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How to create motion in your photos.

I think it’s about time for another “For Photographers” post! In this edition I want to share how to convey motion in photographs. Now there are a ton of different ways to convey motion in photographs that include blurred backgrounds, blurred subjects, panning, and even chronophotography. I’m not going to go over all the various methods available, most photographers already know how to create those types of photos by adjusting their shutter speed. Rather I want to share a method of creating motion in photos that was long regarded a secret in the automotive photography world. The rig shot.

What’s a rig shot? Open up any automotive magazine today and you’ll likely see a photo of a car zooming down the road, the background is whizzing by and the car is tack sharp. Ever wonder how those shots are made? Photographer John G. Zimmerman pioneered the method in the ‘50s of attached remote control cameras, and the automotive rig shot became widespread in the ‘90s popularized in many automotive magazines. Here’s an example of such a shot I made from awhile back, and heres another. The general idea is this, attach the camera to the vehicle via a rig, slowly roll the vehicle with the camera’s shutter open. The vehicle remains sharp, and the background appears to be zooming by.

This is a recent shot of my son riding along in his push car made using the same method. Man this kid loves his cars, he can sit and turn that steering wheel forever. As I watched him play I was reminded of the rig shot and it inspired me to create this photo. So I guess you can call this a miniature rig shot photo, anyway here’s how it was made.

You will need

  • DSLR or camera capable of manual settings (Nikon D700 used here)
  • Wide angle lens (Nikkor 14-24 used here)
  • Flash (SB-900 used here)
  • A manfrotto magic arm (or anything else you can attach the camera with, tripods may work)
  • Remote trigger for the camera (you can also use the self timer but I find this more difficult)
  • Push car
  • One crazy almost two year old kid.

Find a secure spot to attach the magic arm (or equivalent) to the car, then attach the camera and flash. Now the camera will not be held by you, it will be operating remotely so make sure its secure! The blurred background can only be made with a slow enough shutter speed, I used 1/2 sec. Depending on how much ambient light you have around you may need to close the aperture or lower the ISO to get a longer shutter speed so the camera needs to be in manual mode. Now SLOWLY push the car as you trigger the shutter, try this without the kid first until you get the hang of it. You may think you need to push the car fast to convey more speed but the truth is you don’t need much motion at all, the open shutter does all the work.

The second part to make this image work is the flash.  Since the push car is an inanimate object and the camera is attached it will remain relatively sharp although things are moving around it.  The kid however, moves… and boy does he move!  Slow shutter and moving little boy does not create sharp photos, so what do we do?  Bring in the flash!  The flash will freeze the subject even when using a longer exposure, but we need to sync the flash correctly.  I used a rear curtain sync here, you will need to look in your flash manual to figure out how to set your flash correctly.  I’m not going to go into detail about rear curtain syncing vs first curtain since that can be a whole post on its own, but if you’re interested it’s explained pretty well here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this “For Photographers” post, if you’ve tried this and created your own image or have questions share in the comments section below!