Photography’s Second Gift: Motion Blur

February 5, 2007


I previously talked about Photography’s First Gift: Depth of Field. Photography’s second gift is Motion Blur and it to is an emergent property of the underlying technology. Normally, we associate Motion Blur with missed shots that are out of focus but the effect can also be used to add an aesthetic quality to an image.

Motion blur can be the result of the camera moving or the subject moving during the exposure. Some of the abstract images I have previously posted are the result of the camera moving. Others, like fast moving water, are the result of the subject moving. When part of an image is sharp but another part is blurred it gives the sense of motion. It IS motion. Our mind’s eye instinctively knows this.

Again this is apparent in films…. the kind from Hollywood. There is an aesthetic quality to motion film that is hard to create with video. This aesthetic quality is not lost when viewing a movie transferred to DVD so its a property of how the image is captured rather than how it is displayed. It is not resolution. It is a side-effect of the frame rate. Movies are captured at 24 frames per second while video is captured at 30 frames per second. The key to 24 fps is not some magic frequency but that the exposure time can be long enough (approaching 1/24 of a second) to show motion blur in part of the image. Its hard to recognize but our minds do process it. If your DVD player has the ability to step frame by frame then you can see the blurry part of the frame wherever there is motion.

The next time you see a beautiful image of a waterfall there is a very good chance that part of the aesthetic quality is due to Photography’s Second Gift: Motion Blur.


5 Responses to “Photography’s Second Gift: Motion Blur”

  1. Kouros Says:

    So in essence, motion blur is a great way to add energy and flow to images. right?

  2. RAD Says:

    I think Motion Blur is a fantastic way to add energy and flow to an image. But it is used in other ways too. It turns moving water into a beautiful silky smoothness. It can change a person walking into a surreal dream-like apparition. It adds something artistic to the image that photographers can use as a powerful tool.

  3. Anu Chahauver Says:

    I love this picture! you are an ‘artiste’ RAD

  4. Paul Says:


    Lovely image and explaination – please feel free to add this to

  5. Robin Parmar Says:

    I have been writing up some thoughts on photography and your two observations accord with my own. I have conceptualised this using the observation that most people see a photo as a two-dimensional object, but in fact a photo is four-dimensional.

    The third spatial dimension is expressed through depth of field. The temporal dimension is expressed through freezing the image — or not, as in the case of motion blur.

    Of course photographers know this since their main control parameters are aperture and shutter speed.

    I am not sure yet how to introduce ISO except through a dimension of texture. This is another key difference between film and video. They simply look different to the eye due to their different frame rates and information density, plus the textural qualities of the media.

    Eventually this will be found on the Theatre of Noise ( along with my other ramblings.

    Thank you for your articles and photography.

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