disney week: a scrapbook page + a panning (slow shutter) photo how-to

I hate the teacups. I also hate roller coasters. More than anything, I hate motion simulator rides, so no, I have never been on Soarin’ Over California. Luckily, my husband likes all those rides so he’s happy to take the kids on them over and over and over. That leaves me with the job of finding the best viewpoint to snag pictures of them all enjoying the ride together. Over and over and over. That occasionally leaves me with plenty of time to play with my camera and see what kind of cool effects I can get.

One of those cool effects is motion blur, which I mentioned yesterday. Today’s photo is a little different. Yesterday, everything in the photo that wasn’t moving very quickly was in focus, while only the tips of Darth Maul’s lightsaber (which were moving very quickly) were blurry. But in today’s photo, my husband and youngest son (who were moving on the teacups) are mostly in focus, while everything else in the scene (even the things that are not moving) is blurry. This streaky kind of blur is called motion blur, and it reflects the motion in the scene. Getting a shot like this requires a slow shutter, a technique called panning, and the time to try more than once. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Slow down your shutter. On a sunny day, when your camera is on auto, your shutter will open and close somewhere in the range of 1/250th of a second. Pretty darn fast. Any normal motion will be frozen in a clear, crisp photo, which is usually a good thing.

But what if you want to show motion in your photo? The only way to do this is to make sure your shutter opens and closes slowly enough to show a moving object in more than one position, which creates the streak of motion blur. If you set your camera to shutter priority mode (TV), you can choose a slow shutter speed, while the camera chooses other settings for you. How slow should you go? Well, yesterday’s photo was taken with a SS of 1/160th of a second, which is fast enough to freeze some but not all motion. Anything under 1/100th of a second will give you some motion blur, but depending on how fast your object is moving and how extreme you want the blur to be, you could try going all the way down to 1/20th of a second, which is what I used for my teacup photo.

2. Panning. Now, if I had slowed down my shutter and snapped a picture of my husband on the teacups, he’d be a completely unrecognizable blur in the photo, since he’s moving. In order to keep the moving object in fairly good focus, you need to pan your camera along with the movement. So if the teacup is moving from the left to the right, you need to focus on it while it’s on the left side of the scene, start moving your camera along with the teacup’s motion to keep it in the center of your viewscreen, and push the shutter button (take the picture) as you continue to move your camera to follow the teacup to the right. Basically, keep the moving object in the center of your viewscreen as you press the shutter button. That will help freeze the moving object while everything else is thrown into motion blur.

3. Try and try again. You probably won’t get the perfect panning photo the first time you try – it can take a few tries to get used to moving the camea along with the motion of your subject. The teacups are kind of hard to pan, because they not only move left to right, they also spin around and move closer to and further away from you. This other movement will throw your subject out of focus even if you are panning along with the left to right movement. So your best bet is to watch the teacups for a few seconds and figure out when the person you want to focus on will be moving mostly left to right, and not much front to back. It’ll help if they aren’t spinning too quickly either, so try at the beginning or end of the ride. Even with these tips in mind, you’ll get better results if you take lots of photos, so if they get off the ride and want to get right back on, tell ’em you’ll watch again!

And when you get home and see your cool motion blur photo, you’ll probably need to make a cool scrapbook page to go with it:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *