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How to Capture Movement on the Street

Long exposure photography has become very popular over the past decade, particularly among landscape and astro photographers looking to to add a more surreal mood to their pictures. However, this is doesn’t mean that long exposures are limited to those specific areas of photography. With street photography, people often people think of the ‘typical’ black and white, static and candid captures that freeze the action. This may be popular, but it’s also great to break the mould and apply some creative uses of slower shutter speeds. After all, street photography is about anticipating and capturing a moment before it’s gone, which often requires the photographer to react within a split second of a moment unfolding in order to grab the moment. Adding a slower shutter speed shutter can help add drama to street photographs, in fact there are many different times when a longer exposure may be beneficial in bringing out the essence of a street moment.

Here are my seven tips to inspire and hopefully give aspiring photographers some insight into how they can add a sense of motion to provoke their street shots.

PRE-VISUALISE 

Just like all types of photography it’s important to have some kind of image pre-visualised in your mind in order to best understand what it is you are trying to communicate. This could be as simple as deciding on a location, time of day, subject matter or even how you want your viewer to feel when they view your image. By pre-visualising your shots you’ll be able to work out what length of shutter speed is required to more accurately capture the image you have in your mind. For example, if you want to capture a sense of motion as someone passes by your camera, you will probably need to be side-on so that when the subject passes through your frame you can track or pan with them to grab your shot. You’ll also be able to determine what length exposure will work best depending on the available light.

EXPERIMENT

Experimentation is the key to learning new things in photography, and it should be something you do from time-to-time. Not only will it help you stay passionate, the more you experiment, the more opportunities you will discover. Long-exposure street photography is a great example of this kind of experimentation.
Go out shooting during the early hours of the morning or late afternoon on dusk when the light is low. Adjust your camera settings to increase or decrease the amount of light on your sensor. Take a mental note of what settings are favourable for the ambient light. Your shutter speed might be too long for the image you want to capture; as a result you may need to increase the sensitivity of the sensor by boosting the ISO, wait for a time when there is more light, or add light to the scene artificially.

LIGHT AND MOVEMENT

Choosing the right conditions is paramount when shooting longer exposures. Just as you need to pick a scene that includes some movement if you want to introduce movement blur to a long-exposure landscape, the same applies on the street. For example, long-exposure landscapes typically have elements that a slower shutter can blur, such as dappled clouds blowing in the wind or water flowing down a stream. Static subjects don’t work. The same goes for street scenes – if you don’t have the right amount of movement on the street, a slow shutter will not give you the effect you’re after. Busy crowds and streets are always interesting with slower shutter speeds. By slowing your exposure you are able to add a sense of motion and isolate certain elements in the scene, which can be extremely useful in focusing attention on certain parts of a frame. Shooting on an overcast day, early morning or afternoon is often the best time because the light is not intense – that means you can drop your shutter speed down significantly. You may also want to invest in some neutral density filters (ND filters) to aid in increasing your exposure time for the desired effect when the light is brighter or more direct. Again, the key is to experiment with settings and different situations to find out what works best.

ANTICIPATE THE EXPOSURE

This is a basic technique that street photographers use regardless of whether they’re shooting long shutter speeds. The only difference, and one thing to remember when you start using slower exposures, is that you have less time in-between shots due to the shutter speed remaining open for longer. This is why it’s a good practice to be alert and time the shot to capture the most interesting moment. It’s a fairly basic practice but it’s worth perfecting to heighten your photography opportunities on the street.

PRACTISE PANNING

In short, panning is a technique applied by moving your camera to track a moving subject. Done right, you’ll end up with a nice sharp subject and a blurred background. Sometimes, getting the best results is down to sheer luck, but like anything you can improve your ‘hit rate’ the more you practise. Either way it’s fun to do and a fantastic way of giving a shot a feeling of movement and speed. It can be particularly useful when trying to photograph fast moving subjects like cars, cyclists and other moving objects.

Try different shutter speeds to see what gives the best results. There are a number of factors that can make or break a good panning shot including the speed of the subject, your position relative to the subject, the lighting and, of course, the shutter speed. First, you need to activate your camera’s auto-focus function and half-press the shutter button to lock it onto your subject. Once locked, aim your camera and pan with the moving subject. The key is to allow the pan to continue after you’ve fully pressed the shutter. It’s often hit and miss, so don’t get too frustrated if you don’t nail it straight away. Keep practising and you’ll soon work out a formula that works for you. It’s also important to note that it’s much easier to pan and track a moving subject if the subject is on a relatively straight path. If a car is moving in a straight line then it’s likely it will continue in the same direction, where as if your subject is moving side to side you may find it difficult to predict the movements. I’ve found the best place to practice panning is on busy intersections where there is high traffic that will give you more chances to grab that perfect shot. Keep practising until you work out a rhythm.

ZOOM AS YOU SHOOT

Another great effect for creating a sense of motion is to add a slight zoom blur, also known as “zoom burst”. It’s fairly easy to do and can give some incredibly dynamic results. Zoom can be added either by adjusting the zoom on your lens or, if you are using a prime lens, by travelling on a moving vehicle while shooting with a slow shutter speed. I’ve found anywhere between 1/15s and a couple of seconds is usually long enough to achieve a nice clean zoom effect. The result gives subjects increasing radial blur around the edges of the frame, while the centre appears sharp or less blurred. It’s a great way of drawing attention to a specific element within an image to make the viewer feel as if they are moving through time.

