Emphasize Movement in Macro and Close-Up Photography - dummies

Emphasize Movement in Macro and Close-Up Photography

By Thomas Clark

You normally want to avoid motion blur in macro and close-up photography, but when used creatively, it can provide interest and aesthetic quality to your images.

A moving subject depicted in a streaking way helps viewers identify that it’s in motion. Moving elements such as water or swaying reeds can provide interesting effects when you apply motion blur techniques to a composition. The key to using motion blur successfully is to do so in a way that adds to your message.

Revealing motion in a subject

To give the sense of movement in a composition, select a slow shutter speed (such as 1/15 of a second) when photographing a moving subject. Results vary when using this technique and you won’t always get the shot on your first attempt. Be sure to experiment with different shutter speeds, because the one that works best will depend on the speed at which your subject is moving.

In most cases you need to shoot multiple images before you capture one that you feel comfortable with. The way a subject moves affects how it looks in your images:

  • If something moves from side to side, it creates horizontal streaks when you photograph it with a slow shutter speed.

  • If the subject moves toward the camera during your exposure, it’ll appear to have distorted edges.

  • If the subject moves in various directions, try capturing as many of those as possible, because each will look different in your images.

Creating interesting effects with motion blur

An interesting approach to macro and close-up photography is to select a still subject and include background elements that are moving. By using a slow shutter speed you can alter the look and feel of the subject’s surrounding environment while depicting the subject itself in a normal fashion.

To use a slow shutter speed, minimize the amount of light entering the lens during the exposure. To do so, you can either shoot in very low-light scenarios or do the following:

  • Mount your camera on a tripod and place your focal point on the subject.

  • Choose a small aperture setting (such as f/16), which lets in less light and enables you to use a slow shutter speed.

  • Use a very low ISO rating to help increase the time of your exposure.

  • Use a cable release or the camera’s self-timer to minimize camera shake during the exposure.

This figure shows an example of the motion-blur technique. Notice how the subject’s stem is depicted with sharp detail, while some of its feathery limbs blow in the wind and are affected by motion blur.


50mm, 2 sec, f/11, 50

If you’re using the smallest available aperture and the lowest available ISO but your exposure is still too short for the effect you’re trying to achieve, you can use a neutral density filter to block some of the light from entering your lens, or you can use a black flag or piece of cardboard to block some of the light from your scene.