The great thing about photos is that not only can you capture scenes as you see them, by skilfully adjusting settings such as the aperture and shutter speed, you can also capture a world that you wouldn’t usually see. In this article I will briefly explain how to create photos with intentional blur, with a focus on slow shutter speeds. (Edited by studio9)
Here are some useful camera settings!
To create intentional blur, you will need to set an appropriate shutter speed in accordance with the subject’s movement and the lens’ focal length. However, I would recommend using the following shutter speed as a rough guide.
Shutter speed: Use 1/10 second as a rule of thumb
As a rule of thumb, a shutter speed of 1/10 second is good to use for creating intentionally blurred photos that readily evoke a sense of movement. With the image stabilisation function available in recent lenses, the degree of blur captured at a shutter speed of around 1/10 second will not be extreme, provided that the camera has been set up properly and that you are not using the telephoto end. With all that in place, the background will appear perfectly still.
Furthermore, if you shoot a moving subject at about 1/10 second, you will be able to blur the subject sufficiently even if the subject is moving at walking speed. For handheld shooting, you could try a shutter speed in the range of 1/8 to 1/13 second as it allows you to sufficiently capture a still background while at the same time creating an intentional blur.
Do note that the more telephoto you go with your shots, the easier it is for camera shake to occur. To prevent camera shake, I would recommend using a focal length in the 24 to 50mm range at 35mm film-equivalent (16 to 35mm on APS-C-sensor cameras).
The shutter speed used here was 1/8 second (FL: 35mm)!
So, what about the camera settings?
EOS 5D Mark II/ FL: 35mm/ f/6.3/ 1/8sec./ ISO 125
Use Tv mode
Most people usually shoot in Aperture-Priority (Av) mode. However, because it is necessary to control the shutter speed in order to create photos with intentional blur, I would recommend using Shutter-Priority (Tv) mode.
In Tv mode, I set the shutter speed to 1/10 second. As opposed to always having to determine the f-number yourself when shooting, Tv mode lets you determine the shutter speed yourself, while the camera automatically sets the aperture.
Don't mistake 1/10 second for 10 seconds!
Depending on the camera, there are some models that display 1/10 second not as a fraction but simply as 10. As opposed to that, 10 seconds is displayed as 10”, so be careful not to mix up 10 and 10”.
Set the ISO speed to "Auto"
Tv mode can be a little fiddly, so if you are not feeling confident about using it, or not yet quite familiar with the concept of ISO speed, you can just set the ISO speed to "Auto". If you are determining the setting manually, though, be careful not to exceed your camera’s auto exposure limit.
How to capture your subject with an intentional blur while keeping a still background
Firstly, the most simple background is a still one, so this is how to capture your subject with intentional blur.
Firmly secure your camera for the shoot
For a start, you can use the settings and take shots of moving subjects such as a car or person. With that alone, you can achieve a motion blur effect. Because of the slow shutter speed used, remember to firmly secure the camera and gently press the shutter so as to avoid any unintentional blur.
Try setting to "1/10 sec." first, and if the resulting blur is not to your liking, you can make the shutter speed slower (such as 1/8 sec.), or if your photos are too blurry, try making it faster (such as 1/13 sec.).
EOS 5D Mark III/ FL: 24mm/ f/22/ 1/8sec./ ISO 160
The shutter speed used here was 1/8 second (FL: 24mm). You can see that the ground is still, but the legs of the people walking by are blurred. To focus, you can predict in advance where the subject will pass by, focus the camera and wait (locked focus). Another way is to focus on the background, and the subject will become blurred due to the movement.
Capture the velvety flow of water
Even commonly captured scenes of flowing water such as waterfalls and fountains can be taken relatively smoothly using a shutter speed of around 1/10 second. (1/10 second, FL: 85mm)
If I had my way, I would use a tripod and shoot at a slow shutter speed of about 1 second. Even without a tripod, though, the water can be captured smoothly with a shutter speed of around 1/10 second.
EOS 5D Mark II/ FL: 85mm/ f/32/ 1/10sec./ ISO 199
How to "freeze" a subject while blurring the background
This next one is a bit more advanced. I will explain how to "freeze" a subject while blurring the background—i.e., create a panning shot.
