Use These Weird Lighting Tricks to Add Motion Blur to Your Photos

Use These Weird Lighting Tricks to Add Motion Blur to Your Photos

Holy butts. Sometimes the fact that I'm an artist and I'm allowed to get weird slips my mind. I don't have a boss, I'm allowed to create what I want, I'm allowed to try new things for the sake of playing, and I'm even allowed to start a blog post by saying "Holy butts." That rocks. 

Weird light things are among my favorite things to capture because they are always completely unique. I've been playing a bit lately and experimenting out of my normal comfort zone (natural light, back lighting, etc) and I wanted to share a few things to encourage you all to step out too! Is this going to be crazy in depth and technical? Nope. This post is more about skimming the surface of a few things to give you ideas of how you can push your own work. Below I'll be talking about dragged shutter, long exposure, and multiple exposures (which are just a few of the many tips from my free mini Lighting Class). Dig in!



This is where things get funky. Technically, a lot of the little tricks that I use create imperfections (lens flare, blurs, etc) but those imperfections create the human element that I love. For those of you who don’t know what a “dragged shutter” is, it’s when your flash goes off, and then you leave the shutter open for a bit to create a bit of weird light blurs. Essentially, it is a long exposure with the flash going off at the beginning or end. When the flash goes off, it freezes the motion of the subject, after that, the shutter stays open for a second or so which captures plenty of stray light and leaves you with painted color washes over your images. It works great for dance floor shots and anything that you want to get weird with!

My typical settings for a dragged shutter look are: f/9, 1 sec shutter, 320 ISO. Once I fire the shot and the flash freezes the subject, I move around the lens so the extra blurred lights move around the frame and/or cover part of the lens with open fingers so the light is only painted on certain areas. With these frames, I left the shutter open for about 3 seconds and used a flashlight (softened with a piece of paper over the top) to paint on my hand which was close to the camera. When I painted the light onto my hand, it left a soft orange glow and tons of weirdness.


Long exposures and dragged shutters are the same with one small change. In the long exposures, the camera is static (on a tripod). In these shots I leave the camera on a tripod, the shutter open for a second, and the strobe going off at the beginning of the exposure. When the strobe goes off, that flash will freeze your subject. If you have a bit of dim ambient light in the room, that will leave those unpredictable glows and light trails since the shutter is still open for a second! When the ambient light hits your subject, it lights them ever so faintly compared to the power of the strobe which is what brings out that glow or light trail.  To enhance those trails, have your model move from side to side as the shutter is open! The power that you set your strobe or flash on (yes, you can do this with just a flash) will depend on how much ambient light is in the room and how strong you want the strobe/ambient balance to be.



This trick is one of my recent experiments that I tried out and I LOVED the results of. There are a few different ways to do multiple exposures and this one is technically only one exposure although it gives you the multiple exposure look. If you haven't already, make sure that you read the "Long Exposure" tip before you go any further into this one. If you don't, I can assure you that this won't help at all.... Okay, you finished? Great! Now just like in that tip, you still have your shutter open for one second, your camera on a tripod, etc but instead of a single flash to freeze your subject in the frame you have two. Personally, I like to do this manually with a flash trigger. I take the shot, and while the shutter is open, I'll push the trigger twice so the flash freezes them twice. With some ambient light in the room, the glow will come out in between too. I know this all seems so technical and weird but I promise that experimenting with it is the quickest way to understand it! Easy peasy.


Plenty more tips here in my free mini Lighting Class! Education starts when we share ideas. We are all in this together.



Ben Sasso's picture

Aside from taking pictures, I love to be in nature (camping, climbing, running around) and I have an unmanly love for cats. I am a firm believer in fostering a close knit photo community and encouraging individual progression. We are all in this together.

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Another awesome article! Thanks for sharing your knowledge sir! :)

Thanks so much! Glad that you enjoyed it!

Good article and I don't say this often.

That's always great to hear. There are ton's of rad articles on here!

Thank you for sharing
I did it today

This looks great, thanks for sending over an image!

This is the good stuff Ben! Thanks for sharing!

You're welcome, thanks for the kind words!

Here is my attempt from years ago.

Here is another attempt

great !! thanks a lot for sharing this tip with us ^^

Of course!

Had this happen on a kid shoot by accident. The 120mm macro lens focal plane shutter stuck every now and then on my 645df. I took the pic and it stuck and this came out. Gave me the idea to do a TON of these as a future project. Super fun and such a surreal look. Great article and pics Ben!

Happy accidents are the best. I've found some of my favorite tricks on accident!

Just like Good ole Bob Ross used to say! =)

Played with the concept recently. Another (nsfw) in my profile here on FS.

Just saw this, sorry! It's rad! I love how subtle it is.

Amazing article. Many Thanks!!!

I know I am late to the party on this post, but for the first set of photos how do you paint the flashlight on your hand when you are holding the camera?