by Steve Boyko
Special Guest Writer

Photography is usually about capturing an instant in time. Sometimes, though, we want to capture the feeling of motion in a scene. This article will talk about some ways to capture that feeling.

Freeze the Moment
The simplest way to capture motion is to use a high enough shutter speed to “freeze” any motion.
The shutter speed required depends on the relative speed of the object(s) in motion. If you’re photographing trains, like I often do, a shutter speed faster than 1/500s is often required to freeze the motion. For fast passenger trains crossing perpendicular to your sight line, even higher shutter speeds are required. Keep in mind that it is the relative motion that is important. An object traveling toward or away from the photographer will not need as high a shutter speed as an object crossing “sideways” through the scene.

Motion Blur
In some cases it is not advantageous to completely stop the motion. For example, when photographing helicopters, if you use a high shutter speed, it appears the helicopter’s blades have stopped and it looks odd. It is beneficial to have just a bit of blur on the blades to show motion.
Shutter speed: 1/800s
In some cases you may want to pan as a vehicle or person moves across the scene. “Panning” is moving your camera to track the motion of the photo’s subject. This can be done while holding the camera, or while the camera is mounted on a tripod. Panning keeps the object in focus while blurring the background. Done correctly, this can create a powerful feeling of motion.
The key to a good pan is a low shutter speed. The photo above was taken with a 1/20s shutter speed. The relative motion determines the shutter speed required. I find for trains moving at around 40 MPH (65 km/hr) a shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/30s works best in daylight.

One advantage of a pan is that it can be used in low light situations where a high shutter speed is not available. That way you can still capture the object even though the available light is too low to stop the action with a high shutter speed.
The above photo was shot just before sunrise and the available light was very low. However, camera settings of 1/20s shutter, f/3.5 aperture and ISO 100 were sufficient to capture a serviceable photo of the locomotive.

Panning takes practice. The key to a good pan is to move the camera with the object in a smooth motion. Try it out - a local highway will provide all of the practice objects you will ever need!

Steve Boyko is a photographer who especially enjoys chasing trains and documenting grain elevators. You can find him at, on G+ at, and on Facebook at among others.