Exposure, composition, sharpness and movement.

Always look for the latter.

It can be brought by water (torrent, sea, rain…), wind, clouds, a character (human or animal), smoke from a chimney, a passing vehicle, lava from a volcano, etc., and will generally be amplified by the use of a slow pose (waterfall, movement of stars…) or a fast speed (to freeze the movement and thus witness its presence).

The movement can also be suggested by a graphic.

In this case, it is fictitious but nevertheless operative (meanders of a river or a branch…) in the viewer’s imagination.

Contrary to video or cinema, a photo cannot reproduce the reality of a movement: either it erases it by freezing it, or it keeps a continuous and cumulative trace of it which has nothing in common with what our brain perceives.

It’s a bit as if all the words of a sentence were written one on top of the other, instead of following each other normally – we would then only perceive an illegible pie.

It is this “stacking” of movement that photography records, hence the resulting notion of blur.

The wind is often a sore when you want everything to be licked and clean, but it can be an ally when it animates the vegetation. A slow speed (1/15 s) will give a blur of movement not too pronounced.

Slow shutter speeds

Some martial arts excel through slowness.

Rather than looking for a speed of execution that would exceed the opponent’s ability to anticipate, one tries on the contrary to stretch each movement in time.

No fight but a quest for perfection based on the awareness of the moment, because this is the meaning of slowness: to live the action in all its continuity, until giving it an absolute presence.

The most common effect of using a slow speed is that of blur.

It is well known that if something moves during the shooting, the photo will be blurred.

Usually this is carefully avoided by using a high shutter speed when necessary.

But a deliberate blurring can actually materialize the life and movement that will give a superior dimension to your landscapes.


Sources of movement in nature :

  • The wind [and everything it moves];
  • The current (streams, waterfalls, waves…);
  • Rain (which zebras the air and agitates what it touches);
  • The stars (moon, sun, stars…);
  • And some rarer phenomena (volcanic eruptions, geysers or aurora borealis…).
Slow speed is the most common option to magnify a waterfall. Even with a modest flow, the magic happens. Here, 1 s of tripod pose, making sure that the framing is perfectly mastered for the relevance of the graphics. Baume les Messieurs, Jura.

The result can be very graphic, even poetic, as long as the blurred sharpness is not essential for reading the image.

In fact, it depends on the structure of your composition: are your different shots and the elements that materialize them worthy above all by their details, their shapes, their colors, their textures?

Is it essential that they are clearly identifiable?

You, by what are you seduced in what you contemplate?

Is a movement at the source of this seduction?

So many parameters which condition the acceptance or not of the blur.



We are talking here about motion blur and not the one induced by depth of field management.

A foreground blur due to a distant focus does not induce any notion of movement.

The control of the exposure time will therefore allow you to control the movement to make it more consistent and therefore even more perceptible.

The slightest breeze, the smallest trickle of water, and even the apparent immobility of the stars, can thus be amplified as if under the eye of a magnifying glass.

This plays the role of both a cinematic slow motion and a special effect: the action is emphasized and materializes in an unusual, even surprising way.
The classic subject that you will often come across is plants that sway, dance or undulate in the wind, as well as white water that falls, slides and swirls.

The color remains predominant: flowers, grasses or foliage sweep through the space like so many colorful brushes.

It is these imprecise masses of color that you will have to valorize and use in your composition, with shutter speeds of the order of 1/15 sec.

Another classic, waterfalls, which fascinate by their drapery and the vigor of their flow: 

with a long exposure (from one to several seconds), this flow will be reinforced and the water will burst with a vaporous whiteness.

In broad daylight, this type of effect often requires the use of your smallest aperture; 

this can be made easier by attaching a polarizing filter (it eliminates reflections and reduces brightness), or even specific neutral, brightness-reducing filters (there are different grades), which allow you to reduce the exposure speed above all.

In any case, be careful not to move during the exposure, for two reasons.

The first, because movement only appears as such in opposition to fixed and perfectly sharp elements.

You will then need to include sharpness so that the existing blur is perceived as a touch of life.

The second, because it is the elements that must move and not the photographer, otherwise it would be immediately felt by the viewer, and the photo would be considered a failure.

Of course; the tripod will be of great use here.

On a calm sea at dusk, a slow speed will make the water milky and the sky moving, as long as the clouds advance. The pose must then be long (10 s here) to restore the movement and bluish colors of the falling night.

In the case of an urban landscape, for example, many elements are constantly moving, starting with vehicles and pedestrians.

In this case, the slow installation allows to record their vibrations while largely erasing their presence.

The buildings, the layout of the streets or gardens, everything that you might want to emphasize in detail, clearly remain.

At night, the headlights of the cars will leave a continuous white or red trace in the es- pace, like long winding threads.

All this transcribes the travel, the bustle of the cities, without focusing attention on a particular passer-by or a particular brand of car…

Animals, especially birds, can also be sources of blur.

The shutter speed- must then be very well managed to ensure that the silhouette remains nevertheless identifiable.

Good obviously, this has to be adapted on a case-by-case basis depending on the speed of the animal.

