How to Capture Motion with Flash!

Start Getting Creative with Your Camera

by Jim Zuckerman

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© Jim Zuckerman
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Photographing fast-moving subjects is never easy. Too many things are changing so fast that it’s impossible to slow them down in your mind enough to think about what you’re doing. Just keeping them in focus in a serious challenge even with autofocus tracking. The moment the shutter is pressed and the camera fires a millisecond later, you’re lucky if the subject is still in focus. Exposure is an issue if the lighting is changing, and if you use flash the distance from the flash to the subject is constantly changing as well. Another problem is the graphic shape of the subject - how will their body language appear the moment the shutter is pushed? - and, if you are photographing people, their expressions are critical.

I recently photographed at a ballroom dance competition, and I had to deal with all of these issues. The energy among the dancers was incredible, and they moved so fast all over the floor that it was amazing I was able to capture any of them in focus. I was using a flash but I also used a slow shutter – 1/20th of a second. My lens choice was a 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom. I needed the large aperture because it helped gather the relatively low ambient light and, at the same time, it made it easier to see when the autofocus was on target. I turned the image stabilization feature off because it wasn't relevant in this situation.

The accompanying photo was taken on a 95mm setting, and you can see the combination of the blur of movement due to the 1/20th second exposure and the frozen image of the couple. In essence, this is a double exposure – one sharp (when the flash went off) and one blurred (because of the long exposure) – where the two aspects of motion were superimposed over each other at the same instant.

In my Taking the Mystery Out of Flash Photography course here at Betterphoto.com, I discuss how to do this. It’s one of my favorite techniques, and it can be used for many subjects, from horses to wildlife to kids on a bike. You need relatively low light, and you need to shoot a lot of images because things happen very fast.


Editor's Note: This article was adapted from one of Jim Zuckerman's BetterBlogs. For more information on Jim Z and his BetterPhoto.com online courses, check out his bio. Also, get inspired by reviewing Jim's Premium BetterPholio online gallery and his Pro BetterPholio Web site.




Article by Jim Zuckerman. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.