Shooting a Moving Object - dummies

By Serge Timacheff

When you see a photo, you naturally imagine what was happening when it was taken. Some photos can imply motion or activity. For example, you can focus on a bicycle moving down the street with the buildings behind it blurred. This is different than shallow depth of field, however, because your aperture isn’t what creates the blur. Instead, you’re moving the camera, and your shutter speed is set long enough that you get blur.

Follow these steps to photograph a moving object:

1Set your camera for a correct, regular exposure for the environment and light.

To achieve this shot, the photographer stood on the street, facing a set of buildings and a side street. It was cloudy, but daytime, so he set his ISO to 250. The shutter speed was set on the slower side, in this case 1/200, and the aperture was set to f/8. The focal length was 67mm, a normal setting. Note: Set your dynamic focus (AI Servo for Canon), instead of “single shot,” to keep the camera focusing as you keep the shutter release halfway depressed. The photographer then waited for some cool-looking old cars to come along, pointed his camera to the right in the direction from which they were coming.

2Pan (or move the camera horizontally) as the moving object comes along and keep the dynamic focus (AI Servo, for Canon) going.

If you don’t have this type of focus, as long as you’re reasonably far away from the subject (such as 25+ feet), focus on the spot where the object passes in front of you. This should be sufficient to keep focus correct, especially if your f/stop is f/8 or greater.

3Shoot a few shots as the moving object passes.

The photographer took a few shots as cars passed by, while also panning. The first shot was a little too stop-action, making the old car look like it was almost standing still.

Upon further examination of the photos, they looked a little too sharp (especially the buildings in the background) — there was almost no motion effect. To slow things down a little, the photographer decreased the shutter speed to 1/160, and because that would make the photo brighter, he narrowed his aperture to f/10 to keep the exposure about the same. This also gave the photos a little more depth of field.

By slowing down the shutter, the background blurred more because of the longer exposure. The photos became a little brighter, too, which can be a nice effect. Incidentally, this is why shooting handheld shots at 1/160 or lower can be very difficult if you want perfect focus!

4Shoot again and try to capture a sense of motion.

The car in this shot shows some motion, and even though the image isn’t 100% focused or stop-action, the motion effect is artistic and pleasing to the eye.

Your goal might be to get the subject in perfect focus, but even if it’s slightly blurred, it can still be an acceptable (maybe even great!) photo. Sometimes when objects move to various parts of your lens, they’re slightly distorted, so when you take a shot with a lot of motion in it, it’s natural that your image isn’t entirely in focus. Notice, for example, how the rear of the car is a little softer than the front. You can make your own subjective decisions about issues like this!

5Create different effects with movement in your pictures.

Moving photo bonus shot! Using a point-and-shoot camera, the photographer set it for a night (tripod) photo, but instead of mounting it on a tripod, the photographer handheld the camera and shot a moving subway in a Shanghai subway station. He waited until a train entered the station. Then he stood at an angle so the train would be moving away from him and tried to be as still as possible. In this case, there was no panning of the camera. The camera was held as steady as possible because it automatically set the shutter speed to nearly 1/5th of a second — a rather long exposure to hold by hand. The result was a fun image of a moving train flashing by, with the signage and platform appearing more or less stationary.