Embracing Motion Blur to Create Art

Full Gallop, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Full Gallop, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

Last week I posted a series of high-speed photos from Rodeo Austin. The cool thing about those photos is the realization of how much can happen in just one second. We are talking about sliced of time where we can no longer adequately comprehend the details. For today’s rodeo post, I’m taking almost the opposite approach. I’ve slowed the camera down to create images that shows motion and a blurring of time.

In addition to my Olympus E-PM2 that I used to take the fast shots, I also brought my Canon 7D with a long lens. Actually both cameras have the capability to shoot at 8 frames per second, the difference really comes down to the lenses. I had a fast f1.4 lens on the Olympus which allowed me to stop the action and at high quality by using a reasonable ISO. With the Canon, I used my 70 – 200mm zoom which has a maximum aperture of f4. While this lens allows me zoom into the action, it’s 3 stops, or 8 times less able to capture light. Since I wanted to keep the ISO at 3200 or less, I just didn’t have the shutter speed to truly stop the action.

So I took a different tack. I embraced motion blur. I used blur as a technique to enhance the feeling of speed while stretching out time. Along the way, I think I came up with something that feels more artistic and a bit more creative. I used the limitations of my equipment to do something different and I like the results.

Bucking and Blur #1, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Bucking and Blur #1, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

The key in using motion blur is getting the right amount the blur. Use too much and you get a mess — you lose the context of the image. Use too little and it just looks like you made a mistake — the motion blur just comes across as a soft or misfocused photograph. You want to show enough blur that your intentions are clear but you still want to give the viewer an idea about what the image is about.

The way to get the blur, of course, is to adjust your shutter speed. For these photographs, the shutter was set between 1/20 to 1/30 of a second. This is what looked right to me. Your mileage, like any art, may differ. As a bonus, when you lower the shutter speed you can also lower the ISO — which increases image quality. In my case, I went from shooting at ISO 3200 to using ISO 800 or 1000.

Bucking and Blur #2, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Bucking and Blur #2, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

Finding that right shutter speed is the big fun for these motion blur photos. Part of it is based on your artistic interpretation but the subject is also a big factor. 1/30 of second for racing cars at F1 maybe too slow while 1/30 for pedestrians maybe too fast. I’ve also used a tripod when shutter speeds become too slow to hand hold. It’s also important to shoot a lot of frames. These kind of photographs are unpredictable and when you have a lot to choose from, you can be more selective and pick your favorites.

Back in March at Rodeo Austin, I didn’t intentionally go to shoot these kind of photographs. It was a shift I made based on equipment and environment. But being flexible with the intent of just making interesting photographs allowed me to do different and unexpected things. It’s part of being open-minded as a photographer and embracing the possibilities.

Bucking and Blur #3, Rodeo Austin - Austin, Texas

Bucking and Blur #3, Rodeo Austin – Austin, Texas

Click on the photographs to see a larger image and hover over the photos to see the exposure detail.

6 thoughts on “Embracing Motion Blur to Create Art

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