Movement In Photography: The Ultimate Guide

Photography is a beautiful medium to work with. It manages to catch a snapshot of a moment in time, preserving it forever for anyone to enjoy and relive at any time.

However, to create truly wonderful photography, you need to learn how to make use of movement in your photographs. 

Movement In Photography: The Ultimate Guide

A photograph of a still scene or a formal shot of a graduation has its place in any well-rounded portfolio. However, movement is the element that creates energy, dynamism, and personality in photographs.

Understanding how to effectively use movement in your photographs can significantly improve your photography skills and boost your portfolio.

If you are interested in learning more about how to make the most of movement in photography, this is the ultimate guide (see also: The Ultimate Guide To Wildlife Photography On A Budget)for you. We will cover what movement is in photography, why it is useful, and ways you can incorporate it into your work. 

What Is Movement In Photography?

It might be a little bit off to combine the concepts of movement and photography. After all, photography is famously a static medium. However, just because a photograph doesn’t move, it doesn’t mean that it cannot show movement.

When we talk about movement in photography, we are referring to any area of the photograph that was moving at the time the photo was taken. This could refer to the subject of the photo or the background. 

Some simple examples of movement in photographs include a person running through the frame, or a wave crashing on the shore. Despite being still photographs, the movement is still captured and provides interesting dynamics to the photograph. 

There are several different ways that you can capture movement in a photograph. We will look at these in more detail below.

However, a few basic examples of types of movement include blurred movement, where the object that is moving is blurred, and sharp movement where the moving object is in crisp focus for the photograph. 

There is a third popular way of including movement in photography. This is known as the illusion of movement. This is when there is no actual movement in the photograph but the image has been created in such a way that it looks like motion has occurred.

Many photographers also count this as a form of movement in photography because photographs are all about the image that you create.

For photographs that create the illusion of movement, the camera is the thing that moves while the subject stays still. This can create some very effective images. 

All of these methods of creating movement in your photographs are great for spicing up your images and bringing some dynamism to your portfolio.

They say that a picture paints a thousand words, but a photo that has movement in it can tell a million words.

Why Is It Good To Include Movement In Your Photography?

Now that we know what movement in photography actually is, it is important to know why including movement in your photography is a good thing.

Let’s begin by saying, not only can you use movement in your photographs, but you should use it. No matter how you capture it, movement in your photographs creates personality, intensity, and life within your images. 

Any photograph that uses movement is instantly going to be more eye-catching than photographs that don’t have any movement in them.

In life, we are accustomed to seeing movement in almost everything, whether it is from an object moving or from our eyes moving. Because of this, photography that includes movement is often more appealing to audiences. 

Despite the fact that movement is a great tool to include in your photography, there are certain situations where you shouldn’t use movement in your images.

For example, if you are trying to create a calm or atmospheric image, motion can be counterproductive by making the image seem busy or loud.

There is an exception to this rule with long exposure shooting where movement can still create a calm or atmospheric image. 

If you are trying to create a lively, energetic image that conveys more than just the appearance of the subject, movement is the perfect way to get the results that you want. 

When To Include Movement In Photos?

Movement In Photography: The Ultimate Guide

We have briefly touched on this above, but it is important to understand in a deeper capacity when it is appropriate or useful to include movement in your photographs.

No matter what type of photography you specialize in or are interested in, you are likely to use motion in some form or another. An example of this would be nature or landscape photographers that use long exposure film to show beautiful movement over time. 

Unless you are purposefully trying to capture a calm, still, and serene image, movement will always work in your photography. If you are a nature photographer, you might capture a bird in flight, freezing its movement and shape forever.

You can also create artistic panning images that highlight the stunning colors and textures of nature. If you are an urban or street photographer, the movement in your photographs will often come to you.

Taking a snapshot of a busy city street can provide all the movement you need to capture the spirit of the city. Blurred movement can be incredibly effective with this type of photography. 

