Motion Blur

Most of the time you want to freeze action to avoid blurry pictures while making them tack sharp. On the other hand, there are times when you want to capture motion blur. It can add interest to an image giving it a lively feel, especially when panning.

The above photo was taken on Bourbon Street the night after Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday is one crazy time (see below). If you want to take in, and enjoy New Orleans' culture I recommend avoiding Mardi Gras all together. During Mardi Gras you won't experience the French Quarter's quaint streets, and it smells like piss and vomit everywhere. 

Daytime on Fat Tuesday was much better than the evening. At that time of day it is an older crowd who are calmer with many fantastic costumes. Whereas the nighttime crowd is younger, smashed, and more aggressive.

Arguably, the best thing about New Orleans is the food. I challenge you to find a bad meal in this town. The food is great everywhere! There's a lot to do with a rich history and fun to be had wherever you go. 

To capture this photo I was out walking Bourbon Street around 10pm and noticed there were few people on the street, though just enough to make for an interesting photograph. I suppose the Wednesday after Fat Tuesday is the slowest night of the year here.

Both the above and below photos were taken with my Lumix GM1. It's the smallest micro 4:3 camera on the market. It is a tiny camera with great imaging quality. It has the same sensor as the Lumix GX7. The downside of this little gem is that much of the camera settings are menu driven rather than adjusted with dials, knobs, and buttons... though there are a few. The small form factor makes changing settings a bit slow. 

Another downside of this tiny camera is the touch screen. Don't get me wrong, having a touch screen is great, but the GM1 is so small that the palm of your hand will often touch the screen while shooting, which causes you to inadvertently change settings.

I missed a number of shots this way. I thought I had the settings adjusted for the picture and later realized they changed. Now that I am aware of this I pay closer attention to where my hand sits, and what the settings are before shooting.

You can turn off the touch screen, but as I stated earlier, much of the camera is menu driven. Turning off the screen limits your use of the camera. Since purchasing the Lumix GX8 I now mostly use the GM1 when mountain biking, hiking, trail running, etc. It's small size makes for light weight and I can easily fit it into a small pack.

Now let's get back to the photo. The key to capturing motion blur is holding the camera steady so the environment is still and tack sharp while people move through it. Notice how some people are moving while others are still. Also notice how bright and "clean" the scene is. I shot as wide as my lens would go at 12mm using the kit lens. I also set the aperture to f/5.6 creating a greater depth of field (full frame equivalent of f/11).

Quick side note. Micro 4:3 cameras have a sensor that is half the size of a full frame (the size of 35mm film). That creates a 2x crop factor. So not only does the lens angle get multiplied by 2, but so does the aperture when considering how much background blur (a.k.a. bokeh) you will get.

In my example, shooting at 12mm is like shooting at 24mm full frame, and setting the aperture to f/5.6 lets in f/5/6 amount of light, but the depth of field get's multiplied by 2 as well. So my shot would look like a 24mm angle of view with an f/11 depth of field while gathering f/5.6 amount of light.

Why is this important? A "normal" lens is between 40mm to 50mm, which is the human eye's angle of view. I continuously make these conversions in my head because I want to know what the angle of view will look like when compared to what I am seeing, and how much of the background I want in focus.

Now back to our story. The way you capture motion blur is to hold the shutter open for one to two seconds while people are moving through the frame, or shorter if the action is fast. To get the proper exposure I set the ISO to the camera's native ISO of 200. The key to avoiding camera movement with a 1.6 second shutter speed is to carefully push the shutter button without moving the camera. 

This brings up the issue of camera movement vs. subject movement. Sometimes you want camera movement, and other times you want subject movement. Sometimes you want both such as when panning. If you have a heavy finger and move the camera every time you push the shutter button then you can either use the camera's timer, a remote trigger, or connect it to your phone via wifi then use the phone's touch screen to take the shot. 

With the above image I placed the camera on a trash can (a tripod would have been better) and held it as still as I could then waited for people to walk by. When there were enough people in the frame I took the shot. I took six different photos to get a keeper image. After the first two I checked the exposure and framing, then a couple more were taken trying to get enough people in the frame with the right amount of movement. 

Finally, while editing in Lightroom I turned down the highlights to bring out the details in the neon signs. They are so bright that holding the shutter open for nearly two seconds blows out the highlights. I also lowered the color saturation for those same signs. They made color correcting a bit difficult, but shooting in RAW format makes these adjustments possible.

Take the time to try these techniques, and definitely make time to visit New Orleans. You won't be disappointed by either.