Creativity in Coastal Photography

Landscape photography along our seashores

My fourth and final online talk of 2022 went ahead on 7th December, during which I covered the skills and techniques often used with creativity in coastal photography.

The whole talk can be watched simply by clicking on the You Tube link below. I hope you’ll enjoy it! You can also read on through this blog, which summarises much of what’s in the talk.

Capturing the beauty of the shore

From calm, sheltered estuaries, to wide and sweeping sandy beaches, to wild and rugged cliffs, there is so much subject matter to help us with creativity in coastal photography. Hugely variable, and photographable at any time of the year, the seashore is a wonderfully inspiring place for any landscape photographer to lose themselves in their art.

The aim of this article and its video is to give some pointers and tips towards really honing one’s coastal landscape photography skills.

Not only is the coastal environment enormously varied, but so are the types of photography you can get stuck into. Firstly, there’s the classic kind of photography, the large wide views of a clearly identifiable place, photographed in the middle of the day during calm and sunny summer weather. Such images are evocative of warm summer holidays, and are often the stuff of travel brochures and magazines.

Many photographers will often find themselves taking these kinds of images for a great many reasons, and although they generate good quality, attractive record shots of a place, they rarely satisfy the inner artist searching for creativity, mood and artistic beauty. For that, you need a rather different approach, at the very least shooting at the ends of the day, when the light is low and warmly coloured. Most of this article will concentrate on these more creative techniques.

The simplest form of coastal photography consists of shooting wide views in the middle of the day during calm, sunny summer weather.

Horizon, horizon, horizon

Before I go any further with creativity in coastal photography, I have to say a word about the horizon. It might be an exaggeration to say that coastal photography is all about the horizon, but it is an absolutely critical point.

That line where sea and sky meet way off in the distance is usually quite strongly visible even on a hazy or stormy day. And guess what: it is always, always, always LEVEL! A sloping sea simply can’t exist, otherwise all that water would just slosh off down the slope. So in coastal landscape photography it is imperative to get your horizons level.

It is perhaps acceptable in forms of photography where the landscape element is secondary, such as in an image of some action sport that dominates the frame, to have a background horizon sloping. But in landscape photography, particularly of the coast, in which the horizon is usually very visible, it must be level. I’ve seen so many otherwise perfectly acceptable coastal photography images ruined by a sloping horizon.

Creativity in coastal photography
In coastal landscape photography the horizon absolutely must be level.

Some essential creative techniques

Once you’ve sorted out the horizon, one of the first steps towards creativity in your coastal photography is the time of day you shoot. Photography during the middle of the day in summer is all very well – it certainly produces images that capture the idea of summer holidays – but such images usually lack atmosphere and artistry.

Photography during what is known as the golden hour, that is the first and last hours of the day, as well as during dawn and sunrise, and sunset and dusk. For roughly the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset the light will have a warm, golden or reddish hue, creating a wonderful richness in the landscape’s colours. What’s more the low sun angle will create strong shadows, greatly increasing the apparent three dimensionality of a scene, helping foreground elements to really stand out from their background.

Furthermore, shortly before sunrise or after sunset there can be wonderful colours in the sky, and while your landscape itself will be rather flatly lit (since the sun will be below the horizon) this is more than made up for by the colours in the sky. Of course, those colourful skies don’t always happen and they can be a little tricky to predict accurately. A lot of luck can be involved here.

What is much more predictable is that about an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset everything will be quite blue, what is sometimes known as the ‘blue hour’. This is the final stage of lighting in the landscape before it finally becomes totally dark.

When photographing seascapes, it is astonishing how often I see photographers pack up and leave a scene the moment the sun has dipped below the horizon. Don’t do that! The sunset is only the start of the evening show: you have to wait to see what the sky will do over the next hour, until you’re well into the blue hour.

Creativity in coastal photography
For creative landscape photography shoot during the ‘golden hour’ when the sun is low in the sky.

Exposing sky, sea and land

One of the big technical challenges of coastal landscape photography is getting an exposure that is right for every element in the scene: sea, land and sky.

