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DSLR Tips Workshop: How to blur action shots for the impression of speed

When it comes to taking photos of sports or other fast-moving subjects, you’d imagine that freezing the action is your best bet – and certainly that’s the case for some situations. But in others you’ll end up with a lifeless shot which looks static and lacks any feeling of speed or excitement.

If you’re photographing any kind of race with cars, bikes, horses or greyhounds zooming past, then you can often get a far more dramatic effect by blurring some aspect of the image. This will show the subject really was moving quickly and will give a far greater impression of motion.

In the car race above, I’ve used the camera’s automatic settings on the left and the result has frozen the action – it almost looks as if the car is parked on the track. On the right though I’ve deliberately blurred the background and the result is far preferable. In my video workshop below, we’ll explain how to achieve this effect, and at the bottom of the page you’ll find a reminder of the steps you’ll need to take.

Checklist: How to blur action shots

1: Switch your camera to Shutter Priority mode by turning the mode dial to ‘S’ or on Canon models, ‘Tv’.

2: Choose a slower shutter speed which will blur the action. 1/60 is a good starting point.

3: Follow the subject through the viewfinder as you take the picture. Make sure you keep moving the camera as you press the button.

4: If the background isn’t sufficiently blurred, choose a slower shutter, such as 1/30 or 1/15. If the action is too blurred, choose a faster shutter like 1/125.

5: After taking your photo, remember to set the mode dial back to Auto or Program (P) mode.

Watch Out!

1: If your camera or lens has anti-shake facilities, they might get confused by the panning motion. Some models have a special setting for panning. Other, newer models, can automatically detect panning. Check your manual, but if yours has neither, it’s best to switch the anti-shake off while taking these kind of photos.

Related workshops:
Blurring water for a dreamlike effect.

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