8+ Motion Photography Styles for Striking Shots

Discover the art of motion photography—freeze a sprinter in stride, capture a dancer’s leap. But how is it really done? Dive in...
Date Published
March 3, 2024

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So, you think a photograph has to be sharp to be sensational? What if I told you that the blurs and smears could bring your images to life? Yes, your ticket to captivating images is fluttering right in the blur of motion photography. The world is buzzing with movement and capturing this dynamism can transform mundane snapshots into awe-inspiring works of art. We're diving into the electrifying whirlwind where stillness meets chaos and where every frame tells the story of speed, rhythm, and raw energy. Whether it's the frozen leap of a ballet dancer or the frenzied rush of city traffic, get ready to explore how to make your pictures pop with motion and turn viewers into long-term fans.

What exactly is motion photography?

You've seen those photos that seem to have life buzzing right through them, right? That's the magic of motion photography. But what is it, exactly? Motion photography is all about capturing the art of movement within a still image. Yeah, it sounds contradictory, but when you freeze a dancer mid-twirl or a skateboarder mid-flip, you're holding a slice of action still forever.

Using motion photography techniques, photographers play with time. How? They tweak their camera settings to either freeze a moment in time or let it blur into a beautiful mess. Want your subject sharp with the background all streaky? That's where the party is at. It's not a hit-and-miss, though; precise freeze motion photography settings involve a fast shutter speed and good lighting to stop time like a superhero.

Now, capturing movement in pictures isn't a hop, skip, and a jump away. It's science, artsy science, but still science. To nail it, head over to places bustling with action and practice. A lot. With each click, you get better at telling stories that don't need words—just the sheer thrill of movement. And maybe a gust of wind in your hair.

You're not taking a mere snapshot; you're a chronicler of velocity, an archivist of the ephemeral, a... okay, you're catching cool stuff as it happens, okay? Awesome.

The history and origin of motion photography

Dig into the past, and you'll uncover that motion blur photography history is as dynamic as the images it creates. It wasn't born out of modern whimsy but is ancient art. Back in the late 19th century, photographers like Eadweard Muybridge broke new ground. He famously captured a horse in motion, proving all four hooves leave the ground during a gallop. This was groundbreaking stuff back then, sparking a whole new fascination with freezing movement.

Muybridge wasn't alone. Enter Étienne-Jules Marey, a French scientist who'd give any action photographer a run for their money with his chronophotography technique. He nailed the art of capturing several frames in one image, showcasing the elegance of motion. Their works gave us the first few puzzle pieces to what we now call high-speed photography.

Fast forward, and you've got icons like Henri Cartier-Bresson capturing the 'decisive moment'. Or, Gjon Mili with his light paintings alongside Pablo Picasso. The point is, knowing about the roots isn't just pub trivia—it's a treasure chest of inspiration! Go on, take a peek at some of their famous motion photographers' works; your shutter finger will itch to try and touch their greatness.

Sports motion photography

For all you shutterbugs out there ready to freeze that slam dunk in crystal clarity, sports motion photography is your adrenaline-fueled playground. Think shimmering sweat beads suspended in midair, the determined glare of an athlete in full sprint—yeah, that's where the magic happens. To nail those high-octane shots, crank up your shutter speed. You're looking for something in the realm of 1/1000th of a second or faster—because let's face it, granny's old point-and-shoot isn't going to cut it here.

When you're out there on the field or court, remember—it's about anticipating the action. Where's the ball going? Who's the star player? Keep those eyes peeled and your camera ready. And here's an insider tip: try panning with the action to keep your main subject in sharp focus while blurring the background, making your athletes pop like they're bursting from the pages of a comic book.

Now, if you're serious about stopping that sports action, you've got to be well-acquainted with your camera settings. A high ISO can be your best pal in a dimly lit gymnasium, but beware of grainy photos. Balance is key. And don't even get me started on aperture—wide open can make your subject stand out, but too wide, and you might miss a vital catch in the background. It's all about the sweet spot, folks.

Harness these tips and you're on track to creating some jaw-dropping sports motion shots that'll make viewers feel like they're right there in the stands, hot dog in hand, cheering on the home team. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and shoot some hoops, uh, I mean, photos! And remember, practice makes perfect; so hit that shutter button like it's game day, every day.

Dance motion photography

When you're ready to infuse your shots with the elegance and dynamism of dance, dance motion photography is where it's at. It's all about capturing the fluidity of dancers in action, freezing those graceful arcs and lines that seem to tell a story mid-flight. Now, if you're nudging your chin thinking, how do I translate this artistic expression through my lens? The secret sauce is pairing shutter speed mastery with a keen sense for composition.

To get the hang of it, first, you need to lock down your camera's manual mode because this isn't your casual point-and-click scenario. Play around with shutter speeds—fast enough to catch those sharp moves, but just leisurely enough to let a little blur whisper of the motion. Toss in a sprinkle of blur, and you've got yourself a slice of that sweet motion photography artistic expression.

Don't be afraid to crank up that ISO too. A higher ISO can help you keep things crisp in dimmer settings, just like a backstage theater where your light is as unpredictable as a dancer’s pirouette. And guess what? Natural lighting is your best buddy here. So, set up where the sunlight can kiss your scene, or use ambient lights to throw shadows that amplify your subject's movement.

Pro tip: sift through the works of photography virtuosos like Lois Greenfield or Richard Calmes. Study their knack for capturing the essence of dance, without locking it in a static frame. Their photos are pretty much poetry, minus the words, and all about the motion.

Lastly, get cozy with your subjects. You've gotta feel the rhythm and anticipate their moves. It's like a dance between photographer and dancer—each step calculated, each click timed to perfection. That's how you freeze an arabesque into a moment that'll have everyone's eyes glued to your photo saying, "Now that's what you call motion photography."

Wildlife motion capture photography

When you're out in the wild trying to capture a photo of a cheetah mid-sprint or a falcon in a nosedive, wildlife motion capture photography is your thrill. You caught on, this means snapping pics of animals that won't pose for the camera. So, how do you pull it off? Patience, skill, and some serious shutter speed action, buddy.

For those fast-moving critters, take a tip from the pros: crank up that shutter speed. We're talking 1/1000th of a second or faster. Your camera should be quick on the draw, like a wildlife-focused Wyatt Earp. Because animals move unpredictably, start with a shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second then adjust as needed based on your results and the animal’s speed.

Keep your eyes peeled for the golden hour—the first and the last hours of sunlight during the day. This magical light will make your photos look top-notch. Position yourself downwind, in a camouflaged cover if possible, and avoid sudden movements to keep from scaring your subject away. Remember, it’s like a stakeout but with animals.

One more thing: use a telephoto lens. It lets you get up close and personal, without actually getting close. No need to scare off Bambi or get into a wrestling match with Yogi Bear. Telephoto lenses are a wildlife photographer's BFF. If you're snapping shots of animals on the go, this technique will have your photos turning heads.

Why’s this type of photography popular? It captures the essence of the animal in its natural state—unposed, unpredictable, and undeniably wild. It tells a story of life in motion, a fleeting moment frozen in time. Your Instagram will thank you, and who knows? You might just get a nod from National Geographic.

Urban motion photography

Imagine the hustle and bustle of city life, with cars zooming by and people dashing across busy intersections—it's all ripe for an urban motion photographer's taking. Urban traffic motion photography captures this essence, thrilling viewers with a sense of energy and movement. To nail those shots, here's what you need: aim for street motion photography settings with shutter speeds between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second to get that perfect blend of clarity and motion.

Now, let's get into the nitty-gritty. When you're set in the middle of a lively cityscape, go for a slower shutter speed to blur the fast-moving cars—just enough to illustrate their speed while keeping the static elements sharp. That's where the magic happens in this type of photography. It’s not just about capturing the motion; it’s about framing the stillness amidst chaos, bringing out the dynamic energy of the street.

For an added punch, shoot during the golden hour. Those long shadows and warm hues give your images an extra layer of drama. And if you're brave, try some night-time shots where car headlights and street lamps create light trails that guide the viewer's eye through your frame. Remember, with urban traffic motion photography, what you’re crafting isn't just a photograph; it's a visual symphony of the city's rhythm.

Water motion photography

Can't get enough of that awe-inspiring water motion in photography? You're not alone! Water motion photography is all about using your shutter speed cleverly to either freeze every droplet in sharp detail or create an ethereal effect with a dreamy blur.

For those mesmerizing slow motion water photography shots, think about slowing down – yup, long shutter speeds. The slower the shutter, the silkier the water looks. Get ready for waterfall photos that look like flowing gowns made of pure mist.

Pro tip time: Always use a tripod because no one's hands are that steady. And, oh boy, don't forget a neutral density filter. Why? It cuts down that light so you can have longer shutter speeds without the glare. Play with different times of day too – golden hour brings out the sparkle, while overcast days are ace for avoiding harsh shadows.

A legend in the field? Meet Michael Kenna with snapshots that'll have you staring for hours. Your turn to make a splash! Grab that camera, hunt down some water, and experiment. Whether you’re capturing the rush of city fountains or the calming flow of mountain streams, water motion photography is your ticket to shots that truly pop.

Panning motion photography

Panning photography is a game-changer for your action shots! First off, want to know what panning photography tips you can't live without? Set your shutter speed to blur the background and focus on speed.

What are photography panning techniques to start with? Start slow, practice by tracking your subject, and click away as they move. This technique keeps your main subject in sharp focus while the background gets a sweet streaky look. You're not just capturing a moment; you're adding energy and direction to your photos. Remember, just like riding a bike, panning gets better with practice.

Need expert panning photography advice? Here's the lowdown: stabilize your camera, use a slower shutter speed, and move with your subject in a smooth horizontal motion. That's how you'll snap those dynamic shots where your subject looks like they’re racing ahead of everything else. It’s all about syncing your movement with theirs – kind of like a dance, but you lead with your camera!

Why is panning photography so cool, you ask? It gives you a sense of motion in a still photo – your eyes follow the subject through the scene, almost feeling the rush. It’s perfect for sports, fast-moving cars, or even your pal biking. Get ready to have people double-tapping that shot faster than your shutter click!

For that edge, check out the latest gear and tutorials from seasoned pros to step up your panning game. It’s a style that says you’re not just taking pictures; you’re telling stories on the go. So, spin around, pan with pride, and let those static shots get a taste of your motion magic!

Long exposure motion photography

Ever wondered how photographers capture those stunning light trails streaking across the night sky? That's long exposure motion photography, which isn't just cool—it's a surefire way to add some serious drama to your shots. And guess what? You can totally do it too.

First things first, grab your camera and set it to a slow shutter speed, like way slow—think seconds, not fractions. For those ultra-smooth light trails in motion photos, you want the shutter open long enough to let moving lights paint a picture. We're talking about everything from car headlights to stars. It's like giving your camera a paintbrush and saying, "Go wild, buddy!"

What about camera settings? You want them optimal for motion blur. Crank up that ISO to avoid a dark mess, set a narrow aperture (like f/16 or higher), and use a tripod. This isn't the time to test your human statue skills. A tripod is your bestie for keeping the camera still while you capture the whirls and twirls of light. And don't forget to experiment with different shutter speeds to see how it changes the dance of light in your photo.

And because you're super smart and want to dive deep into the world of long exposure, you'll want to check out this super helpful guide on getting those long exposure motion shots just right. Remember, a great photo is just a slow shutter away. So slow down and let the magic happen!

Creative Blur Motion Photography

Ever tried to snap a photo and whoops, it turned out blurry? Well, what if I told you that what some call 'mistakes,' creative geniuses call 'art'? Welcome to the world of creative blur motion photography, where blurry motion effects aren't just accepted; they're the star of the show!

In this wonderland of abstract motion photography ideas, it's all about throwing precision out the window. To craft that perfect blur, you will want to play around with motion blur effect techniques. Yes, there are techniques for the blur—this isn't sloppy work! Shake your camera during a long exposure or pan it alongside a moving subject. The goal? To capture a sense of movement so vivid, viewers feel like they're part of the scene.

