Incorporating Movement into Your Imagery

by Charles Glatzer | November 1, 2004

© Charles GlatzerRegardless of how things may initially appear to our eyes, in the natural world nothing is static. Wherever possible I always try to impart a sense of movement in my imagery. This can be accomplished with panning, zoom blurs, long exposures, implied motion or any combination therein.

Implied Motion

A subject frozen in time can exhibit implied motion via body posture and joint articulation. Shooting the subject while it’s walking, running, climbing, flying, or otherwise in motion as opposed to at rest is usually all that is necessary to accomplish this. Proper subject placement in the frame can benefit the desired effect.

Mountain lion running © Charles Glatzer

Pan Blurs

Slow shutter speed images can be dramatic, painterly, and pastel in quality when shot in even, low contrast light like that of pre-dawn, post-sunset and overcast days. I find a shutter speed of around 1/15th of a second produces the best effect with large birds and slow-beating wings. With mammals, a shutter speed of 1/60 seems to be a good starting point. Pan blurs can also be quite effective when taken during peak daylight hours. The subject’s movement dissipates the hard shadows of harsh mid-day light and the high light levels allow for extreme depth of field, making it ideal for flock images.

Before shooting pan blurs be sure to level both the tripod and head, as this will ensure the horizon is straight across the entire field of view. Select a “window of opportunity” for both light on the subject and background, pick out a subject at distance, then concentrate and track it into your “window of opportunity.” Pick the subject up as far out as possible and pan smoothly at the subject’s speed. Be sure to follow through, even after depressing the shutter. The smoother and more stable your panning technique, the better the result. I find the best results are obtained when the subject is moving parallel, with the image taken directly in front of the camera. And, since you are no longer shooting the literal, this is a great time to expand your creativity. There is no right or wrong way, only your way.

Blurred crane © Charles Glatzer

Sharpness and Blurring: A Bit of Both

Setting up the camera in low light levels to a very low shutter speed and corresponding f/stop allows you to render subjects both still and in motion. Those elements in the image that remain relatively motionless during the exposure are rendered sharp, while those moving about show motion. Firmly securing the camera before exposure will ensure the environment is rendered sharp, providing a sense of foundation for the image. The amount of subject movement relative to the shutter speed is what determines the amount of blur rendered. Most times a longer shutter speed is beneficial, increasing the apparent motion on smaller movements.

Zoom Blurs

Zoom blurs can impart a sense of movement to an otherwise static image. The degree of blur is altered by a number of factors and the resulting effect is often difficult to repeat with consistency. By varying focal length, shutter speed, and length of time during zooming from one focal length to next the next the image can be rendered in infinite ways. It is often best to center the subject of most importance, as the central portion will be rendered sharper. The zoom effect occurs outward or inward depending on whether the focal length was increased or decreased through zooming.

Zoom blur © Charles Glatzer


Many of the motion effects mentioned above can be simulated, modified and/or enhanced in postproduction. Photoshop has a variety of blur filters within its program and additional sophisticated plug-ins available to render the image limited only by your imagination. But that said, I still find it magical and highly satisfying to produce the desired effect in camera.

About the Author

Charles Glatzer, a full-time professional photographer and teacher for more than 20 years, owns and hosts “Shoot the Light” Instructional Photographic Workshops throughout the USA and abroad. For more information go to No text or images may be reproduced for any purpose whatsoever without written consent from the author.

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