For example, for a bird that passes quickly, a speed of 1/90 s can be a very fast good choice, while 1/10 s will be suitable for a swan that swims serenely in front of you.

If the speed is too slow, your pet will be a dissonant disturbance that seems to have escaped you.

A simple street in Paris. The use of well-placed reflections on the door and a slow pose to follow the rear lights of a car as it passes – the car disappeared from the picture, as it was too dark to be exposed, while the headlights, which were very bright, remained as a trail.
Two approaches to the movement of birds in a landscape: on the left a slow speed (1/90s) that shows the blur of the faster ones, and on the right a high speed (1/250s) that freezes in flight. In both cases, the movement is perceived because our brain continues to animate the scene.

Slow speeds can also produce a movement that will not be blurred in the end.

This is the case for car headlights that leave very clear light traces in the night (pose lasting several seconds), as well as for stretched streams of water or stars that draw perfect circles (pose lasting several hours).

Here, slowness connects and specifies a movement that could appear discontinuous, even imperceptible, to the naked eye.

And it is precisely because we do not perceive things this way in reality that we will rightly interpret it as a displacement in the photo.

The end of the end is sometimes the result of the appropriate use of a flash: either in slow sync – the flash flash is emitted at the beginning of the exposure – or in second curtain sync (sometimes called “Rear” on the bodies) – the flash is emitted at the end.

Both techniques allow you to illuminate a nearby main subject, while still providing natural light exposure of the background.

For a static subject, they give the same result.

On the other hand, for a moving subject, the very short flash will freeze the movement, while the sensor will record the blur of this movement during the whole slow exposure.

There are two scenarios:
– in slow sync, there will be first the subject in focus and then the traces of the blur;
– in synchro second curtain, there will be first the blur then the sharp subject, at the end.

In the first case, the blurred trace will be in front of the subject, giving the impression that the subject has moved backwards.

In the second case, on the contrary, the trace of the movement will be behind (we perceive that it is moving forward).

If your camera has the second curtain sync, prefer it to the slow sync which gives a less readable result for moving subjects.

Here, the second curtain synchro showed the movement of the butterfly’s wings as he was resting them. The trace, ghostly but clearly visible, translates the action.

Fast speeds

After the praise of slowness, let’s see what the shutters can do with their incredible speeds (up to 1/12 000 s for the fastest ones).
When a movement is frozen, it ceases by definition to exist.

So how to perceive if the subject was originally moving or static ?

By our common sense of course, but also and above all, by the situation of imbalance that is revealed to us.

Let’s take the example of Rodin’s famous thinker, sitting with his chin on his hand and his gaze plunged into the wave, embodying an eternal meditation.

One may wonder what he is thinking about, but one also readily admits that he can stay that way.

He is indeed perfectly stable, in a posture adapted to a long wait.

Conversely, remember those people found petrified by the lava at the site of Pompeii; some of them expressed a grin of suffering, in attitudes that were still active?

It is easy to imagine then that they were alive and well, carrying out various tasks and actions, suddenly interrupted.

Contrary to the thinker, these statues express a profound imbalance, a situation, an attitude, a gesture, a feeling that was not meant to last.

From this is born the mental representation of a movement, an action in progress.

The speed allows to freeze moments of life that will give a soul to the photo. Here, the action remains in relation to the landscape since it is a jump into the water. Always note the respect of the rule of thirds in the position of the teenager and the horizontal cut of the landscape.

Freezing what is not made to last, what is not stable, returns us very effectively to action in its entirety.

A wave bursts on a rock is a commonplace thing, but capturing all the water projections, as if solidified in the air, makes the scene much stronger.

One can immediately imagine the force of the wave, its impact, the shock of the materials, the noise, and all the drops that will fall back.

The movement is no longer visual but mental, and it is just as effective.

In a natural landscape, fast speeds go well with anything that looks like projections (water, lava, various explosions), that is to say, rather ascending movements, as opposed to what falls (waterfalls), which we tend to translate more into slowness.

Obviously, this is not an absolute rule.

According to this logic of looking for imbalances, a bird that is hovering will not necessarily bring much in terms of movement (it is in a stable situation), unlike an animal that jumps or someone who dives.
The faster the action is, the faster the shutter speed will have to increase, knowing that the use of a long focal length (zoom, telephoto) further increases this necessity.

Thus, for a simply sharp freehand photo on a still subject, the speed must already be equal to the focal length used, for example 1/300 s for a 300 mm.

For a fast movement, multiply this speed by two or three.

With intermediate focal lengths (such as 200 mm), a speed of 1/500 s is a good working basis.

Fountains or water jets can find advantage at fast speeds (here 1/300 s) as in the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte. The crown fountain should remain the main subject, as legible as possible. Freezing the drops improves the visibility of the background (the water remains transparent). With a slower speed, it would have been veiled by an opaque jet.

At close range, keep in mind that high speed reduces the depth of field.

Your background can then become very limited.

Now Your Turn

Now I would like to know, do you have any question ?

Or maybe do you have some information to add ?

Either way, let me know in the comments below

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