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Capturing motion in your photography

By June 1, 2017 No Comments
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Paul Farris from Photo Genius shares some tips on capturing movement and why blurry photos can actually be ok.

I recently attended an evening Criterium race in Cleveland (on the Brisbane bayside) which is a bike event (sometimes called a crit) consisting of a set number of laps around a closed circuit. The pace of the racing is fast and furious and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab some photos.

Whilst packing my gear I decided to travel light and settled for a Canon 80D and standard kit lens 18-55mm. I also opted to leave my external flash behind as I considered flash might be distracting and potentially dangerous for the riders.

One of my favourite techniques when shooting sports is the panning technique which is often employed by pro sports photographers, particularly when covering motor sports, cycling and other fast paced events.  Done correctly, the panning technique should yield an image where the subject is acceptable sharp and in focus whilst the background is blurry, thus giving a sense of movement, speed and direction.

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Canon 80D
1/80 sec, f4, ISO3200, 24mm

Canon 80D
1/60 sec, f5.6, ISO3200, 32mm

By the time the racing began the sun was setting and the light was fading fast, there were some floodlighting in the key areas so my first job was to walk the circuit and find some good vantage points where I had a clear and unobstructed view of the action as well as some light to work with.  I began by selecting the AI-Servo mode (AFC or CAF on most other cameras) which is a focus mode designed for photographing moving subjects, I then selected a single focus point in the centre of the viewfinder and turned on the continuous shooting mode. With focus set up I opted to use shutter priority mode (Tv for Canon, S for Nikon and most other cameras) as this would enable me to select the shutter speed that I needed and the camera would look after the aperture. I started with a shutter speed of 1/60 second, bumped the ISO up a little to ISO400 and fired off some test shots, with the exposure looking good I was now all set and ready to go.

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Canon 80D
1/60 sec, f5.6, ISO3200, 18mm

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Canon 80D
1/60 sec, f5.6, ISO3200, 18mm

The key to a great pan is to move the camera with the subject as smoothly as possible, not too fast, not too slow and not jerky, it’s a particularly tricky thing to master and can also be very hit and miss as not only is the speed of the subject often unpredictable, but the selected shutter speed that may be ideal for one rider may be too fast or slow for the next.

When photographing cyclists I usually start with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second and work from there, the shutter speed needs to be slow enough to ensure the background blurs during panning but not too slow as to make the subject blur, after a few tries I found that a shutter speed of 1/60 – 1/80 second was working for me but did experiment with a some longer exposures for even more blur,  one of them I’ve featured on this page was shot at just 1/15 second and is probably my personal favourite from the evening.

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Canon 80D
1/60 sec, f5.6, ISO3200, 55mm

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Canon 80D
1/15 sec, f5, ISO400, 18mm

So remember, slowing the shutter down and capturing blur can be fun and can be great way of emphasising movement – and there are no set rules, experiment and have fun with slower shutter speeds.

Interested in learning more?  The panning technique is one of the many things you can learn during our Photo Genius ‘Beyond the Basics’ photography workshop in Brisbane.

Paul Farris
Photo Genius
You can follow my cycling adventures on Instagram

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