in photos.

With this first shot, I wanted to make the most of both the color and the circular movement.

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Swirling leaves on an Australian pond

A fast shutter speed would have captured small spots of color on the surface of the water. Because the swirling leaves were creating such an interesting pattern, I used a long shutter speed to alter the single spots of color into colorful streaks. These streaks fill a larger portion of the frame and make the image even more colorful than it was in reality. I also blended two exposures to create this dynamic and colorful image – one for the foreground, and one for the brighter waterfall in the background.

Yellowstone’s boiling white mud creates amazingly beautiful bubbles.

Burst - Varina Patel

A boiling white mud pot at Yellowstone National Park

For this shot, I used a fast shutter speed and zoomed in close to fill the entire frame with mud. The close shot created a minimalist composition with a single bubble as the point of interest. Because the sunny day allowed for a faster shutter speed, I was also able to capture the darker shadows inside the bubble which allowed the patterns to truly stand out.

In this next image, the sun had just set and it was starting to get dark. Because of the fading light and windy conditions, the moving flowers and clouds made it impossible to completely ‘freeze’ the shot. Windy days provide excellent opportunities to get creative.

Mountain Meadow

Montana’s Glacier National Park

With a wide angle lens, I positioned myself close to the purple and yellow flowers in the foreground. I selected camera settings that allowed for a nice, long shutter speed. I used the long shutter to capture the motion of the flowers in the foreground, creating a unique and unusual look. The movement in the clouds adds to the motion. The sharply focused mountains provide a steady counterpoint to keep the photo feeling grounded.

In this shot, a choppy sea caused thick foam to form on the water’s surface. As the waves crashed against the rocks, the heavy foam exploded into incredibly complex liquid formations.

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Foamy ocean surf in Australia

With the help of a very fast shutter speed, I could freeze the motion of the foam to capture its beautifully intricate details. I also chose to convert the shot to black and white to showcase the detail and patterns… as opposed to color.

In this photo, the North Star appears stationary over a moonlit Balanced Rock as other stars orbit around it.

Time Turner

A starry night at Arches National Park in Utah

Taken with my camera on a tripod, this photo is a combination of 180 shots – each with a 30 second exposure. These multiple photos were then blended together in Photoshop. This is a good option for capturing very slow motion… such as the motion of the stars. Thirty seconds is enough time to capture tiny shifts in position; but to capture a broader shift, like the lines you see in this image, you need an extremely long exposure or a large collection of exposures. I chose to create and blend a series of images because one extremely long exposure would create too much noise for a high quality photo.

The final photo in this post captures the mountain’s beautiful alpenglow (the glowing red light on the mountain opposite the sun). On this day, the water was extremely choppy. It was splashing my face and camera, and I had to frequently wipe the lens to ensure it was dry enough for a 30-second exposure. Maybe you already know that I love minimalist compositions… so it may come as no surprise to you that my goal here was to simplify.

Once in a Lifetime

Glacier National Park in Montana

For this shot, my camera was on a tripod, low to the ground. The 30-second exposure smoothed the motion of both the water and the clouds, drawing your eye to the main point of interest – the mountain’s beautiful red glow.

Whether you choose to ‘freeze’ a moving subject or to reflect its movement, there are many ways to approach motion in photography. How do you most enjoy expressing motion in your photographs?

check out the following tutorials on Visual Wilderness:

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About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.