EOS 5D Mark II/ FL: 33mm/ f/2.8/ 1/10sec./ ISO 2500
The shutter speed used here was 1/10 second (FL: 33mm). You can actually use the same camera settings that I introduced earlier for such shots, too. As a rule of thumb, use a shutter speed of 1/10 second. However, you may need a little practice as this technique is slightly more technically demanding. Even if you are unable to do it straight away, don't despair. Just keep practising!
Move the camera in sync with the subject
When taking panning shots, don't hold the camera still. Instead, press the shutter while moving the camera to keep up with the speed of the moving subject.
If the speed of the subject perfectly matches the speed at which you move (pan) the camera, the moving subject will appear still, while the still background will appear blurred, creating an amazing photo that evokes a sense of speed.
Lock your focus, or use the tracking mode
You can focus on the background if you plan on intentionally blurring a moving subject. However, because the aim of the panning shot is to capture the subject perfectly still, you must focus on the subject.
It is fairly difficult to establish instant focus on a moving subject, so the basic approach is to use the "locked focus" technique. In this technique, you predict where the subject will pass, and then lock the focus on that location and wait. TYou can half-press the shutter before you wait, but if you find this difficult, you can instead set your camera to MF (Manual Focus) so that the focus will not change.
If you have a mid- to high-end camera equipped with an AF function that captures moving objects excellently, you could also use AI Servo AF. The tracking accuracy partially depends on the shooting scene, so if this method doesn't work well, try shooting with locked focus.
EOS 5D Mark II/ FL: 47mm/ f/13/ 1/10sec./ ISO 1250
In an aquarium scene such as the one above, it helps to know that migratory fish such as tuna and Japanese amberjack swim a fixed course at a fixed speed. This makes it easy for you to lock the focus,as well as take panned shots.
Take burst shots
Even those who are skilled at panned shots can find it difficult to freeze an object in motion in a single shot. It therefore helps to take a lot of shots in burst mode.
EOS 5D Mark III/ FL: 105mm/ f/22/ 1/10sec./ ISO 50
I wasn't able to track the subject as well as I wanted to for the picture above, but you can see that even a panned shot of a crow looks attractive. Would you believe that this was also taken with a shutter speed of 1/10 second (105mm). It’s amazing what you can do with a shutter speed of 1/10 second!
Troubleshooting some common problems
The f-number keeps flashing in and off
When using Tv mode, you can specify any shutter speed (normally ranging from 30 sec. to 1/4000 sec.) available on the camera, regardless of the environment where you are shooting. However, if you were to use an ultra-fast shutter speed of around 1/4000 second in a dark environment, your photos would appear pitch black (due to insufficient light entering the lens).
In such situations, the f-number that is displayed inside the viewfinder and on the LCD monitor will flash on and off. Try changing the ISO speed to stop the value from flashing. However, depending on the environment, it may still be impossible to obtain a suitable exposure due to the limitations of your camera.
The shutter speed does not become slower, no matter what I do
Often on sunny days, you may find that the surroundings are too bright and that you are unable to set a shutter speed of 1/10 second, no matter how hard you try. When this happens, try using a neutral density (ND) filter.
Using an ND filter will reduce the amount of light entering the lens and additionally allow you to set slower shutter speeds. There are several types of ND filters, such as ND4 (2 f-stop light reduction), ND8 (3 f-stop light reduction), and ND16 (4 f-stop light reduction), However, if you are using one for the first time, I would recommend using an ND8 filter, which will allow you to slow the shutter speed by 3 f-stops.
I can't capture panning shots successfully
Unless you are exceptionally gifted, it is difficult to master panning shots right away. Just keep practising. The trick to skilfully tracking subjects is not to move the camera with your hands alone, but to instead move your body from the waist while keeping your hands and head still. This alone will be able to give you considerable stability.
Also, forget about composition when you first start off, and just try practising tracking the subject in the centre of the camera. It's also effective to shoot a little wider at first, and then trim your images to put the finishing touches on your composition.
In this article I introduced how to control your shutter speed for taking photos. While you need to get the hang of the setup and way of shooting, this will expand your range of shots and you will be able to take a lot of awesome photos. I hope you will give it a go yourself. The key here is "1/10 second".
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