Moving pictures: How to make portraits with motion

Students in COMM 1316 News Photography are learning how a camera’s shutter speed affects how it captures motion.  

On a basic level, the camera’s shutter is like a human’s eyelid.  The longer a camera’s shutter stays open, the more likely it is to capture any motion seen within the frame as a blur.  A fast shutter speed, on the other hand, often results in frozen motion.      

This week students practiced those concepts about motion by taking portraits of each other.  The goal of the project was to use a slow enough shutter speed to capture blurred motion.  

Obviously, you don’t want a person’s face to be blurred in a portrait.  So, the person in this portrait has to remain as still as possible.  The motion comes from the person twirling a large, patterned umbrella behind her head.  

This project turned out to be fairly easy to do, and fun at the same time.  It’s something anyone can try. Here’s how to do it.

     You’ll need:

  • A camera that allows you to change shutter speed
  • A tripod for the camera
  • A spot outside that’s not in the direct sunlight and has no distracting background
  • A fairly big umbrella with an interesting pattern and a long handle
  • (Hopefully calm winds)

    Step by step:

  • Find a spot to take the portrait that is not in the direct sunlight and has no big, distracting background.  
  • Have the subject of the portrait stand in the spot and stay as still as possible. 
  • Give the subject the umbrella and ask the person to twirl it behind their head. 
  • Set the camera on a tripod.  You don’t want to overall photo to be blurry, and if the shutter stays open for a long time with a tripod it will be.
  • Use a slow shutter speed, anywhere from 1/5th of a second to 1/10th of a second.  Students used their cameras’ shutter priority mode (Tv on the mode dial) so they could adjust the shutter speed while the camera automatically adjusted the aperture or f-stop setting.
  • Set the ISO at a low 100.
  • Snap the picture.  If it’s lousy, delete it and try it again.

If it’s done right, the portrait subject is in focus and the twirling umbrella blurs and frames her face.  The amount of blur depends on the slowness of the shutter speed.  Students said they were happiest with a setting of 1/8th of a second.

This semester students chose to use an iridescent umbrella that had several reflective colors on it.  The result was a bit like a rainbow. 

In semesters past, students used umbrellas with colored panels.  The blur looks different.  Three photos from semesters past are included here so you can compare those umbrellas with this year’s.

Why not give it a try?

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