Ok so you’ve grasped the idea of how to take a good photo with your digital SLR camera, and now want to know how to photograph moving objects. Whether you are photographing an object such as moving water or a car driving past you, or a subject as in a person, child or animal, the camera technique and settings are basically the same.
The main camera setting you need to take notice of when shooting moving objects is the shutter speed. This is best done by putting your camera on shutter priority and looking through your rear viewfinder, pressing your shutter button half way down, then look along the edges of the inner screen for a number that resembles either a fraction such as 1/125 (maybe not that exactly but a fraction nevertheless) or for more recent cameras just a plain number like 125 that changes when you turn the main dial. If you see a plain number then that number in reality refers to a fraction, so for example 125 refers to 1/125th of a second etc.
If you are a beginner and are unsure how to change your cameras shutter speed, then I recommend looking in your trusty camera manual 😉
It’s important to understand that when it comes to photographing moving subjects every situation is unique. No one can tell you exactly what shutter speed to use. However there are guidelines as to what speeds you should start with, then change it up or down from there depending on the result. Here is what I’ve found from personal experience with different subjects.
How to photograph moving water
When photographing water and I want to slow down the movement I always start with a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. I’ll take a few test shots, look at the results then slow down from there, trying 1/4, 1/2 and so forth until I see the result I’m after.
The reason why it’s a matter of experimentation is because no two situations will have the exact same available light. For instance you could have a similar scene to my forest above, however your lighting situation could be sunnier or darker than when I shot this image with a shutter speed of 80 full seconds. As I said, start with 1/8th of a second then adjust your settings from there.
If on the other hand you want to freeze motion like this water drop below, then I recommend starting with a much faster shutter speed of 1/160th of a second, check the results then change it to a faster fraction if needed. For this image below I ended up being happy with 1/200th of a second. Not as fast as you’d think.
How to photograph moving people
Now lets move on to people. When photographing moving people I recommend starting at 1/125th of a second for walkers if you want to capture them in sharp focus. If on the other hand the aim is to blur the person walking then set a slower shutter speed starting your experiment with 1/30 second.
If you are photographing a marathon or people running and you want to capture the person in sharp focus, then begin with a shutter speed of 1/ 250 sec and adjust from there. To blur a running person start with 1/60th of a second. Use similar camera settings when photographing children on the move.
How to photograph a moving car
To capture a racing car in sharp focus start with 1/1300 sec. Chances are though you’ll want to show movement when photographing a moving car. To blur a moving car travelling at 30 mph set a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second. If the car is traveling at 70 mph then setting a speed of 1/250th of a second will result in moderate movement or blur.
You may also be interested in this post: How to photograph car light trails.
However the best car action shots usually incorporate a photography technique called panning which we’ll discuss next.
Shutter speed settings for panning
Panning is another way to show intentional movement. Panning with the moving object will result in background blur while the object itself stays in sharp focus. For panning I recommend starting with 1/60th of a second shutter speed. If you are a beginner I don’t recommend going any slower than 1/60th of a second. Panning at 1/60th of a second is much easier than panning at a slower speed of 1/4th of a second.
As you can see by the image below 1/60 second is a perfect camera setting for panning with a horse. Note, when you pan with a horse, you’ll still see movement in the animals legs or the jockeys up and down movement.
If you want to blur the actual horse, set 1/30th sec for a trotting horse or 1/125 sec for a galloping horse. If you want to photograph a moving horse in sharp focus, set 1/800 sec.
There you have it, all I know about photographing moving objects. Remember to experiment with both fast and slow shutter speeds, or try a bit of panning. But most of all have fun with your photography.