To be honest, the sea and land usually need a fairly similar exposure, so there’s not too much of a problem there. However, the problem comes with the sky. Even on a cloudy day, the sky is usually a lot brighter than either the sea or the land, something that the eye often doesn’t notice.

The human eye is incredibly adept at handly the large contrast range between sea and sky, and is able to see detail in both quite easily. Unfortunately, a camera’s digital sensor is nowhere near as sensitive as the human eye, leaving the contrast range between sea and sky far to great for it to cope.

The result? Usually you end up with images in which the sea and land are correctly exposed but the sky is hopelessly burned out, all those lovely cloud patterns lost due to significant over-exposure. It is particularly bad when shooting into the light, especially when the sun is low.

The solution is to use neutral density graduated filters (usually shortened to just ND grads). These are rectangular filters in which one half is darkened and the other half is left clear. They fit easily on the front of your lens with the help of a screw ring that has the same thread size as your lens, and a filter holder that slides over the ring.

All you need to do is put the darkened part of the filter over the brighter part of the image (usually the sky), and then line up the filter’s dark/clear transition line with the horizon. Immediately, you’ve reduced the contrast range to something that the sensor can handle, darkening the sky and brightening the sea/land. The result is an image that looks much closer to what you see with your eye than the ‘unfiltered’ image is able to manage.

As you can see in the image below, there are – generally speaking – two types of ND grad, hard and soft, the former having a sharp transition between dark and clear, the latter having a more gradual one. The hard filter is of more use in coastal photography, though it’s also more difficult to use well. Beginners to ND grads may find the soft filter easier to use initially.

A basic ND grad filter kit, consisting of two filters (hard and soft ND grads), a holder and adaptor ring.

Although the ND grads’ main use is to correct for a failing in the digital sensor’s performance, creating images that more closely resemble the real world, they can also be used to great effect to enhance and exaggerate mood and cloud patterns.

In this use, it is common to deliberately over-darken the skies, enhancing the clouds’ visibility and often exaggerating the ‘angriness’ or storminess of a scene. The result is an image with lots of brooding mood, and often a very dynamic sense of energy.

Creativity in coastal photography
ND grads can often be used to enhance mood, exaggerating the storminess of the clouds in a landscape.

To blur or not to blur moving water

The sea is, of course, a very dynamic environment, the water constantly on the move, full of energy, driven by invisible forces. Unfortunately, when you take a still image of that environment there is a danger that all the movement is lost, resulting in a very static image, one that completely misses the sea’s all-important dynamic mood.

One of the most popular ways to overcome this is to use a slow shutter speed. This will blur the moving waves, something that immediately puts the sense of energy and movement back into your still image. However, just how much blur you put in will have a big impact on the mood of your image. A shutter speed of say somewhere between one-tenth of a second and one second will result in an image containing a very agitated and dynamic sea, in which waves and spray are still clearly visible, though their movement is blurred.

On the other hand an exposure time of over about four seconds will result in the sea completely blurring out into a smooth sheet, often with what appears to be a veil of mist above the water, resulting in a very soothing, ethereal and artistic scene, something that may run quite contrary to the actual mood of the real scene.

Needless to say, these shutter speeds are just guess-timates, as just exactly how much blur you get depends very much on how fast your waves are moving and how big they are. This is part of the joy of this kind of photography: you don’t really know what you’re going to get, and so you often just have to keep on shooting, allowing different waves to create different patterns in your images.

This kind of photography is quite straightforward – provided you put the camera on a tripod – when light levels are low, such as at the start or end of the day, or in cloudy weather. However, when shooting in the middle of the day, and particularly in sunny weather, you’ll need to use a neutral density filter – one that cuts down the light right across the lens – to reduce the available light sufficiently to make a slow shutter speed possible.

That said, there are times when using a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement of the sea is appropriate. This is particularly so when the waves are quite large, or when you want to home in close on a wave to show every droplet of spray flying through the air.

Creativity in coastal photography
Blurring the movement of the sea can be very effective at putting energy into an image.

Photography of stormy conditions

It is tempting to want to go to photograph the stormiest of stormy conditions, to capture the drama of nature in the raw. However, unless you are shooting something that is genuinely newsworthy, I would generally caution against it for the following reasons:

  • The light is nearly always terrible;
  • Salt spray and rain will very quickly cover your lens and filters making it very difficult to shoot. Salt spray in particular can be very hard to clean off;
  • The wind is usually so strong that you’ll struggle to hold the camera still enough. And a tripod will get blown over in seconds, even a sturdy one;
  • It is just plain dangerous, particularly along the most exposed coasts, such as – in the UK – Cornwall and west Scotland.

For these reasons, it is far better to wait for the main storm front to pass before venturing out. At this time, the cloud cover will usually break, allowing for some sunlight, including rainbows and dramatic shafts of sunlight. Furthermore, the wind strength will be a little lower, but the waves will still be big and angry. Coupled with the improved light this can result in some very dramatic scenes.

Spray and rain will be less of an issue, and you’ll be able to use the camera safely – hand-held or on a tripod – and all without the risk of being blown off the cliff (really, it has nearly happened to me).

What’s more, with the use of such techniques as a moderate blurring of the waves, coupled with some dramatic low light (including shafts of sunlight breaking through clouds), it is possible to produce images that, though shot in moderate conditions, actually look as though the weather was quite stormy.

Creativity in coastal photography
Dramatic shafts of sunlight breaking through heavy cloud can enhance the apparent storminess of a scene.

A word on safety

This article would not be complete without a word on safety. The sea is a wonderful environment to photograph, but it can be dangerous, especially for the unwary. To minimise risk follow these guidelines:

  • Always know the tide times for the area you’re shooting in, and plan around them;
  • Be aware of risks of being cut off by a rising tide, and avoid them;
  • If shooting on a surf-bound shore close to the water’s edge, keep a sharp lookout for regular wave surges that can drive up towards you without warning;
  • Always take a fully charged phone with you, but don’t rely completely on it – many stretches of our coast have no phone signal, so also make sure you tell someone at home where you’re going;
  • Avoid photography at the height of a storm, particularly on an exposed clifftop.

So now you’ve got all that lot sorted out, get out shooting our coast and really enjoy it!

Future talks

My free online talks take place every three months, so the next one will be in March 2023. I’ve yet to decide on a title, but that will be forthcoming shortly. If you’d like to attend the live talk, all you need to do is to register so I know to send you the link.

To stay up to date with plans and events, click on the link below to join our mailing list. To register for future talks you will be able to do so shortly once the next one has been confirmed.

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Autumn photography: capturing the season

What to point your camera at this coming season

My autumn photography talk went ahead on Zoom on 21st September, this season’s subject entitled Autumn Photography: Capturing the Season. Predictably, it was all about the kinds of things you could be photographing during the autumn, many photographers’ favourite photography season.

The full talk can be watched below. Just click on the image to start the video.

Autumn colours, one of the season’s top subjects

When getting stuck into some autumn photography to capture the season, inevitably one of the top choices of subject matter is going to be autumn colours among the trees. In the UK’s natural woodlands that generally means golden colours among beech, birch and larch trees. Oaks, which make up a large proportion of our forests, unfortunately rarely produce good autumn colours. Another tree native to the UK that produces great golden colours is the Field Maple, a tree commonly found in hedgerows.

Unfortunately, the stunning reds we see in maples in the forests of North America and Japan don’t occur in our woodlands. To see and photograph these in the UK, head for almost any public garden or park.

Autumn colours are not always as straightforward to photograph as you might expect, the complexity of trees mingling together in a woodland making it hard to create a strong composition.

I often find myself just concentrating on a part of a tree, and in particular with a composition that has clear space behind it, such as an opening created by a river or stream. This helps to simplify the background, reducing clutter and increasing the possibility of being able to put the background out of focus.

If coming in close to leaves it is best to use only compositions where there is a single layer of leaves. Multiple layers usually result in a bit too much complexity, in which the leaves become confusing and rather start to merge with one another.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Mist and fog

Autumn is a perfect time for fogs and mists, particularly early on a still clear and damp morning. Ground mist at dawn can be a stunningly beautiful sight across a wet meadow or in a shallow river valley. However, in many parts of the UK you have to be very early as once the sun is up the mist will burn off quickly. Only if temperatures are really quite low will the mist linger very long after the sun has risen.

