DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY - Point and Shoot Cameras

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Using Motion Blur For Creative Shots


For creating a Motion Blur effect, we require a slow shutter speed. Because Point and Shoot cameras don't have shutter speeds we can manually adjust we need to find a way to get slower shutter speeds so we can take our Motion Blur photos. For this we will use a Neutral Density Filter with a dial. The ND filter as it is also known, allows us to get slower shutter speeds in daytime photography. The ND filter is used by pro photographers for creative photography like Motion Blur and Misty Smooth Water Effect.

In this tutorial article, you can learn how to use the ND filter with your point and shoot camera for creative Motion Blur shots.

How To Create Motion Blur on Cars - Panning

To create this Motion Blur you have to pan your camera from right to left or left to right; depending on the direction of your subject.

I stood near the edge of a somewhat busy rural road to get these shots. The cars are travelling at a speed of 40-50mph. I used a shutter speed of 1/40 of a second; and aperture of f6.5. No flash, and although you can use a tripod, one is not required for this shot.
The panning method puts your subject in focus while the background remains out of focus and blurred - motion blur. In these two car photos taken using Motion Blur Method, you can see the background has motion blur; which is the trees in the forest creating the green color, while the cars are more in focus.

The car on the left; has no space in front of it so it does not imply a sense of movement; however the car on the right; has space in front of the car which gives it a sense of movement. Ideally, the subject, in this case the cars, should be mostly in focus, and your background blurred. The black car isn't quite focused which you can tell by looking at the tires; now look at the wheels on the sports car which have a nice spin look to them because they are in focus; and the sports car is overall more in focus which makes for a better shot.

When your photo subject is moving; people, cars, trains, motorbikes, people on bicycles; try to shoot with some space in front of them (the direction they are going) to add the sense of movement to your photo.
panning a car, car mostly in focus, background has motion blur panning a white corvette

To create motion blur by panning: if subject(car) is travelling from your right to left direction(as cars in above photos are); then compose the shot when the car first comes into your view on the right; press shutter halfway to keep the focus, now slowly move the camera with the car as it moves from right to in front of you then to your left. To take the shot; press shutter, once car has just passed in front of you moving left.

And, when composing your shot, remember to keep some space in front of the car in your composed shot; don't move the camera from its focused shot on the car as your panning. If your forget to add the space when you first compose the shot, then just reshoot another car. Changing the car's focus while panning will put your car out of focus like your background. If your shots are not focused; (the subject), then try panning using a tripod, as this will help steady the camera.

Panning takes practice; start panning on your right, (or left) keep the subject in your screen view (hold camera steady) follow thru to your left(or right); turn your body as your pan; then, just as subject is almost to your left side; Then,Press to take the shot.

Also, use the Continuous or Servo focus mode on your camera. Some brands call it Servo while others use Continuous. What this means is that while your shutter button is held halfway down,(or your AF on button is pressed), the camera will continue to adjust its focus, which is required when tracking moving objects.

How It Works:
Because your moving with the subject like the car example: the car doesn't move in the frame, but the background does. Therefore the background appears blurred, and the car stays in focus or more focused than the background. And, the motion blur created in the background also helps to create the sense of movement in the subject(car,motorbike,train,bicycle,person).

Motion Blur on a MotorBike - Panning Method

For this motorbike shot, I stood in the same area as the car shots. The shutter speed was 1/50 of a second, and the aperture was at f6.5. No flash, no tripod. I panned from right to left. Once the bike came into view on my right, i pressed the shutter halfway; followed the bike(hold the camera steady as your panning), as it came past my camera; then i Took the Shot, just as the bike is to my left. You can see that the front of the bike is mostly in focus; while the rear light and rear bike tire is somewhat blurred. The grassy hill in the background is motion blurred; and I put some space in front of the biker when I composed the shot, which gives the motorbike a sense of moving.
panning a motorbike, bike mostly in focus, background has motion blur


Shutter Speed To Use - the shutter speed required can vary because of two things: how close you are to your subject, and the speed at which they are going.

Cars, Motorbikes, Boats, Trains,
Start with a slower shutter speed like 1/30, 1/40, 1/50, and try that; If you are close to the subject; say your on sidewalk and car is driving by on street within 5-25 feet of you. If the subject is further away and or the car is going faster; then increase your shutter speed to 1/50, 1/60, 1/80, and try the panning.

People Walking/Jogging/Bicycling
To create the same effect on a person, we need to use a slower shutter speed because people walk(move) slower than cars. Typically a shutter speed of about 1/10, 1/15, 1/20, of a second is good for this. If you are close to the subject, 5-25 feet; try 1/20 of a second, adjust your shutter speed if necessary.

You want to have the subject(car,person,motorbike,bicycle,train) mostly in focus; while the background is motion blurred.

What Scene Mode To Use For Shutter Speed

If you had a DSLR camera; you wouldn't need to use a particular SCENE mode; to get your shutter speed; you would just use Shutter Priority, (tv-time value), and choose your speed - like 1/30. And, you wouldn't need to worry about setting or getting a certain Aperture number, like f6 (av-aperture value), cuz on DSLR's when you choose your Shutter Speed, the Aperture willl adjust accordingly. Since shutter speed is what's important for our Motion Blur shot; we would just choose our shutter speed of 1/30, 1/40 range So, as you can see, DSLR cameras are much more convenient for these types of creative shots; however, with our point and shoot tutorial articles; you can learn how to do the same shots with a point and shoot camera.

Since my camera isn't a DSLR, I will look to my SCENE modes or AUTO mode to get a slow shutter speed. Since all point and shoot cameras are different and have different scene modes;I cannot tell you specifically what mode to use; however you can easily find one to suit the Motion Blur shots.

I was able to find the required shutter speed in several of my camera's modes:

To Take Your Test Shots:
You can take your test shots anywhere(outdoors), and use any subject.

Stand at least 7 feet from your test subject; preferably 10 - 15 feet,
Take the test shot outdoors,
Preferably a cloudy or semi cloudy day.

Zoom into your subject; and leave some space on either side of them,(like the sports car shot), in the direction they are moving(car) or are looking(person). For your test shot you don't need a car or person moving you can use anything, like a plant on a stand in your back yard. The purpose of the test shots is to practice our shutter speeds and aperture numbers (values) so we become more familiar with them at different distances from our subject.

For my test shot, I chose the Dust Dawn mode on my Nikon L32, which gave me a slightly slower shutter speed than other modes I could have used.

I stood about 9 feet away from my test subject, left some space in the photo.
I used my camera's zoom to zoom in some on the subject. (plant pot)
I pressed pressed shutter halfway; and looked at Screen View Display;

My shutter speed is 1/250 of a second; and my aperture is f6.5
Take a Test Shot To View Your Shutter Speed
Because my subject (plant pot) is at a distance from me, I used my zoom to get a closer shot. If i don't use any zoom, my aperture number is at f3.2 but because I zoomed to get closer to my subject, my aperture number changed from f3.2 to f6.5. Any time you zoom to get closer to your photo subject, the aperture number also increases; and this also decreases the amount of light that gets into the lens. Because there is less light coming into the lens, the shutter speed will increase. And, just the opposite when you decrease your zoom length; the amount of light getting into the lens increases, so your shutter speed will decrease. This is the same for all cameras, point and shoot, and DSLRs.

So I have an aperture of f6.5, and my shutter speed is at 1/250 of a second with this flower pot shot which I shot standing on my back deck. It is a bright day but I am somewhat in the shade cuz I'm standing next to an umbrella. This test shot gives me a good idea of what shutter speeds I can get at this distance in this type of lighting; with this SCENE mode; for this outdoor shot. Getting to know your shutter speeds in this manner is very useful because when your out and about and want to take a photo; you won't have to take time to figure out which shutter speed you need, which SCENE mode to use, what distance to stand. By practising, shutter speed and aperture will be much easier to compose for creative shots like Panning with Motion Blur.

Neutral Density Filter with Dial(Variable Range)

For my flower pot shot, I must next reduce my shutter speed from 1/250 to 1/40, 1/50, 1/60, so I can take a shot to get Motion Blur.

To do this, I put my Neutral Density filter in front of my camera; and then re took the shoot; press shutter halfway;
Now, by using the Neutral Density filter, i reduced my shutter speed from 1/250, to 1/40, which is what I want for my Motion Blur shots.

About Aperture

For my camera; my minimal aperture number is f3.2; that means that is the closet i can get to a subject for aperture number. It means also that I am not using any zoom. All point and shoot cameras($100-$200) are similar to this for aperture number; some might be f3.4, or f3.6, almost no point and shoot cameras will have an aperture of f3 or less. These are usually found on pro DSLR cameras and cameras with prime lenses.
To learn more about Shutter speeds, and Aperture
Aperture and Shutter - Point and Shoot Cameras

Practice, Practice, Practice

Before I started taking Motion Blur shots; I didn't know what speeds to use and I didn't know where to dial my ND filter, (more towards light, more towards dark). Now, since I have taken many Motion Blur Panning shots, I know that if I can get my camera shutter speed to the 1/300, 1/400 range, I can then use the Neutral Density filter, (dial turned at more dark side), and get my desired shutter speed of 1/30, 1/40 range. All it takes is some practice shots; and learning which SCENE modes on your camera provide shutter speeds suitable for the Motion Blur scenario.

Bright Day - Cloudy Day

If it is a really bright day; you will mostly likely need to turn the dial to the darker side of the filter to block out all the light. If however, it is a semi cloudy or (preferred) cloudy day; you may only need to turn the dial to midway or three quarters toward dark side. This is something you can tweak before you take your final shot on the day of your photo shoot. And, remember, the Density Filter and Shutter Speed offset each other, so if your dial is not turned enough to the dark side; then your shutter speeds will not be in the range of 1/30, 1/40, 1/50, 1/60. And, just the opposite can occur; if it is a really cloudy dark overcast day; and you have your dial turned too dark; then you will have a shutter speed that is too slow; like 1, 2 seconds.

Most point and shoot cameras in the $100-$200 price range don't have Manual Shutter speed mode (tv-time value), or Aperture Priority mode (AV - aperture value). But by using a Neutral Density filter with your point and shoot camera, you can still take photos, like Motion Blur Photography, just like photographers using DSLR pro cameras.

Should I Use A Flash With My Neutral Density Filter?

For Motion Blur Photography, outdoor shots; you don't need to use your camera's flash. You can turn it off by going to the flash mode and selecting OFF.

Should I Adjust My Exposure Values For These Type of Shots?

Exposure values is something you can adjust for a photo composition; but not required for Motion Blur shots. It is usually used to add or decrease amount of light in your composition.

Should I Adjust My White Balance For These Type of Shots?

The White Balance is usually at default which is usually AUTO mode; meaning it will automatically adjust for the scene your shooting. Unless your going for a certain creative shot; you can leave it in AUTO mode or DAYLIGHT mode.

Should I Adjust My ISO Number For These Type of Shots?

The ISO number is best at 100 or 200 or most daytime shots, unless your shooting for a certain creativeness. For Motion Blur Panning shots; 100 ISO is good. On most point and shoot cameras, the default number for ISO is 100.

Is There A Way To View My Photo's Stats Just After I've Taken the Shot

That depends on your camera brand. Some cameras, (mine doesn't) have a photo info display you can see after you take a photo and are reviewing your shots. While reviewing them, you can see their stats; like aperture, f6, shutter speed 1/300, ISO 100-800 range. If your camera doesn't have this feature; then while composing your shot you can Press Shutter halfway to view Shutter Speed, and Aperture Number(value), and some cameras also ISO number.

Will Using a Pro Camera - DSLR Make My Shots Better?

Besides the obvious fact that DSLR cameras offer a range of features that make taking Creative Shots easier; and that they can take some shots that most point and shoot cameras cannot; I would say that photo composition is really a learned experience. If you as a photographer, know the basic rules of Photography, and have a camera, (point and shoot) with decent Mega Pixels (which most are nowadays), then there is no reason why your shots can't be comparable to those of a more expensive camera.


Neutral Density Filter With Variable Dial

Now, that we know about the required Shutter Speed and Aperture and have practised with some test shots; it's time to compose our Motion Blur Shot

For your Motion Blur subject; you can use anything(car,motorbike,boat,train), or person (walking,running,bicycling,snowboarding,skateboarding,skiing).

Since the point and shoot camera doesn't let us manually adjust our shutter or aperture; we don't know what they are until we compose our shot. Once the shot is composed; (focus on subject, use zoom to get closer shot, press shutter halfway), we can then look at the View Display; and see our aperture(f number like f6.3, and shutter speed like 1/300).

To compose the shot for the motion blur; simply compose your shot without the ND filter; focus your subject(press shutter halfway to compose/focus shot) then use your zoom until you get a aperture of about f6.0; and you should get a shutter speed of about 1/300(or there about) of a second.

Once you have your aperture at f.6.0; you can view the shutter speed in the screen View Display also. If it is less than f6.0 zoom closer to the subject, until you have an aperture number of f6.0 or f.6.5 there abouts. Then look for the shutter speed number on the Screen View, keep tweaking till you get f6.0-f6.5 range, with a shutter speed of 1/300 or there about.

Neutral Density Filter For Motion Blur Shots
Neutral Density Filter, Take Photo
Then, simply put your ND filter in front of your camera lens. Don't let the ND filter touch the zoomed out lens, just hold it slightly in front of lens, as shown in these photos. Just re- compose the exact same shot; press shutter halfway to compose/focus, and look at the screen view numbers again. You will see that by using your ND filter, your shutter speed has reduced from 1/300 - 1/400 range, to 1/40 range- 1/30, 1/40, 1/50, 1/60; the shutter speeds required for Creating Panning Motion Blur Shots.

