Images in Motion: Techniques for Shooting Moving Scenes

Caleb Babcock's (@cameracaleb) photography guide to capturing photos in motion on your phone. Learn to add blur, movement, and spontaneity to your photos.

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Shooting a moving subject can be tough. Not only do the technical skills take some practice, but the quality bar is high when it comes to sharing blurred images. That said, motion can be a powerful tool in bringing authenticity and "nowness" to your story. 

In this guide, I'll break down the motion photography process into easy, learnable skills. 

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1. Understanding The Basics

Understanding shutter speed, aperture, and lighting will up your motion photography game immensely. Controlling the shutter speed on an iPhone is trickier because of the fixed aperture, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

The shutter speed of your camera plays a huge role in how the shots will turn out. The basic rule of thumb is this: the faster the shutter speed, the sharper your subject’s motion will look. The slower the shutter speed is, the more movement will be captured in the image, and the blurrier the subject will be.

But unfortunately, it's not as simple as adjusting your shutter speed, and that's because mobile photography has limitations. iPhones don’t allow you to control aperture. It’s fixed at f/2.2, which allows a lot of light in. That means, in order for the camera app to "correctly" expose an image, the shutter speed has to be fast. 

Because most people don’t want blurry photos, that combo works well. But when you are trying to get motion blur, the fast shutter speed makes it nearly impossible. That's why I use several techniques that allow me to trick my phone’s camera into slowing down its shutter speed.


2. Panning: Sharp Subjects & Blurred Backgrounds

Personally, this is my favorite technique for showing motion in a frame. What’s happening here is that you are moving your body (and camera) with the subject as they go by. This is called tracking the subject, and the motion effect you get on a phone varies depending on how fast your hands/subject are moving.

Ideally, you pan your phone at the same speed that the subject is moving by you so that when they get in front of you, the subject remains in focus in the shot, while the background is blurred behind them. You can also do this by being on a bike, car, or train that is traveling at the same speed as the subject you are trying to photograph. The resulting image has great streaky lines in the background, which can illustrate the speed of the subject without the subject being blurry.

For an extra effect, use the Moment Wide Lens to expand the scene and draw the viewer deeper into the photo. 


3. Burst Mode: Freezing Your Subject

The opposite of panning is using burst mode on your mobile phone to freeze a scene in order to get a crisp image of something in motion. Burst Mode takes multiple shots in rapid succession and then allows you to choose your preferred images from the bunch.

Often, I’ll use this setting with actions sports like skateboarding, for example. It's a great way to shoot action without worrying about timing/missing the shot. 

Because the subject and scene will be stopped, try to capture the person in a motion stance. Just their posture can denote motion, even if the scene is crisp and in focus.


4. Tripod + Shutter App: Blurring Your Subject

A third technique is downloading and using a Slow Shutter app. There are a multiple out there, so play around with a few before you settle on a favorite, but I prefer “Slow Shutter.”

Set up your shot, using a tripod. Then, instruct the app to leave your shutter open longer. Apps do this by shooting and stacking multiple photos together, creating a sense of blurred motion. It works super well for capturing the motion of flowing water, cars, or the general hustle and bustle of a city.

You can experiment with the "time" the shutter stays open, and some apps offer other motion effects like blurred trails. There's plenty of room for creativity here.


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