Hill fog is of course also very common in autumn, and can easily hang around all day long, particularly in windless, rainy conditions. This can be fantastic for moody, ethereal woodland photography.

River or lake fog is also stunningly beautiful, and again can hang around for many hours in the right conditions. However, more often than not, it does last only for a short time during the early morning, so once again you have to be very early.

Mist and fog have the wonderful effect of reducing clutter and detail, restricting subject matter to simple outlines and silhouettes. The results are hugely evocative, generating images that really could not be caught under any other conditions.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Autumn wildlife photography

Autumn can be a fantastic time for wildlife photography. Firstly, there is the autumn deer rut, most famously among the herds of Red Deer. What’s more, the numbers of wading birds in our marshes and estuaries are greatly swollen by over-wintering birds. This can provide some fantastic photo opportunities with both flocks and individual birds, provided you have a good telephoto reach with your equipment.

One final aspect of autumnal wildlife photography is that this is the time of year when Grey Seals give birth to their oh-so-cute white pups around our coasts. This mostly takes place in inaccessible coves, though there are a few sites where it is possible to obtain reasonable photographable views.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

The human world

Don’t forget the human world during the autumn, whether this be photography of people involved in autumnal activities such as the harvest, or festivals, most often associated with Guy Fawkes’ Night.

There are always plenty of opportunities for seasonal people photography, and it’s really worth trying to grab a few of these. In southwest England these can include such things as the grape harvest at the growing number of vineyards, plus the dramatic spectacles of such events as Bridgwater Carnival (in Somerset) and Ottery Tar Barrels (in Devon), both held in early November.

Autumn photography: capturing the season

Autumn photography: capturing the season

As this brief introduction shows, there is a huge amount to photograph out there during the autumn. I hope you’ll get stuck in and enjoy the season.

You can get plenty more ideas in the above video: there is a lot more material covered there that than I’ve been able to in this article.

Future talks

My next online Zoom talk will be on Wednesday 7th December at 8pm GMT, and will cover coastal photography. If you’d like to attend, just register using the link below, so I know to send you the link. It’s all free!

Autumn photography: capturing a rainbow

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A guide to panoramic photography

How to shoot sequential images and then merge them together in the computer to create a panoramic view of a scene

Nigel recently gave his first online talk of 2022, and on this occasion he gave the audience a guide to panoramic photography. This is the technique associated with the creation of a large rectangular image from several standard images, often with a wider view than is possible in any single image.

He gave an overview of both the in-camera photographic techniques, and the post-photography in-computer skills needed to create beautiful panoramic images. This talk is now available any time on You Tube, and can be watched here. Just click on the link below.

Step 1: Creating a sequence of images

As a guide to panoramic photography the first step towards success is to shoot a series of overlapping image that pan across a scene. To do this follow this list of do’s and don’ts:

