Friday, August 6, 2010

Man on a mission

In an effort to drag myself out of a period devoid of photographic excitement (I hadn’t taken a single photo in over three weeks), today I set out on a mission to put things straight – and check my camera still works!
The current assignment on the Digital Photography School forums seemed like a good starting point – “Motion Blur:People or Animals”.  I figured that a photowalk in the city should offer me plenty of opportunity, so I went out during my lunchbreak.

Now, obviously to catch motion as a blur, requires a longer than normal exposure, so I tried a couple of approaches… the first was to use the camera in Aperture Priority mode, and set the aperture as small as I possibly could (remember – a small aperture has a BIG number).  This would ensure that the camera would use the longest exposure I could possibly get for the light conditions.

I hopped on a train to Central and tried a few locations on the platforms - my first real experience of 'street' photography. I got a few odd looks from people, but nobody actually assualted me either verbally or physically - which was encouraging. So I tried getting people getting on and off trains, but...

...problem – NO TRIPOD!  Using this method, I was sometimes getting exposures of around a second.  Not ideal for handheld pictures – even bracing the camera on the back of a bench was still giving me blur where blur ought not to be...

I switched to Shutter Priority, and adjusted the length of the exposures myself (between 1/20th and 1/4 of a second), to take more control over the amount of blur.  I quite liked this one of a girl standing perfectly still checking her phone, with all the movement going on around her.  I chose this one as my entry for the assignment.

Finally, I walked back to my office, and decided to have a final play at this busy crossing.  I was quite pleased with it, but I think the exposures were a bit on the long side, as there is too much 'blur' and not enough 'people in motion'.  I think the one above has just the right amount of blur, but this one too much.

So - I got out for a walk for a change, broke out of my photographic doldrums, and got the grey matter working to think about my motion blur exposures.  But what did I learn?
1 - don't attempt long exposures without a tripod... Well, I knew that, but had to do the best I could with what I had to hand...
2 - motion blur isn't JUST about a long exposure time - you have to ask yourself "just how long does long have to be".  What kind of motion are you trying to catch - leave it too long, and it becomes somewhat less obvious where it is motion, and where it is just a ghost...

Until the next time...
Happy Snapping.


  1. Hey, well done on a new post!
    I like the assignment pic... a captured moment in time while all around is moving. Looks great :)
    I don't think I can use this Aperture Priority mode with my P&S camera, but question: When you set it, does the camera automatically choose the exposure time for the amount of light needed? It sounds like it was an automatic thing, then you changed it to manual?

  2. I used 2 'automatic' methods Kate. The first (Aperture Priority) is when you decide what aperture you want (the size of the hole, remember?) and the camera works out how long to open the shutter for. So by setting a very small aperture (small hole = big number), the camera was deciding that it needed to open the shutter for a longer time to get the right amount of light. Of course, as the lighting conditions changed, so consequently, did the length of my shots - which wasn't so good.

    I decided that I wanted control over the length of the shot, because that related directly to the amount of motion blur I picked up - so I switched to Shutter Priority mode - which is exactly the opposite of Aperture Priority. You decide exactly how long you want the shutter open, and the camera works out how big the hole needs to be. This allowed me more control over the 'blur factor' - by being able to expose for 1/2 or 1/10 second to give me more or less movement.

    And sadly you are right - your camera doesn't allow you to select these modes for yourself.