Adding movement and blur to photos is such a great way to engage your viewer and draw the eye into the frame. I am a huge fan of creative blur and love to use it in my work as a way to add visual interest. My favorite creative photography techniques are panning, motion blur, shutter painting and zoom blur. Each of these requires patience, practice and technical skill, but the results are beautiful and unique each time. Plus, these techniques are great rut-busters for when you need to get the creative juices flowing.

1. Panning

Panning is one of my favorite creative photography techniques. It creates an in focus main subject and blurs the rest of the image in horizontal lines. It’s a great technique to try with street photography and fast-moving subjects.

Panning takes a lot of practice and a steady hand as you move your camera along with the subject. Take a wide stance with your legs and hold your arms in close to your body. Turn your upper body to the left or right (depending on your most comfortable direction to move and the direction your subject is moving). Set the focal point on your subject and begin tracking your subject as it moves in front of you, shooting continuously.

I learned panning by going to the local carousel and practicing on the horses as they went round and round (consequently, I now have a slight obsession with carousels). You can practice on any moving subject. Have your child ride their bike or skateboard back and forth or stand on a street corner and try panning buses or cars going by.

CAMERA SETTINGS:

  • Shutter speed of 1/10 to 1/30 of a second (I usually choose a shutter speed of 1/20.)
  • Single focus point
  • High Speed Continuous mode
  • AI Servo mode/AF-C (You want your camera to continuously focus as you track the subject.)
motion panning creative photography technique photo by Kathy Linford
Kathy Linford demonstrates panning, a creative photography technique
Creative photography technique of panning on a streetcar by Kathy Linford

2. Motion blur

This creative technique is kind of the opposite of panning. Using the same slower shutter speed, you focus on a fixed subject and capture the movement happening in front of you. Framing is everything with motion blur because you want to see the motion happening in the frame without blocking your main subject.

I love using this creative photography technique for street images but you could try it a sports event or at the playground. As with panning, take a wide stance with your legs and hold your arms in close to your body. Set your focus point on the main subject and begin shooting as the movement happens.

The image below of the gentleman standing on a subway platform is one of my favorite motion blur images. I set the focus on him and waited for the subway to come by. In the midst of 30 or more images there was one where the passing window framed him perfectly.

CAMERA SETTINGS:

  • Shutter speed 1/30 of a second (If you don’t have a steady hand you can use a tripod.)
  • Single focus point
  • High Speed Continuous mode
  • Single Shot mode or manual focus (You don’t want your camera trying to change focus with the movement.)
Stop motion blur of a subway
Stop motion blur of a man on a scooter
Stop motion blur creative photography by Kathy Linford

3. Shutter painting

Shutter painting images are purposely blurred to let the viewer imagine the scene in their own way. On landscapes, shutter painting at dusk or dawn creates the most gorgeous, soft and dreamy abstract versions of a sunrise or sunset. Since I am primarily a macro and nature photographer, I love using this creative photography technique!

To shutter paint, set yourself up like you would with panning. Take a wide stance and turn you upper body to the right or left. The difference is that you are not going to track a focal point, but will instead move the camera at a steady rate while the shutter is open to create a total blur. You generally want to follow the natural lines of your subject. For example, a sunrise would be horizontal and a grove of trees might be better suited to vertical shutter painting. You can also shutter paint in circles.

I generally set my camera on a two-second delay and start moving the camera as soon as I press the shutter. A shorter shutter speed like 1/2 of a second helps capture movement. If you are trying this technique in the middle of the day and it’s really bright outside, make sure you have a lens that you can stop way down. Otherwise, you may need a 3-4 stop neutral density filter to achieve a slow shutter speed.

Some of my favorite shutter painted images have been landscapes, but I have gotten some interesting shutter painting images on an escalator (I swiped the camera down and up as I was going down the escalator) and at the county fair where I moved the camera in tiny circles while the shutter was open to capture an abstract version of the ferris wheel and carnival lights.

CAMERA SETTINGS:

  • Shutter speed of 1/5 to 3 seconds depending on the time of day and how much blur you want. Less time will give you a little more detail in the image and a longer time will create a creamier blur.
  • Single focus point
  • Single Shot mode
  • 2-Second Delay mode (Begin moving the camera as soon as you press the shutter.)
Shutter painting of a beach by Kathy Linford
Creative photography technique called shutter painting
Shutter painting of a ferris wheel using a creative photography technique

4. Zoom blur

Zoom blur is super fun because it creates a vortex-like feel to your images. It works best in areas of high contrast with lots of lines and negative space. This is the only creative photography technique I use that requires a tripod to get the lines straight. I am that person who always carries a tabletop tripod in my bag, and I’m not ashamed to set up my little Sony on a table at a restaurant.

To create zoom blur, you will need a zoom lens. Set the focus on your subject at the widest angle you are going to use and press the shutter button. As the shutter is clicked, zoom the lens. Use a two-second delay to avoid camera shake.

The blue image below is one of my favorite zoom blur images. It was taken in an empty taco shop one afternoon while my daughter was in a driver’s ed class next door. As the sun started setting, I noticed the colors streaming in so I set the tripod up on the table and shot towards the window. It would have been a very dull image if I had just taken a standard shot of the tables, chairs and window.

I have also used this technique on flowers. The trick with flowers is to choose an interesting focal point because the lines will be directing the viewer to that point. Zoom blur works great on flowers with a defined center and petals that spread outwards.

CAMERA SETTINGS:

  • Shutter speed of 1/8 to 2 seconds, depending on how much light is available. (If you are doing this on a bright day you might need a 3-4 stop neutral density filter to get a long enough shutter speed.)
  • Single focus point
  • Single Shot mode or 2-Second Delay mode
Zoom blur of a taco shop
Zoom blur, a creative photography technique.
Zoom blur of a flower, a creative photography technique to try today.

Tips to remember when using these creative photography techniques

These creative photography techniques take practice! Don’t give up if you don’t create magic on your first try. Be prepared for lots of tossers, but stick with it. Here are a couple pointers that apply to all of the techniques I’ve shared above:

  • Look for areas of high contrast, varying light and color to add depth to your images and make them more visually interesting. For example, a picture of your child running across a field of green grass on an overcast day with green trees behind him, would feel stagnant and lack depth. But, if there were a dark road between the grass and the trees and some buildings with texture behind the trees your image would come alive with contrast, depth and movement.
  • Because these creative photography techniques are based on using a shutter speed that achieves blur, you’ll set the shutter speed first. Then you can adjust aperture and ISO for proper exposure.
  • When post processing my blur images, I bring down the contrast and clarity overall to add even more blur to the background. Then I take a brush and selectively add focus where I want it.

I cannot wait to see what you all come up with using these creative photography techniques! Please comment and let me know how you like to use panning, motion blur, shutter painting and zoom blur.

All photos by Kathy Linford