  • Shoot with the camera in the vertical/portrait orientation. This gives a wider (ie from top to bottom) image that can help if any later cropping is needed.
  • Mount the camera on a tripod. Although the sequence of shots can be done with the camera hand-held, you are much more likely to be able to maintain a level horizon throughout the sequence if the camera is on the tripod.
  • Make sure both tripod and camera head are completely level. If they are not, then as the camera rotates to shoot the sequence it will start to tilt, putting the horizon out of line.
  • Shoot the sequence with a lens no wider than 35mm in focal length (on a full-frame camera). Using a lens with a shorter focal length than this can result in distortion in the image corners, making it difficult for the panoramic software to subsequently merge the images.
  • If shooting a view where there is no foreground with elements less than about 30 metres from the camera, it is fine to rotate around the camera body.
  • However, if shooting a view with a foreground and nearby elements, to avoid any parallax changes as the camera rotates it is better to rotate the camera around the lens’s nodal point, not the camera body. The nodal point is the lens’s optical centre, not necessarily the physical centre.
  • To achieve this, have the camera mounted on a sliding focussing mount, coupled with a vertical locking plate that allows the camera to sit above the focussing rail in the vertical position.
  • Slide the camera backwards on the rail until there are no parallax changes as the camera rotates: the relative positions of all foreground elements remain the same.
  • Once the camera is set up, focus on the scene and then turn the autofocus off, ensuring that the focus will not change as the camera goes through its sequence.
  • Meter the exposure in aperture priority, pointing the camera at something that is towards the middle of the view. Then switch to manual exposure and set the exposue manually. This will ensure that the exposure will be the same for all images in the sequence.
  • If shooting with a slow shutter speed make sure to use either a remote shutter trigger or a two-second time delay, and (if using a DSLR) switch the mirror-up facility on. These steps ensure there will be no vibration to blur the images.
  • Go through a couple of practice sweeps to make sure everything lines up nicely, and that there are no nasty surprises creeping into the view.
  • Then go through the shooting sequence from left to right or right to left. Make sure to leave about 30% overlap in the view between successive images. This ensures that there is plenty of duplicate data that the panoramic software can use to accurately sequence and line up the images.
  • Most sequences shot with the camera in the vertical/portrait orientation will need 7-8 images to make a complete view, but fewer or more may be needed for some views.

And that’s the in-camera work done. Now we move on to the in-computer work.

Guide to panoramic photography

Step 2: Merging the images in-computer

Continuing with our guide to panoramic photography, having shot the sequence of images we now need to merge them together in-computer to create the final panoramic.

If you shot the images as Raw files you’ll first need to convert them to the Tiff format. In doing this, any changes you make to colour temperature, saturation, contrast etc will need to be applied to all the images equally.

Having created the Tiff files you can then load them into the panoramic software. In this article, I’m assuming the use of Adobe Photoshop. Follow these steps:

  • Access the panoramic tool via the File>Automate>Photomerge commands.
  • In the dialogue box that opens load the files using the Browse option.
  • Choose the type of image merge method you need from the list on the left. For panoramic photography it is as well to stick with ‘Auto’, the default option.
  • Of the four boxes at the bottom, tick those whose actions you need. ‘Blend Images Together’ must be ticked to ensure the images are correctly blended to together. Tick ‘Vignette Removal’ if there is any shading in the corners of your images. I generally leave ‘Geometric Distortion Correction’ unticked as it often results in a curving horizon rather than the nice straight one I have in my original images. ‘Content Aware Fill Transparent Areas’ is a useful tool that you might to tick. Usually, the merged images don’t marry up to create a perfectly rectangular panoramic image. Instead, the outer edges curve or slope, leaving blank/transparent areas around the edges. Ticking the option to have these areas filled can be highly effective. Leaving it unticked will make it necessary to crop the final panoramic image to create the correct rectangle.
  • Once ready, hit ‘OK’ and sit back.
Guide to panoramic photography

Depending on how much computing power you have, it may take some time to process the images to produce the panoramic. When finished, you’ll have a panoramic image with all its component images arranged in separate layers. If you’re happy with the result then flatten the layers into a single layer by going to Layer>Flatten Image.

You may then need to crop the panoramic to remove blank/transparent outer areas. Finally, check the whole panoramic for any bits of sensor dust that might be present and repeated across the panoramic. Also look closely for any artefacts due to imperfect image merging.

Finally, name and save your file. You now have your completed panoramic image.

guide to panoramic photography

Upcoming talks

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this guide to panoramic photography.

Our next online talk will be about underwater photography, on 22nd June. All our talks are free to attend – just register to be sent the Zoom link below.

You can also watch past talks. Just click on the link below.

Guide to panoramic photography

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Great photography during the winter

An online talk that gives inspirational ideas about what to photograph during the cold and short days of winter

Home » landscape photography

In Nigel’s November talk, held live on 17th Nov, he aimed to inspire photographers not to put their cameras away during the winter. There is some great photography during the winter months, those short cold days a time of day-long low sunlight, dramatic storms, and over-wintering wildlife.

A recording of this talk is now on You Tube, and you can watch it here. Just click on the link below.

