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Movement Photography
Written on April 9, 2013

In the article, Movement in Photograph, we are going to take a closer look at movement. Photography of movement can be very difficult but it can also produce some of the best photos.

To capture movement you need to use a fast shutter speed. This is crucial because the photo needs to be captured quickly so as to avoid movement blur. The problem with using a fast shutter speed is that less light will reach the sensor. This may create problems with brightness and it may require that you also configure the aperture (unless you use an automatic sports setting). Changing the aperture will however also affect the depth of field. These are the aspects that you have to consider and which I explain below.

race cars

There are three ways that your camera might let you change the shutter speed.

  1. You might have a preset mode called "Sports Mode". Sports Mode is an automatic setting designed to set your camera up for taking pictures of movement. Photography using a preset mode on a compact will usually do a decent job, but if you own a DSLR or hybrid and you know how to configure it properly, you will take better pictures.
  2. You might have something called "Av Mode". Av Mode is a semi-automatic setting where you set the aperture, which is the size of the hole that lets light into the camera, and the camera will then give you the fastest possible shutter speed.
  3. You might have a dial that lets you change the shutter speed directly. This is manual mode, and all DSLR cameras have this.

Check your instructions manual to see what your camera can do.

When the camera is set to a fast shutter speed (by any of the modes described above), less light will touch the sensor. This can be a problem particularly if the light conditions are not very bright. This means that other settings in the camera must also be changed so that the picture comes out right.

If you use Sports Mode, you do not need to worry about this because everything is done automatically. The pictures will not always come out perfectly but all you have to do is point and shoot! But, if you use the other modes, you will have to set up the camera yourself.


For a picture to come out right, it needs enough light. When the shutter opens and closes quickly, less light is let into the sensor. The other value that controls the amount of light is the aperture (or f-stop value). The smaller the f-stop, the wider the aperture, and the more light enters the camera.

In Av mode (semi-automatic mode), you start by setting the aperture size and the camera will then give you the fastest possible shutter speed based on that value. To photograph movement, choose a lower f-stop value (and therefore a wider aperture). The camera will check the light conditions and give you the fastest shutter speed.

You might ask, why would you ever choose anything less than the widest possible aperture? The reason for this is that the wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field. A shallow depth of field will mean that those parts of the picture which are behind or in front of the subject will be out of focus. If you are shooting a football game, this could mean that only the player you are aiming at is in focus and not the rest of the action. Sometimes you may want this and other times you might not. You can read more about that in our article on depth of field or you can experiment and see how it goes in practice.

In manual mode you will need to change both the shutter speed and the aperture values by hand. You should really only use this if you are a more advanced user.

Try setting the shutter speed to something like 1/250. You need to experiment because the right setting will depend on how fast the object is moving and how far you are from it. Your camera will have an indicator that lets you know when it thinks the picture is over or under exposed (which basically means when it is getting too much or too little light). Change the f-stop settings, which control the aperture, until you have the right balance. As always, practice makes perfect.


Following Movement - Panning

Panning is a technique where one turns to follow the movement of a moving object. This is easiest if the object is moving from left to right, or right to left. It takes some practice to turn the camera while keeping the subject of the photo in the same place in the picture.

Start with a shutter speed of about 1/125 seconds and practice moving the camera, depending on the speed of the object you will get more or less blur. It should be easy to see if that camera has been moves evenly, as all the "motion blur" will have created straight lines.

Just remember, movement photography is limited by the quality of your equipment. If you have a cheap camera the photos may not come out right no matter what you do.

by , edited by Alan Frost