SHAKE IT UP

Camera shake is often frowned upon, but it can be desirable in some cases. Intentional camera-shake can induce an artistic and unique feel to an image, especially on the street when there’s a lot of clutter around. An exposure between 1/30s and one second is usually enough time to give a nice blurred effect while handholding the camera. This effect will allow you to have complete creative freedom to move around and paint motion with your camera during the exposure. Just as with panning, it will require a few attempts to master but when perfected your images will stand out from the crowd.

This article was originally written for and published in the March issue of Australian Photography magazine.

Beating Photographers Block (Part Two)

Take On A Project

Photography projects are a good way to get you to commit to shooting, and direct your energy to something worthwhile. It’s like committing to a fitness plan and setting aside time to exercise. Choose a subject that interests you, and work out what you need to do to achieve the end result. The only rule is that you must have a deadline – don’t make the mistake of letting the project drag on indefinitely. Working to deadlines is good practice and a good way to really push your creativity.

As well as setting out what you want to shoot, it’s important to know how the images will be used. Maybe your goal is to print a photo book, exhibit your work in a gallery or café or have your images published as a photo essay in a local magazine, newspaper or website. The project can be as little or as big as you want, but make sure it’s achievable. Start out small and get it done! Once you’ve completed your first project, you should feel empowered to take on bigger and more ambitious projects.

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

If you are like me, you probably find yourself frequently falling into the alluring, yet emotionally frustrating, trap of comparing yourself to other photographers. Most of us are guilty of this, but at what cost? While the online world can be a valuable source of inspiration, trawling some of the amazing images out there, can also put you into a spiral of self-doubt. Social media puts thousands of amazing images in front of us each day – rather than letting it put you off, harness the inspiration. If I have learned one thing as a photographer, there’s not much to be gained by measuring your own sense of worth against other people’s images. 

It’s fine to analyse your own work, but be wary of being critical to the point of paralysis! Photography, like any creative art form, is a process. You are not going to be the world’s best photographer when you’re starting out – the main thing is to keep learning.

Find Your Own Vision

There’s an important difference between being inspired by a photographer and copying their work. We all need inspiration to create, however if we’re only looking to replicate someone else’s work it doesn’t leave much room for us to grow. While most of us start out mimicking the work of other photographers we admire, at some point we need to pursue our own path. In a world where millions of images are made every day, being original can be challenging, but it’s a goal you should always aim for if you want to really develop as a photographer. 

Find your own voice and vision and run with it. Trust your instincts and shoot from the heart – you’ll be happy you did.

Beating Photographers Block (Part One)

Are your images falling short of your expectations? Has your photography become formulaic and forced, rather than free and instinctual? Maybe you’re suffering from photographers’ block. If so, here are three essential tips to help you get your mojo back.

Photographers’ block is frustrating and can happen to anyone anytime. We have all suffered the frustration of a creative rut, but thankfully it’s usually only temporary. While we all want to create, there are times when finding inspiration can be difficult. This is completely normal, and it’s important to understand that all photographers experience downtimes. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to beat the negativity and use the experience to actually grow as a photographer. First, it’s important that you do not wallow in self-doubt. Instead, you need to recognise that you’re in a slump and take the appropriate steps to get your creativity flowing again. 

A creative block is not a sign of weakness. It takes strength and determination to push forward. And when you do you’ll gain a better understanding of how you can achieve your goals. If it was easy to be a creative powerhouse, everyone would be one, right? So, stop wallowing and start following these simple recommendations to help you break out of your funk and get your mojo back. The best part is it’s not inherently difficult. It just takes some patience, a willingness to try different things and an understanding of what’s going on.

Break The Mould

As photographers we typically specialise in one or two genres of photography. Usually, this is because we’ve mastered a particular type of shooting and are comfortable with the work we’re producing. It’s great being comfortable doing what you do, but sometimes you need to break away from what you know best and experiment with something that is completely new. Challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone. If you primarily shoot portraits, find some landscapes. If you’re always shooting landscapes, go out and do some portraits or try your hand at macro photography. Alternatively, stay put in your usual genre, but try experimenting with different lighting techniques. If you use flash for the majority of your images then try limiting yourself to natural light. By trying new things and forcing yourself out of your comfort zone you will discover new approaches and, hopefully, fresh inspiration.

Shoot With Other Photographers

Fortunately, we don’t all go through photographers’ block at the same time. I always learn something new and am pushed in surprising ways when I shoot with other photographers. Spending time with creative people can rekindle your passion for your craft and propel you out of your creative downturn. 

It’s easy to connect with photographers online, organise a shoot and go exploring. When I was going through down times in my career I spent time talking to other photographers about their work. This helped push me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to experiment with new genres and techniques.

Attend Workshops

This is another great way to meet like-minded individuals and share your love of photography. You may not even need the tuition but it’s always nice to be surrounded by a group of people with the same passion. You could even join or start your own photo walk. A photo walk is basically a group of photographers who get together at a predetermined spot with their cameras. You meet and discuss photography and then walk in a group taking photos of whatever visually grabs you. Most of these photo meetings finish somewhere where everyone in the group can exchange ideas and share images from the day. This is a great way to make new friends and learn new approaches.