Looking for subjects during the winter months

There is a temptation for photographers to go into hibernation during the winter, putting the camera safely away until the weather improves in spring. But this would be a major mistake as there is really is the possibility of great photography during the winter months.

With the sun continually low in the sky, it is perfectly possible to do some magnificent, moody landscape photography right throughout the day. Moreover, with dawn/sunrise and sunset/dusk both at very civilised times of day, it becomes much easier to shoot during these prime photogaphy periods.

Admittedly, the sun doesn’t shine a whole lot of the time during winter – hence the temptation to hibernate – but when it does then the light can be magnificent. Moreover, even when it isn’t shining, the frequent storms that sweep in from the Atlantic provide some very wild, dramatic weather for landscape photography, both on the coast and inland. This is particularly so just after the main storm front has passed through, a time when the clouds usually break, providing some great – though rapidly changing – light, along with a succession of rainbows.

Wildlife photography too can still be worked on to great effect during the winter. Although many mammals hibernate, others do not, including foxes and all our deer species. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, mostly wetland waders, though also woodland and garden birds, arrive in the UK from colder climates to over-winter here. Their numbers greatly swell local bird populations, especially in marshes, lakes and along the coast, providing opportunities for some fantastic avian wildlife photography.

Great Photography during the Winter

Fog and frost

Winter is of course the main time for fog and frost, most especially during the early morning, but also often throughout the day and in the evening.

Fog and frost provide some of the most effective and beautiful opportunities for great photography during the winter, the latter adding a stunning sparkle and sheen to any landscape and/or foliage scene. Fog – especially ground fog – really makes for some ethereal and often monochromatic scenes, reducing complex details to simplistic outlines that can have fantastic photographic impact. This is most especially so when some sunlight is still visible through the fog, providing some delicate illumination.

Snow and ice

Not surprisingly, no discussion of great photography during the winter would be complete without snow and ice. The latter can quite transform any normally watery scene, whether it be an entire lake, a puddle or just a dripping gutter. Convert that water to ice, and suddenly we have beautiful crack and freezing patterns, pointed daggers of icicles, often quite blue when seen in low light levels, and rendered even more magical if frost and/or snow are also present.

Snow, of course, completely transforms an entire landscape, creating wholly monochromatic scenes when the sky is cloudy, and truly dynamic high contrast landscapes when under a blue sky. Wide vistas, closer landscape elements, or really close-up details (such as of snow or ice gripping vegetation) all make for stunning subjects in this kind of environment. Shortly before sunset (or shortly after sunrise), snow will usually reflect the sun’s pink glow magnificently, creating some wonderfully delicate colours.

Great photography during the winter

Putting it all together

With so many photographic opportunities available during the winter months, opportunities that don’t exist at any other time of year, there’s really no excuse for not keeping on shooting throughout this season. Pick your subject matter(s) and get cracking!

Just keep an eye on the weather forecast, and prepare to head on out whenever the right weather seems to be heading your way. Just wrap up warm and waterproof and enjoy the outdoors at a time of year when too few people get outside often enough.

A word of caution

Although I’m really enthusiastic to get everyone doing some great photography during the winter months, I do need to sound a few words of caution. Not surprisingly, with storms, rain, frost, ice and snow all prevalent at this time of year, some care and preparation are needed. And not just simply to keep warm and dry.

Plan carefully, drive carefully, and in really bad weather don’t push yourself further than you feel comfortable. Think ahead of all the things that could go wrong and prepare accordingly.

The top of a high cliff is no place to be at the height of an Atlantic storm, for example. You would probably find it hard to do much photography anyway. It’s better to wait until the main storm front has passed, winds have eased slightly and the light has improved. You’ll still get hugely impressive storm photos and with a lot less risk to yourself.

If venturing out in snow and/or ice make sure you’re prepared: take food and drink, extra warm and dry layers, a shovel, sheets of a material that can be pushed under slipping tyres to give them grip, and even a tow rope, just in case.

And of course, as always, make sure someone else knows where you’re going, and also ensure that you have a phone with a fully charged battery.

Once you’re equipped and prepared you’re well protected. Get out there and enjoy the winter photography!

