How to Freeze Motion

Shutter Speed - How to Freeze Motion & Show Motion Blur

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I am SO excited for the 4th this year! There is such a fun feeling living in a somewhat small town; I love driving with my windows down past beautiful green fields and mountain lakes, listening to all the patriotic country songs and thinking about just how LUCKY we are to live in America. I love the BBQ’s, parades, the rodeos, and the fireworks. 

I thought this would be a good week to learn more about good ol’ shutter speed! If you want to photograph cowboys trying for 8 seconds at the rodeo, freeze fun moments of your kiddos splashing in water, or capture the magic of fireworks, it all comes down to shutter speed. 

For those of you wanting to learn how to freeze motion or show motion blur, this is an easy tutorial to help you get the perfect shot at the perfect moment. 

How to Freeze Motion

To freeze motion in a photograph, you need to use a FAST shutter speed. Shutter speed gets quicker the higher the fraction is. Going from 1/60 to 1/250 to 1/500th of a second means your shutter speed is quicker. If you want to be sure that you freeze a subject running or jumping, using a shutter speed of somewhere between 1/500 - 1/1000th of a second is a good idea. 

I love freezing motion at one of my favorite places on earth, Lake Powell. We spent many 4th of July's on that lake! It's a lot of fun to get good action shots of water sports. For the skier, I shot at 1/750, f/6.7 and my ISO was 110. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

For the wakeboard shot, my settings were 1/500, f/8 and ISO 100. 


Wait a sec! That high of a shutter speed could be a problem right? Using a shutter speed that high means that you need A LOT of light. This can easily be done mid-day with the sun shining outside. If your lighting conditions aren’t bright enough, you’ll have to raise your ISO to a high ISO #, or open your aperture up as far is it can go (lower f/stop #). These are two keys to getting more light. Keep in mind that a lower f/stop will limit what is in focus and give you more background blur. 

Are you bugged or overwhelmed by more manual settings talk? It's okay! I get it. Here’s another solution: change your camera settings to shoot in shutter priority. That way you can pick your shutter speed, and your camera will help you out with the rest. Phew. It's that easy! 

Shutter Priority Mode for Practice freezing/blurring motion

I shot this photo below at 1/1250 of a second and it's still not tack sharp! It's a fun shot but sometimes it's a lot of trial and error until you get the perfect shutter speed. 

How to Freeze Motion -

Here's another fun photo of freezing water in motion, taken at 1/600. 

Freezing Motion

How to Blur Motion

Blurring motion is the exact opposite idea. To show movement or motion blur, you’ll need a longer shutter speed. This will be a slower amount of time, such as keeping your shutter open for 1/4th of second, to perhaps three minutes or even longer. Your camera records what it sees in that amount of time, thus showing any movement. 

For this image below, these were my settings: 1/40, f/22, ISO 400. Because the ride was moving fast enough, 1/40 of a second was just long enough of a shutter speed to show the movement. Had I changed it to three seconds or longer, the shapes of the seats and the people would be a complete abstract blur. I chose this shutter speed because I wanted it to still be recognizable. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

First, you have to think about how fast your subject is moving. Second, think about how much light is in your scene. If you have a long shutter speed on a bright sunny day, your image will easily be overexposed (SUPER bright). If you only use a somewhat longer shutter speed at night (like 1/15th of second) you may not have enough light in your scene and it could be underexposed or DARK. 

If you try to show motion blur but your image is too bright, change your ISO to a LOWER # (less light) and your aperture to a HIGHER f/stop # (less light will enter your camera). If that’s too complicated to balance, once again switch to your SHUTTER PRIORITY and pick the longer shutter speed that you’d like to try out.

Two ways of blurring motion are:

1. Keeping your camera totally still and having your subject move.
2. Moving your camera (also can refer to the term panning, which is a fun trick we'll talk about later)!

To show your subject moving, it’s a great idea to use a tripod to ensure that you won’t shake your camera while taking the shot with a longer shutter speed. If you hand-hold your camera and try taking a two-second exposure, your photo will show camera shake from your hands moving. If you don’t have a tripod, you can try setting your camera on a table or anything stationary, set a self-timer and release the shutter. Even the motion of pressing your shutter release button can cause camera shake! 

I didn't have a tripod for this photo and you can see that his figure is a little fuzzy and blurry. It would have been much better result if I had a tripod. 


I shot this photo below at 1/10th of a second, f/4.8 and ISO 320. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

Using a tripod and a long shutter speed, you can get some fun images with sparklers by light painting; simply waving your hand around while the camera is taking the photo. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

For the shot below, I captured the movement of car lights by shooting at 1/10, f/3.5 and ISO 100 and of course, used a tripod so the rest of my image was clear. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

Use this holiday weekend to play around with your shutter speed and see what interesting images you can create! Be creative, have a tripod handy, remember SHUTTER PRIORITY and have fun!