The rule also applies to portrait photographers. Encouraging your subject to move while you take photographs rather than holding a pose can yield beautiful results that truly capture the essence and personality of the subject. 

All of this is to say that movement always works in photography. Although it is a skill that may take a while to master, learning how to utilize movement in your work can be fun and open up an entirely new world for your photography.

You can also let your creativity run free while you learn what works best for you and your subjects. 

How To Compose With Movement: The Rule Of Space

Now that we have covered just how useful and important movement can be in photography, we need to learn about how to compose photographs with movement.

Positioning the camera ready to take a photo of a still landscape or directing your portrait model into a specific pose is significantly different than composing moving subjects within the frame to create stunning photography (see also “How To Use Light To Enhance Your Landscape Photos“). 

The simple solution to this problem is to utilize the rule of space. When talking about the rule of space in regard to movement in photography, we are referring to the space around the moving component.

It doesn’t matter what the component is, it could be an animal, a car, or a model. The only rule you need to follow is to leave space in front of the moving element. 

If the subject is moving toward you, you should make sure that the space is between the lens and the subject.

For example, if you are photographing a person running towards you, their feet should be positioned closer to the middle of the frame than the bottom of the frame. This gives the viewer the impression that the subject is moving into the perceived space. 

If your subject is moving across the frame, such as a bird in flight or a vehicle, the space should be positioned in front of the moving component.

For example, if you are photographing the profile of a car driving down a street or along a track, moving from the left of the frame to the right, the space should be to the right of the frame.

This means that the car will be positioned more toward the left of the frame. This gives the object space to move into and helps our brains to recognize the movement of the photograph. 

If you don’t implement the rule of space in your movement photography, you will be left with images that feel cramped and claustrophobic.

Cutting off the space in front of the moving element of a photograph means that the subject has nowhere to move to which hinders the illusion of movement in a still image. 

This simple rule is the perfect way to ensure that all your movement photographs accurately portray the movement to the viewer. 

Different Ways To Display Movement

The rule of space helps you to accurately portray the movement from the moment the photograph was taken by giving the subject space to move into.

However, it isn’t the only thing that you need to create stunning images with movement and dynamism. The way that the movement is displayed in your photographs can set the tone for the image. 

There are multiple different ways that movement can be displayed in photography. Each method provides a slightly different effect and creates a slightly different tone for the image. Below are some of the ways you can display movement in your images. 


Movement In Photography: The Ultimate Guide

Let’s begin with the simplest method of showing movement in photographs, ensuring that the moving component is completely blurred. An example of this would be taking a photograph of a river or waterfall and the surrounding banks or cliffs.

The landscape surrounding the water will be still, therefore, it will be clear and focused in the image. The moving component, the water, will be blurred to denote its rapid movement in contrast to the still earth. 

Blurred movement in an image occurs when a subject is moving but the lens is completely still. This effect is most easily created using a long exposure lens.

To get these kinds of photographs to look as good as possible, it is best to use a tripod. This will help to avoid any accidental camera movement or shakes that will affect the overall image. 

Below are instructions on how to create blurry movement with long exposure. 

The first step is to source your location and your moving subject. For blurred photographs, landscapes, and rural scenes are great options.

Once you have chosen your location, you will need to set up a tripod. This will avoid shakes and movement. Make sure that the tripod is completely stable to prevent any wobbling. 

Once you have set up your camera on your tripod, you will need to slow your shutter speed down. Anywhere below 1/50s should provide the desired effect in the shot.

When deciding on your shutter speed, you will need to consider the speed of the moving component in your shot. The faster the subject is moving, the less you need to decrease your shutter speed.

Of course, this means that the slower the subject is moving, the slower your shutter speed should be. Running water, for example, may need a shutter speed of 1/10s or less. 

Once everything has been set up, you can take your shot. When taking the shot, make sure not to knock the tripod. If you have access to a remote control for your camera, this can be a great option to avoid moving the camera.