Great photography during the winter

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Blurred Motion Photography

The art of deliberately blurring your subject in stills photography

My July online photography talk came at the end of the month, and this time covered blurred motion photography. This is, in other words, the art 0f deliberately blurring your subject to put over the sense of movement, energy and dynamism.

A recording of that talk is now available via You Tube, and you can watch it here. Just click on the image below and the talk will launch. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any queries or comments just get in touch.

The art of subject blurring

This talk, Blurred Motion Photography, covered a range of techniques and scenarios in which you would want to blur your subject to put over the sense of movement.

The technique is particularly associated with landscape photography, most especially in blurring the movement of water, whether that be the sea, with waves rolling into shore, or perhaps a fast-flowing river running over and round rocks.

Blurred motion photography is used not just in landscapes but also in wildlife, people and street life (particularly traffic after dark), where all kinds of activities can be blurred to give the sense of movement. So the beating wings of a bird, the movements of a working person and the colourful lines of traffic tail-lights are all great examples of commonly blurred moving subjects. Even a blurred background as the camera pans to keep up with a fast-moving object (such as a bird, a sportsman or traffic) is part of this technique.

Blurred Motion Photography: Botallack tin mines

The technique of blurred motion photography

In essence, it is a very simple thing to do. Just put the camera on a tripod and use a long exposure, thus ensuring that anything moving in the frame will be blurred.

Of course, this can only be achieved within the limits of how far the lens aperture can be stopped down. The narrower you have this (ie the higher the f-number) then the less light that is allowed through to the sensor, and hence the longer the shutter needs to be open to compensate. Of course, there is a limit to how narrow the aperture can be, and once you’ve reached that limit any attempt to make the exposure time longer will just allow in too much light and result in over-exposure.

So doing this in bright sunlight will often require you to add a neutral density filter to the front of the lens, thus cutting down the amount of light getting into the lens, and mimicking low-light conditions. This is particularly so for landscape photography. Things may still work well in bright sunlight, however, if you’re intending to blur the motion of something that is moving really quite fast, such as a fast-flying bird or free-flowing traffic.

Without filters, blurred motion photography still works well in dull, overcast conditions, at dusk, dawn and at night, any of which will yield great results.

Blurred Motion Photography: Seashore ice in Iceland

How much blur?

Just how much blur you need will depend on the effect you’re trying to generate and how fast your subject is moving. For example, when photographing surf rolling onto a beach, or a mountain stream babbling around rocks, an exposure of several seconds will result in the subject completely blurring out. A wave will become quite invisible in itself, replaced by a very soft, often white, smooth silken effect that, though still depicting movement, is actually very calming and which will serve to isolate a static object (such as a rock) from the rest of the view, and removing any clutter.

Replace that very long exposure with a rather faster one, say one-tenth of a second, and the blur will become rather jagged, producing what I call a ‘shards of glass’ effect, with sprays of water clearly visible. The effect now is very restless and dynamic, very different from the smooth ‘white-out’ of the long exposure.

It’s a similar thing with photography of evening traffic. How long the exposure needs to be depends very much on the amount of traffic and how fast it’s going. However, an exposure of several seconds will be enough for the individual vehicles to become quite invisible, replaced by colourful, continuous red tail-light lines. It’s a highly effective way of illustrating the evening life of any urban district. Using a shorter exposure – say one-tenth of a second – in this scenario is less effective, as the vehicles become visible and the tail-light streams become broken up into dashes that don’t link up into a continuous stream.

Blurred Motion Photography: the static subject

Blurred motion photography of static subjects

This may sound a little odd, but it is sometimes possible to give the sense of blurred motion to a static object. It works particularly well with evening lights, and is achieved by moving the camera during an exposure lasting a few seconds.

This movement may consist of moving the whole camera (while on a tripod), or of turning the zoom ring on a zoom lens, something that produces quite a dramatic and very dynamic effect.

Getting stuck in

Blurred motion photography is a technique that has very variable and unpredictable results. The only true way to really hone one’s skills in this is to get stuck in and just play! Enjoy it, and experiment as much as you can.

Blurred Motion Photography: the disco

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