The Chicago “L” and the wonderful world of motion blur

The Chicago “L” and motion blur – Chicago, Illinois

I felt invigorated when I was in Chicago, at the end of December, last year. I’m a city person and though I enjoy living in Austin, I come alive in the bustle of big energetic cities. Chicago certainly qualifies. I no longer want to live in big cities, full-time. But to visit, only for a while, camera in hand, is one of my favorite activities.

Though I’m a New Yorker by birth, I’ve always appreciated Chicago’s architecture — birthplace of the modern skyscraper. I actually lived in downtown Chicago, back in the late 80s, for 6 months. The city is cleaner now and even more vibrant but the “L”, Chicago’s elevated transportation system, lingers. It’s rusty, primitive and wonderfully unique. You don’t see these structures much anymore, especially in the central business districts.

So I appreciate the contrast. The 100+ year old technology contrasting against the newest downtown towers.

I shot these with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the wide-angle 9-18mm lens. Perfect for taking in the big, bold city. I shot everything handheld with the advanced in-body image stabilization (IBIS) doing the rest. Between the IBIS and wide-angle, I’m able to shoot reliably at 1/5 of a second. The energy of the city, appropriately captured as blurred motion streaks — exactly what I wanted.

I create these motion blur shots, from time to time, made easier now without a tripod. The key to these, I believe, is to have a portion of the frame, rock steady and sharp. The motion of the intended subjects will nicely contrast with the sharp, unmoving objects. You need that contrast. If everything is in motion, it can turn into a big mess.

I also believe that you need an appropriate amount of blur. Too long of a shutter and you lose too much detail, the context, lost. Too short and you get slightly soft subjects, which just looks like a mistake. Balance is the key.

As a bonus, I also caught “Blue Hour”, the time between light and dark when the sky turns an electric blue. In the city, with its golden lights, blue hour works nicely. Blue and gold, love the contrast.

It’s all about the contrast. Blue and Gold, motion and sharp focus and old rusty metal against smooth modern glass. Isn’t the city a wonderful place?


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15 thoughts on “The Chicago “L” and the wonderful world of motion blur

  1. Love Chicago, tho I’ve never been there (my wife was when she studied in Wisconsin). Have you seen “Wicker Park”, or “Blues Brothers”? Wonderful.
    And you did a good job with these photos – I’m experimenting with motion blur myself from time to time, and find it so interesting; very Zen-like.

    1. I’ve seen “Blues Brothers” but not “Wicker Park”. You’re right, there is a zen like feeling shooting these. Even with IBIS, it takes a bit of stillness and calm to get a clean 1/5 of a second. That in the midst of all that city action. Definitely kind of fun.

  2. So Cool! Randolph and Wabash was my stop for many a years. The shops may have changed but the stairs are the same. Back in the film days I would use a newspaper vending machine as my tripod as they had flat tops to balance my camera on. I would be lucky to get a winner out of a roll of 36! Digital has spoiled us, and especially the Olympus stabilization for shots like this! Great work, can’t wait for more when you son goes to school up north. Don’t hesitate to contact me about the area, my wife got her grad degree from Northwestern and I am a native Chicagoan. Love to help in any way I can.

    1. Very cool. Thanks for your visit Scott as well as your offer. Not sure if my son will go to school up north but I certainly want to visit Chicago again. There’s so much to photograph.

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