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on Jul 3, 2012 in Camera Tech

The Illusion of Speed

How to bring movement to stills? There are actually many ways with some being combined for even greater impact. The most basic, simplest and requiring no special tools is panning. Panning is the art and technique of moving your camera body in sync with a moving subject and therefore nullifying any movement in the frame. Now that should make you scratched your head. How can moving the camera with the subject nullify movement while being the best method for communicating movement? Answering the first part of this, how does panning nullify movement? If you take a picture of a rock (one of my favorite subjects), the rock in relationship to the film plane does not move. So we get a sharp photo of the rock. The same thing is happening when we pan (as long as it’s done correctly). We move the film plane at the same speed as the moving subject so as far as the film plane is concerned, the subject is not moving so we can stop movement in our frame with movement. You gotta love that geometry!

If this is the case, we are stopping movement with movement, how then do we communicate movement? We do it by blurring the background. In these two examples shot with D800, 600VR2 swung on a Gitzo, the top frame was shot at 1/40 and the bottom frame at 1/125. If you look at the two frames, the top frame has the illusion of speed greater than the bottom and that’s because of shutter speed. While the film plane is keeping up with the moving object, the background is not moving at all. When you pan and shoot with a slower to slow shutter speed, you blur the background more and more creating that illusion, the illusion of speed.