Adding Motion to a Still Photograph

Posted Oct. 3rd, 2011 by Daniel J. Cox

One dilemma a still photographer continually faces is the difficulty of trying to make a still image come alive. To accomplish this feat there are a couple of different ways to bring life and movement to a still photograph. One of my favorite tricks is to create motion blur by using a Slow Shutter Speed and Panning with the subject.  Equally as effective is having the camera travel at the same speed as the subject while the camera and subject are attached in some manner. This second option is the technique I used for the example below.  To add additional sharpness to the image it is often helpful to use a strobe that fires during the exposure and stops the action. A strobe combined with a slow shutter speed created the feeling of movement very effectively in the second of two image. The first picture is a sample of how not to create movement in the same situation.

This image was created with a normal flash shutter speed of around 1/60th. of a second resulting in no movement and a very boring image.

As you can see from the above image there is no movement whatsoever and in fact it’s very sharp due to the light of the flash illuminating the man on the tractor and the bottles of wine zipping by on each side. The reason an image can look so sharp, even though we were clipping right along at probably 10-15 miles per hour in very dark light, is due to the fact a flash fires (turns on and off) at such a high speed, it’s as if you are using a much faster shutter speed than the 1/60th of a second this image was actually shot at. The down side is the flash doesn’t reach very far, it’s very cold, harsh and unattractive and really gives no feeling of where we were at.  To liven it up I made some significant changes from the settings above and created a similar but quite different image below.

A motorized cart takes us through a part of the nearly twenty two miles of underground, manmade, caverns used to store the sparkling wine Cava produced by the Codurniu winery near Barcelona, Spain. This image was shot at a shutter speed of 1 second and the flash was fired during the exposure.

The 1 second shutter speed, the above image was shot at, provides considerably more ambient light, mainly from the headlights of the motorized cart, to create the warmth and extended view of the caverns in the distance. Using a longer shutter speed allowed the available light from the cart and the tunnels lighting system to be readily exposed. The on camera flash illuminated just the driver and the closest wine racks on either side creating subjects that are rendered sharp in an otherwise very soft feeling image.

This technique is something I usually do with my Nikons set to Rear Curtain Sync. Rear Curtain Sync is when the flash fires at the end of the end of the long exposure. Normally, flashes fire at the beginning of the exposure. Rear Curtain Sync is the typical setup for creating this type of an image and it can be changed on many cameras including point and shoots. However, in this particular situation I had only my very disappointing Lumix GF2 which no longer has the Rear Curtain Sync option like my older and much more favored GF1. So, to create this image I simply chose a slow shutter speed and because the subject and myself were moving at the same rate, I was in a cart behind the driver, I was able to achieve very similar effects as I would have created with Rear Curtain Sync.

So the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to try something new. I was aware that my GF2 did not have the Rear Curtain Sync but I decided to try the shot anyway. I was happily surprised at how well the image turned out and that’s the beauty of digital. Just give it a spin and take a look. You might surprise yourself too.

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