Blurry Pictures - Part 2: Motion Blur

Learn about Motion Blur and how you can use this knowledge for better shots.

Sharp Motion 

In my previous article, we investigated Camera Shake. Camera shake is always unintentional. It can destroy a good image, but it is easy to avoid.

In this second installment on causes of blurry images, we will investigate motion blur, its causes, and its potential usefulness.

Causes and remedies of motion blur

In the previous article, we learned to adjust exposure time to keep the subject fixed, but what happens if the subject itself moves?

Movement causes motion blur. The camera lens projects an image of our subject onto the sensor or film. We need to ensure that the projected image remains in a fixed position on the sensor. If we wish to keep the subject sharp, we need to adjust exposure time to account for the subject's movement. The closer the subject is, the shorter the exposure time needs to be.

The direction of your subject is also important. A car moving sideways needs a much shorter exposure time to look sharp than a car moving toward or away from you.

Imagine a car on a long road in a great distance speeding toward you. Until the car gets closer, you have a very hard time judging its speed. Its size grows very slowly. A car speeding past you on the other hand, may only be visible for a fraction of a second.

The table below contains exposure time guidelines that will help you to avoid motion blur.

 Subject

Subject

Toward or Away
Moving towards you

Perpendicular
Moving perpendicular

Slow >10m away (row boat, walking)

1/60

1/125

Slow <10m away

1/125

1/250

Medium > 10m away (runner, children playing, slow bike, parade, sail boat, motor boat)

1/125

1/500-1/250

Medium < 10m away (sports – baseball, basketball, football, soccer, hockey …, dogs, rider)

1/250

1/500

Fast > 10m away  (runner, kite, surfer, biker, car, running horses, other running animals)

1/500

1/1000

Very Fast > 10m away (air show, race car, bobsled, downhill skier)

1/1000

1/2000-1/1000

Super Fast (propeller, car wheel)

 

1/8000-1/4000

 

I copied the table from a previous article I wrote on Motion and Shutter Speeds, which explains the subject of avoiding motion blur in more depth and how you may be able to obtain those fast speeds in the first place.

How motion blur looks like

Motion Blur

Motion blur looks very different from camera shake. Assuming that we do not have an additional camera shake problem, it is easy to detect.

Motion blur will only affect subjects that move relative to our point of view. In the picture above, the two Segway riders moved relative to my camera view that remained fixed on Alcatraz in the background. The exposure time was too short, which is why the two riders look blurry.

A second characteristic of motion blur is that the blurriness has a direction. The lateral motion of the riders caused horizontal lines to remain relatively sharp, while vertical lines appear smeared. Look at the wrinkles in the jeans of one of the riders or the eyes of the second rider.

Using motion blur to emphasize speed

Marlboro Car

You can use motion blur to enhance your images by emphasizing movement.

If you move your camera, tracking the moving subject, you can keep the subject sharp while blurring the background. This will improve the sense of speed of the subject, which can make a picture look very dynamic. Please see my article on Motion and Shutter Speeds to learn more about this.

Relative to my camera point of view, the car remains fixed and the landscape around it moves. The motion blur is clearly directional as you can see from the elongated shapes of the foreground and background. This is very different from the out of focus background of the image at the beginning of this article, a desirable effect of the limited depth of field, which will be the subject of another article in this series.

Come back to learn more about the different causes of blurry pictures or simply subscribe to my feed and get articles delivered, free.

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The way they pan the camera

The way they pan the camera and follow the subject like in the race car photo is something that I was trying to do in my project with a falling golfball. It keeps the subject in focus and the background blurred. I got pretty close but I think the ball is too small and I couldnt react fast enough. Especially trying to stay in focus. The golfball was kinda clear. But this is a great photo and this is something that I will try to keep trying.

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Pre focus, use a longer focal length lens and step back further to improve your chances with the golf ball. This way you make sure it's in focus and you have less angular movement.

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hi. your shots are really cool :) thank you also for sharing some tips. i've been practicing shooting moving objects for several weeks now :) i just new to photography and i'm using nikon d3100. i've been wanting to learn more to shot moving objects because i want to be a wildlife photographer :) thank you very much for the tips :)

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