Steady Your Camera While Taking The Shot

To steady the camera: (I'm right handed), I hold the camera in my right hand, and rest the camera in my left hand between thumb and finger for support; and I use my left hand to hold the filter in front of the camera lens. If your not too good at hand holding your camera; you can use a tripod to steady your camera while you pan. For this, you need to have a tripod that can pan.(left to right, or right to left).

Test Your Camera For Shutter Speed - Aperture

Don't assume because you practised with test shots that it will be the same once you go out to do your Motion Blur Shoot. The light of day can change your shutter speed rather quickly, even turning your camera angle slightly can change the shutter speed. Most likely you will need to tweak your shutter speed, especially if it is a bright day. (cloudy day recommended)

And, do Test Panning before you start to shoot a photo, or even while your waiting for another subject you want to shoot. If you waiting on a nice looking sports car, you will have time to do test panning between shots. Keep your shutter speeds in the range of 1/30, 1/40, 1/50, 1/60. Keep glare off of your neutral density filter (more problematic on bright days). You may need to slightly tilt it to remove the glare(the filter not the camera).


You need to use a shutter speed range of 1/300 before adding the ND filter; so just use the SCENE mode you found in your Test Shots to get your Shutter Speed.

Dont' forget to zoom in to your subject: aperture should be F5.9, f6, f6.3, f6.5 there abouts; this depends how close your getting to your subject; for typical Motion Blur with Panning on Cars these apertures and distance are ideal,(assuming your standing near the side of the road)

Distance from subject - stand at least 10-15 from subject, (like the sports car photo which is 10-15 feet from the car), If your subject is larger than a car, you will need to stand further away, and if your subject is smaller than a car, you may need to stand closer to your subject. Regardless of subject size or distance from them, always use a shutter speed in the 1/20, 1/40, 1/50, 1/60, - range for best Motion Blur Panning results.

Use the ND filter in front of your camera lens to reduce your shutter speed to 1/50, 1/40, 1/30, 1/20 range.

Shooting on a cloudy or semi cloudy day is recommended.

Buy Yourself a Neutral Density Filter

Using a ND filter is very useful for reducing shutter speeds so you can create Motion Blur shots in daytime photography on point and shoot cameras.

This dial type neutral density filter is also used for other Creative Photography Shots like Misty Water effect; which you learned about in our previous tutorial article.
To learn about the Neutral Density Filter, and other types of Filters used in Photography;
Digital Camera Filters

Motion Blur on Moving Subjects

Motion blur on Subject Itself, No Panning, Background is not blurry; Background Stays in Focus

Motion blur can be created on anything that is moving; (going in a direction), and Motion Blur on cars is a common example.
We don't use any panning, we just focus on the subject as it goes by you and take your shot.

creating blur on subject at 1/40 second, background in focus creating blur on subject 1/80 second, background in focus
To create this photo effect, use a shutter speed of 1/40 of a second if your within 5 - 25 feet of the subject. As the subject(car,motorbike,person) passes in front of you take the photo.

Looking at the two photos, you can see the one on the left, shot at 1/30 of a second, has more blur on the car itself, whereas the second photo; shot at 1/80 of a second has less blur on the car itself. The background in each photo is in focus. My aperture was at f4.5(first car), and f4.9(second car). I did not use a tripod(although one is recommended for this type of shot) I did however, have image stabilization enabled on the camera which is ideal for shots like these, especially if your not using a tripod. I was just at the edge of the road to shoot these photos. The cars are travelling at a speed of 30-35mph. If the cars are travelling faster, you may need to adjust your shutter speed. For best results; try a test shot.

How To Compose Your Shot

For this shot, you will use a slow shutter speed by using any SCENE mode on your camera, similar to the Motion Blur Panning Method technique. Once you have your slow shutter speed, 1/300, 1/400 range; just use your Neutral Density Filter in front of the lens to reduce your shutter speed to the 1/20, 1/30, 1/40, 1/50, 1/60, 1/80 range.

Focus your subject (the car) as it passes just in front of you; and take the shot just as it is right in front of your camera lens. No panning is used for this type of Motion Blur shot.

How It Works

Because you are using such a slow shutter speed and focusing on a particular subject; the image will be blurred. How blurred depends on how slow the shutter speed is and how fast the car is travelling. The background is in focus because you are not panning. Looking at the above example photos, you can see how different slow shutter speeds can make a car more or less blurred.

As stated previously, for motion blur, there is no exact shutter speed as the subject(cars) may be going at different speeds; but start with with 1/40; for subjects at moderate speeds, and if not, try slower or faster shutter speeds depending on how fast they are going and your distance from them. Generally, slower shutter speeds blur subjects and faster shutter speeds freeze subjects.

The camera used for these shots was the Nikon L32 Point and Shoot Camera with a 5x optical zoom.