Photography 101: Capturing Motion

By Anna Chan

There are three main ways to capture motion: freezing motion, motion blur and panning. What you end up with depends mainly on the shutter speed the image is taken at. Another factor is the distance of the moving object. For demonstrative purposes, I set up a makeshift ramp with a ball. As the photo is taken I let the ball roll down the ramp. The various results are described below.

All technicalities aside, the key to capturing motion well is practice and a good subject. E-mail me at if you have questions, comments or need clarification.

Freezing Motion

The way to freeze a moving object is to use a higher shutter speed–one that is faster than the speed of the object. This will allow you to capture things in mid-air, mid-action or both. It is easier to freeze the motion of an object that is further away from you than one that is closer.

The ball in the photograph is frozen near the top. It appears as though the ball is stuck or held in that position, though it is in reality rolling down the ramp.

Motion Blur

Motion blur works the opposite way of freezing motion. If the shutter speed used is slower than the speed of the object there will be blur in the photo. Essentially everything in the photograph will be in focus except for the moving object, which will be blurry. With a slower shutter speed, more motion will be recorded and produce a longer blur. Objects closer to you will register more blur than ones that are further away. Motion blur gives a ghostly effect to the moving subject.

The ball in the photo is blurred and gives a sense of movement. Its features can’t be identified. When using a longer shutter speed, the ball isn’t even distinguishable as a ball and leaves a longer trail. This kind of motion blur gives the object a ghostly feel.


Panning is a bit trickier. Using the camera on a slower shutter speed, follow the object along its path of movement. This is easiest in a horizontal direction. While following the object, push the shutter button and continue to follow the object. Keep following it until the exposure is complete. Panning will record the motion of the object in a single spot as opposed to recording it as motion blur. This gives it the focus in the photograph while the background and everything else is blurred from the motion of the camera.

Rolling the ball along my carpet, the details of the floor are lost as I move the camera, yet the ball seemingly rolls in one place. The ball’s movement is recorded as I follow it rolling across the floor.

Leave a comment