5 Practical Techniques for Motion Capture Photography
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read


  1. Use a tripod for stability
  2. Experiment with shutter speed
  3. Try panning to follow the subject
  4. Utilize burst mode for rapid movement
  5. Apply pre-focus for predictable action

Have you ever tried to take a photo of a moving object and ended up with a blurry mess? Yep, we've all been there. But capturing motion in photography doesn't have to be a shot in the dark. With a handful of practical techniques, you can turn these elusive moments into crisp, captivating images. Let's explore five of these techniques for capturing motion in photography that you can use to enhance your photography skills and create visually stunning images.

Use a tripod for stability

One of the simplest yet most effective techniques for capturing motion in photography is to use a tripod. Just like a supportive friend, a tripod can offer you the stability you need when capturing a moving subject. Let's delve into why a tripod is so helpful and how you can make the most of it.

Why a tripod?

When you're aiming to capture motion, the slightest movement from your hands can result in a blurry outcome. A tripod can:

  • Eliminate any minute shakes from your hands.
  • Ensure your camera stays steady throughout the shot.
  • Allow you to focus more on the framing and less on keeping your hands steady.

Choosing the right tripod

Not all tripods are created equal. When selecting a tripod for your motion capture photography, consider the following:

  1. Weight: A heavier tripod is more stable and less likely to tip over, but can be burdensome to carry around. Balance is key.
  2. Height: Ensure the tripod reaches your eye level for comfortable shooting.
  3. Head type: The head of the tripod determines how smoothly you can move the camera. Ball heads offer the most flexibility, while pan-tilt heads provide more precise control.

Remember, the right tripod can make all the difference when capturing motion in your photography. So don't overlook this important tool in your kit. Now, let's move on to the next technique...

Experiment with shutter speed

Playing with your camera's shutter speed can dramatically impact how you capture motion in your shots. This technique can help you freeze a fast-paced moment or create an artistic blur to signify movement. Let's dive into the world of shutter speed and how to manipulate it for desired effects.

Freezing the action

You've likely seen those breathtaking photos of hummingbirds mid-flight, wings perfectly crisp against the backdrop. That's the magic of a fast shutter speed. When you want to:

  • Freeze a fast-moving subject,
  • Capture a high-speed action in sharp detail, or
  • Stop motion in its tracks

You'll want to crank up your shutter speed. The faster it is, the less light enters the camera, and the quicker the camera can capture the image, freezing the action.

Creating motion blur

On the flip side, a slower shutter speed lets in more light and keeps the shutter open longer, creating a blur effect. This technique is perfect when you want to:

  1. Show the path of a moving object,
  2. Create a sense of speed or direction, or
  3. Add an artistic touch to your photos.

Don't be afraid to experiment with different shutter speeds to see the effects you can create. Remember, every moving subject is unique, and what works for a sprinting cheetah may not work for a slow-moving snail. So keep practicing and refining your technique. Ready for the next one?

Try panning to follow the subject

Panning is a technique that can add a dynamic element to your motion photography. It involves moving the camera in sync with a moving subject, allowing the subject to remain in focus while the background blurs. This can give a sense of speed and movement to your shots. Let's break it down together.

Getting the hang of panning

First things first, you'll need to match your subject's speed and direction with your camera. This might sound simple, but it requires a bit of practice to get right. Here are some steps to help you get started:

  1. Choose a subject that moves in a predictable path. Cars or cyclists are great options to start with.
  2. Set your camera to a slower shutter speed. Remember, we're trying to create a motion blur effect in the background.
  3. As your subject moves, move your camera to follow it, trying to keep it in the same spot in your viewfinder.
  4. Press the shutter button while you're still moving the camera.

Did you get a clear subject and a nicely blurred background? If not, don't worry. Panning takes a bit of practice, but once you nail it, you'll love the results.

Choosing the right equipment

While you can pan with any camera, certain equipment can make the job easier. A camera with a good autofocus system can help keep your subject sharp. A lens with image stabilization can also help reduce any unwanted camera shake. And remember, just like with any technique for capturing motion in photography, practice makes perfect.

Utilize burst mode for rapid movement

Ever tried to capture a bird taking flight or a basketball player dunking a ball? These actions can happen in the blink of an eye, making them tricky to capture. That's where burst mode comes in. This setting allows your camera to take multiple shots in quick succession, increasing your chances of getting the perfect shot.

Getting Started with Burst Mode

Ready to jump in and give burst mode a go? Here's how:

  1. Check your camera settings. Most digital cameras and even smartphones have a burst mode or continuous shooting mode.
  2. Press and hold the shutter button. The camera will continue to take photos until you release the button.
  3. Review your shots and select the best ones. With multiple images to choose from, you're more likely to have captured the perfect moment.

Keep in mind that using burst mode can fill up your memory card faster, so be sure to have plenty of storage space available.

When to Use Burst Mode

While you can use burst mode any time you want multiple shots, it's particularly useful when capturing fast-moving action. Whether you're shooting sports, wildlife, or even playful kids, burst mode can ensure you don't miss the decisive moment. So next time you're struggling to capture a quick movement, remember this technique for capturing motion in photography.

Apply pre-focus for predictable action

Another effective technique for capturing motion in photography is pre-focusing. This works wonders in situations where the action is predictable, like a runner crossing the finish line or a skateboarder making a jump. The beauty of this technique is that it allows you to capture the action with sharp focus, even if your camera's auto-focus isn't quick enough.

Getting Started with Pre-Focusing

Pre-focusing isn't as tricky as it sounds. Here’s a simple way to start:

  1. First, stand in the spot where the action will take place.
  2. Next, ask a friend to stand in the same spot and focus your camera on them.
  3. Switch your camera to manual focus so it stays locked in that position.
  4. Now, wait for the action to happen in the spot you've focused on and take the shot.

Voila! You've just captured a perfectly focused action shot.

Mastering Pre-Focusing

While pre-focusing can be a game-changer, it does require a bit of practice. The key is to anticipate where the action will take place. Once you've mastered it, pre-focusing will become one of your go-to techniques for capturing motion in photography.

Remember, photography is all about capturing moments. And whether it's a child's first steps, a game-winning goal, or a bird taking flight, these techniques will help ensure you don't miss a beat. So, why not grab your camera and give them a try? Happy shooting!

If you enjoyed learning about motion capture photography and want to explore more creative photography techniques, we recommend checking out the workshop 'An Exploration Into Capturing Tenderness' by Cal McIntyre. In this workshop, you'll discover how to capture emotion and tenderness in your photography, adding another layer of depth to your motion capture skills.