A neutral density filter is synonymous with landscape and wildlife photography; creating mystical, blurred waterfalls and beautiful sunsets. However, these versatile filters can be used to capture motion blur in a range of settings and subjects, including people.
Words and Photography by James Caswell
The idea of capturing blur and motion in photography may seem counterintuitive, making the image look out of focus or amateurish. However, with control, intent and the right gear, these techniques can level up an image.
“To capture artistic motion blur requires a combination of longer exposure times and a well-directed subject.”
What’s an ND filter?
Basically, an ND filter reduces the light levels your lens takes in. By reducing the light, you can adjust the aperture, exposure time, and use larger ISO speeds to create a desired effect; such as a shallower depth of field or motion blur. The filter is neutral so it doesn’t affect the colour of the final image. Ultimately, an ND filter adds another layer of control for you, the photographer. For example, you can take longer exposures in bright daylight without blowing out the image.
How to Capture Motion in the Image
To capture artistic motion blur requires a combination of longer exposure times and a well-directed subject. With the shutter open, the model should introduce movement to a single part of the frame, keeping everything else still. This creates a blurred effect to the parts that are moving, adding life into the image and contrast with the still portion of the frame. The reason why ND filters are crucial for creating motion blur is that they help curb overexposure when holding the shutter open for so long.
“Ultimately, an ND filter adds another layer of control for you, the photographer.”
Using ND filters with an ND2 – 8 (1 to 3 f-stops down) will help you create subtle effects of motion. Using any ND filter larger than this, such as an ND64 (6 f-stops down), will need a longer exposure and should be used to create a more extreme effect – creating otherworldly figures.
Lighting should be chosen based on the end result you’re looking for, however it is important to have a decent light source because of the exposure lost when using ND filters. The best results for capturing motion blur comes with a harsh midday sun or intense studio lighting that creates a constant source of light.
There are 3 must-have gear items you’ll need when heading out to capture motion in your photographs:
1. A tripod. This is important to keep your camera stable during long exposures. It also creates a fixed viewpoint to assist with composition and framing of the movement.
2. Shutter Release Cable (film-only). Like the tripod, this takes your hands away from the camera, making sure the background remains crisp and in focus while capturing motion. For digital cameras, the in-built timer would work just as well.
3. Wide-angle lenses. These lenses allow for more of the scene to be included in the final image, giving the moving subject more weight in a still frame.