Let’s Have Some Fun…With Movement Photography

Image by Free-Photos

How To Add Movement To Your Photographs

Movement is always something that’s tricky to capture in photography. The challenge exists in almost any photographic discipline, except perhaps macro and scientific photography.

But when it comes to the arts and sports, you can achieve great results and also produce truly great images that convey the sense of movement. There are several ways to achieve movement in photography – including a compositional quality that can be defined as “Dynamism”.

Movement in photography is related to the way the gear is set and also how it is manipulated. Long exposures convey movement by capturing everything in the sensor, when shutter speeds are less than 1/60 of a second.

Dynamism is a more subjective quality, and is apparent when an image merely suggests movement or rhythm; sometimes we can perceive this in super-frozen images. It has been said that motion happens in our hands, when shutter speeds are slower than 1/60 of a second.

Using telephoto lenses handheld can cause more vibration in the hands than wider-angle lenses. There's even a formula that says that if you’re shooting with a 400mm lens, you should shoot at settings faster than 1/400 of a second.

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Image by real-napster

The Best Way To Explain The Whole Movement Phenomena:

Grab a toothpick and hold it still; you'll see that the vibration and the tip is almost null. Now grab a pencil: see the vibration? Now try it with a broomstick: the movement will be crazy and uncontrollable.

The final results of slow shutter speed photography are completely unpredictable to a certain extent, but still we can make certain distinctions in that great world of photography. So let's dive straight in and look at some different styles of capturing movement:

Blurred context and still subjects

Many images lend themselves to long exposures. For this kind of photography, things can be done with handheld gear or with a tripod, but you have to ensure that at least one of the elements in the context remains still.

This is commonly found in lovely urban landscapes, where chaos and motion blend together in an endless stream of activity. Even though everything is moving, typically you can find one or two people standing still, minding their own business, or waiting for something. This is common at subway stations.

Image by Amos Bar-Zeev

In fact, the next image is considered to be “street photography” – wasn't actually intended to be that way. In those times, film speeds were very slow, and the effect happened thanks to a busy context and a still subject.

Image by Louis Daguerre

The image is called “Boulevard du Temple” and it was created in 1838 by the father of the daguerreotype, Louis Daguerre. In the scene there was a man, standing up, one leg bent, possibly to get his shoe shined.

It’s possible that, in reality, many people were passing through that scene, but thanks to the slow shutter speed of the daguerreotype they were all invisible in the final result – all except the tiny man getting his shoes shined. The urban landscape was motionless, but the people in the context were so blurred that they didn't show up in the final image. 

Blurred subject and still background

This common strategy can produce creative results. It can be achieved using several techniques.

The first is obvious: use a slow shutter speed with a camera mounted on a tripod in an urban or everyday scene (the “urban” and “everyday” is subjective, it’s just the way I love to shoot). You can use ND filters when doing this job. ND filters offer the ability to shoot in harsh sunlight and still achieve movement.

For these types of images, you can get inspired by one of the photographers I admire the most: Alexey Titarenko. He has portrayed urban landscapes filled with daily human and social activity.

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Light and Water trails

Another way of achieving movement in photography involves taking long exposures of light trails or running water. The thing is that when these two move, they can imprint different forms in the sensor. Light appears as lines of light, and water (and also clouds), turn into surreal, silky sheets of a whitish material.

Image by btfrewinphotography


This refers to the rotation or movement of the camera, mostly in a horizontal plane. It is less technical than when you follow a subject with a camera. The subject comes from a certain direction, passes in front of you, and continues its course.

As it passes in front of you, you follow its course. This is a common technique used in sports photography, and especially in sports that involve speed, like car racing. This technique (in relation to race cars) also achieves a great effect – that of spinning wheels.

Image by Arief_Sulung

Panning can also be used to capture blur not just from contexts, but also from the subject. This is achieved by getting techy. I'm talking about first- and second-curtain synchronization. I'll try to explain this as simply as I can.

Shutters in cameras work by letting light pass through the iris to the sensor via a curtain that opens for a fraction of a second (1/60, 1/125, 1/250, etc.) This is what those numbers denoting the shutter speed mean.

They control the amount of time this little fella lets light pass onto the sensor or film. You can boost light levels by shooting with a flash – which gives you two options. You can shoot the flash first and let the curtain open afterwards, or vice versa.

First-curtain sync:

The subject is still, and you see a motion blur in front of the subject – a weird effect.

Second-curtain sync:

The subject remains still, and its direction of movement is indicated by a blur behind the subject, a more natural-seeming and pleasing result.


This technique reminds us hyper-speed tunnels. Try it – it’s fun to do. You'll need a telephoto zoom lens and a slow shutter speed. Just rotate the lens barrel while the camera's shutter is open. Remember to do this with a tripod.

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Super-fast freeze

This may sound out of place here, but you also can achieve a sense of movement by freezing a scene. This is because our mind wants to see the whole action happening. Our minds tend to “go further” when reading an image; we try to anticipate the finale. This is exactly what happens when you freeze a moment that has a lot of motion, a prime example of motorcycle racing below.

Image by jingoba

Further Resources

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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