Motion in photography

AB Watson

Motion in photography is largely overlooked when taking a photograph in the respects of freezing time. We can do it by multiple exposures, using a longer shutter or capturing a gesture. Be it a bird, or sports figure mid-air. For me, motion in photography is captured through longer shutter speeds which record movement, a moment, or emotion expressed through abstraction. Let’s dive a little deeper into how you can incorporate motion into your photography.


Be it a drop of water falling, a bird in mid-air. Whatever it is, using a high-speed shutter can capture motion in photography. Freezing it still in the frame. It might sound stupid, but we instantly understand that it’s frozen in time because a drop of water in reality always falls to the earth. But in a photo, we can capture it, hold it in mid air with tension and imply a narrative that it is falling.

Think of the capture of a running finishing line at the Olympic’s, think of a rocket launching into space. Freezing time is what a photograph does best. All the image needs is for the viewer to understand what is happening, like a figure jumping over a puddle. implying movement without the motion.


Shutter speed

A good example of using long exposures in photography is Chris McCaw. In his practice, he uses long exposure times to capture motion. His chosen subject is recording the motion of the sun across the sky in a single photo. This takes an enormous amount of time up to 32-hour exposures. Possibly using a very high aperture or high ND filter. Chris McCaw‘s works is a great example of how you can achieve motion in photography.


Chris McCaw – Sunburned GSP#288(Pacific Ocean), 2008

Personally, I love using ND filters be it making the water turn into a smooth glass reflection or capturing trees moving in the wind from a long exposure. You do lose detail from using long exposures when it comes to movement. But you can turn a camera from merely being an archive tool into a device that can create artistic expression.


Hiroshi Sugimoto theatres series is an amazing example of abstraction, capturing long periods of time in a still image. Hiroshi Sugimoto captures something abstract that can’t be archived in another medium, an entire movie in one frame. Thus turning a movie, narrative and theatre and environment into something completely different, he has successfully captured the abstract notion of time, in one photo. The exposures are so long that the movie silk screen, turns white and the light from the movie intern eliminates the theatre for you to see. An abstract concept, but effective.

Hiroshi Sugimoto theatres series

Hiroshi Sugimoto – Theatres series


Motion in photography image by A.B Watson

I love the way we can also capture movement by letting go of perfection and capturing a subject moving and ourselves all at the same time. An example is holding the camera with a long shutter. Capturing your subject moving, but at the same time recording yourself moving as well. I have tried this, and it’s a fine balance between complete abstraction and trying to keep shapes recognisable so the viewer understands what is in the photo. Try it for yourself.


Experiment with your own photography, be it street photography, bird photography or landscape photography. Try and capture the moment through a period of time in one frame. Experiment, with long and short shutter speeds. Or through a series of images collared together, or even moving the camera itself during the capture. Whatever you try, embrace the serendipity that reveals itself in your photography. Go out, experiment and capture motion in your photography.