If you do not have a remote shutter control, you can make use of the self-timer that is built into most cameras. A two-second delay should be all you need. 

It is worth noting that the two-second self-timer method may not be the most efficient way of avoiding knocks and vibrations depending on what you are shooting. If you are shooting running water such as a river, the delay will be fine.

If you are shooting moving wildlife, however, those two seconds can be the difference between an image of a bird in flight and a basic landscape image with no wildlife.

If you have the means, investing in a remote shutter release can vastly improve your photography. 


If you do not have access to a tripod for your camera, or you want to create a slightly different effect, you can use panned movement. This is similar to blurred movement.

However, it is the subject that appears somewhat sharp and focused rather than the background.

A great example of this type of movement would be shooting a vehicle driving along a rural road. The background and foreground of the image are completely blurred thanks to the movement of the camera.

However, because the camera pans with the subject (the vehicle), it remains more in focus than the background. 

This particular effect is perfect for bringing a still image to life. The amount of blur that is created in the shot fills the image with energy and dynamism. The visual effect of these images portrays movement perfectly within a still image. 

Below are instructions on how to create a panned image to convey movement. 

For this effect, you don’t need a tripod. The first thing that you will need to do is to lower your shutter speed. Somewhere around 1/20s or 1/60s works well. The specific values will be dependent on the focal length of your lens.

The speed that the subject is moving will also affect the shutter speed that works best. It is a good idea to start around 1/30s although you will likely need to play around to find what works best for your lens and subject. 

You will then need to find or create a subject that is moving past you, not toward you. Vehicles that are driving along a road are a great option for this. 

You should follow the subject with your lens as it passes you. Make sure your camera focuses on the subject. Working from a distance works best. You should try to make sure that you move the camera with a fluid motion. 

The best practice when taking photographs like this is to take multiple shorts as the subject moves. Utilizing the continuous shooting setting on your camera can really help with this. 

Using this style of photography to create movement is always a little bit hit and miss. There are going to be many shots that don’t look good. However, when you get a shot that works, it is worth it.

This is a technique that is used by many wildlife photographers to catch animals running or flying. 

It is worth noting that although you don’t need a tripod for this method, you can utilize one to make the most of your photographs.

Using a tripod that swivels can help to keep the lens stable and reduce the amount of completely blurred photographs you take. 


The term strobe-like photography can be a little confusing. When we talk about strobe-like motion, we are referring to images that appear as though the subject has been displayed multiple times a fraction of a second apart.

A better way to describe it would be to imagine the image has been smudged while it was still wet to depict movement. 

For this type of photograph, you need a moving subject and an artificial light source that can be turned on and off. Speedlights or studio strobes provide the best effect, however, flashlights can also work depending on the amount of ambient light you have.

Essentially, the light source needs to cut through the ambient light to have the desired effect. 

You will need to choose a long shutter speed for this effect. The exact values you use will depend on the speed of the subject. The faster the subject is moving, the faster the shutter speed can be. 

When you have set up your camera and lens, you can begin to take shots of your moving subject. When you trigger the shutter on your camera, you will need to flick the light source on and off.

Doing this will cause the moving subject to be rendered multiple times and create the effect of it being hit by a strobe. This effect works well with sports such as cycling or motor racing. 

Intentional Camera Movement

This method of adding movement to your photography is a little unorthodox when compared to the other methods in this article. However, it can be very effective in producing unique images. 

For this method, instead of your subject moving, the camera moves. This leaves you with a blurry shot that implies movement in the scene where there is none. 

For this, you will need to set your shutter speed to 1/30s or longer. Then, when you trigger the shutter, move the camera in any single direction.

You can take multiple shots of your subject, experimenting with the different directions you move your camera to create the best effect. 

This method can work with or without a tripod. However, using one will give you cleaner blurs and lines.

Final Thoughts

There are so many different ways that you can incorporate movement into your photography. It can be a great way to bring your photos to life and inject some excitement and emotion into your images.

Laura McNeill
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