Why blur on purpose? Because it's cool, that's why. But really, creative blur adds energy and emotion to your shots that crisp pictures just can't match. Imagine photographing dancers with their twirls turned into swirls of color, or street scenes where light and people combine into a busy, beautiful haze. It's about capturing the essence, the feeling, of movement.

Let me drop a hot tip: the slower the shutter speed, the more extensive the blur. Start slow and tweak as you go. A dash of blur can turn ordinary into extraordinary. So, why not give it a shot? You might just capture something unexpectedly awesome.

Sports Motion Photography

You know when you see a photo of a football player frozen in mid-air, muscles all tense, and it looks so real you almost reach out to catch the ball yourself? That's sports motion photography, my friend. This style is all about nabbing those action-packed, heart-racing moments where athletes are giving it their all.

To nail this style, you've gotta play with your camera's shutter speed. Crank it up to stop the action cold. We're talking speeds like 1/500th of a second or faster, depending on how quick the sport is. The faster the action, the faster shutter speed you'll need.

Tips? Oh, I've got 'em. First off, position yourself where the action is. You can't take dynamic shots from the sidelines. Get in there! Also, practice your timing. Anticipate the peak action moments—the jumps, the kicks, the punches. This goes beyond luck; it's about knowing the game.

Famed sports photographers, like Walter Iooss Jr., are the heroes in this arena. They've got a sixth sense for capturing those epic moments. Draw inspiration from their work and don't be afraid to take hundreds of shots.

Learn from the pros, mess with your shutter speed, and get ready to capture sports magic. It's not just about a good photo—it's about the story, the emotion, and the sheer awesomeness of human physicality.


Q: What is a motion photograph?

A: A motion photograph captures movement within a single image, often giving it a dynamic or blurred effect to convey action.

Q: What are the 3 types of movement photos?

A: The three types of movement photos include:

  • Panning: tracking a moving subject.
  • Long exposure: capturing the movement of elements over time.
  • Action shots: freezing a high-speed moment.

Q: How do you capture motion in photography?

A: To capture motion in photography, adjust camera settings like shutter speed, use techniques like panning, or select a specific scene mode for motion in your camera or phone.

Q: How to do a motion picture?

A: To create a motion picture, experiment with long exposures or video recording, then edit sequences together or convert them into a cinemagraph or animated GIF.

Q: Motion photography settings?

A: For motion photography settings, use a slower shutter speed for blur, a fast shutter speed to freeze action, and adjust the ISO and aperture based on lighting conditions.

Q: Motion photography ideas?

A: Fun ideas for motion photography:

  • Capture the hustle of city life.
  • Shoot sports or wildlife action.
  • Photograph flowing water or lights at night.

Q: Motion photography artists?

A: Some famous motion photography artists include Eadweard Muybridge, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and panning expert, Jacques Henri Lartigue.

Final Words

Hey, look at you, speed-reading through the wild world of motion photography! From its fascinating history to nailing those action-packed sports shots and capturing the grace of a dancer mid-leap, we've covered serious ground. You even know how to snap a squirrel in full sprint and make those urban scenes pop with life.

Remember, whether you're all about the blur or freezing the moment, it's about finding that perfect shutter speed sweet spot. And let’s not forget those oh-so-tricky panning shots and the magic of long exposures.

So, now’s the time to put that camera to work and add some serious kick to your shots with these techniques. Motion photography can bring a static image to life, create a sense of drama, or even convey a story. Keep experimenting, have fun, and who knows – your next shot could be stopping people in their tracks, in the best way possible. Ready, set, go capture the world in motion!

Meet the Author
Aria Ohlsson
Aria Ohlsson, the Instagram storyteller extraordinaire, takes you on adventures through her enchanting narratives. An avid hiker, she scales peaks and weaves tales of mountaintop triumphs. When she's not conquering trails, you'll find her immersed in classic novels, finding inspiration for her next tale.
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