How to Make Your Still Images "Move"

These techniques will bring action and excitement to your still photos

03-16-2010 // Daniel J. Cox
Pheasant by Daniel J. Cox

One of the challenges of still photography—nature photography in particular—is trying to create a feeling of life and movement in a medium that inherently presents a moment frozen in time. Combining movement with that moment can be an extremely effective way to stop a viewer in his tracks and invite him to study the image more closely.

Controlled blur

The most common method to bring movement to a photograph is to introduce what you might call “controlled blur,” known officially as panning. This keeps the subject in focus while the background blurs, creating a feeling of speed. To create this effect: 

  • Take it slow. Panning requires a slower shutter speed than you would typically use for a moving subject. This image of the running pheasant was captured with a 500mm lens and was shot at 125th of a second. That sounds fairly fast. But when combined with the magnification of a 500mm lens, it’s actually fairly slow.

  • Focus sharply on the subject. The key to a good panning image is to remain sharply focused on the subject, moving or panning the lens with that subject as it travels horizontally.

  • Keep the camera steady. Mounting your camera on a tripod is also helpful but with lens stabilization technology it’s now easier to accomplish the same goal while holding your equipment in your hands.

  • Don’t be stingy. With this method, you have to shoot lots of images to score any keepers.


Polar bear by Daniel J. Cox

Still subject, moving surroundings

Another technique for adding motion works with driving snow and rain, as in the case of this resting polar bear. Once again I opt for a slower shutter speed (this bear was shot at 1/15th of a second). This time the subject is stationary while the heavy snow is falling and streaking across the digital capture sensor.

As the snow drives towards the ground it leaves a blurred trail and gives the feeling of movement. The bear remains sharp, giving the eye something to comfortably focus on.

Read more about Daniel J. Cox.  Dan and his wife, Tanya, regularly lead photographic adventure tours around the world. Find out more by visiting their web site,


Find more helpful hints in our nature and wildlife photography tips center!
Related PhotoZone Resources
    Flickr Icon           Facebook Icon           Twitter Icon           YouTube Icon   
Certify your yard today!