Intro: Finding your style

One of the most enjoyable parts of music photography, other than documenting incredible shows and meeting awesome people, is developing your own personal photography style. Your style is what makes your photos stand out from everyone else’s in the photo pit. A unique style is like a calling card that will make clients seek you out. Some photographers with unique, recognizable styles include Matty Vogel, Photo Dystopia, and Elaine Tantra.

A lot of things go into developing your photography style, from your composition choices to your camera settings, editing decisions, and whether you shoot on film or digital. Like many things in life, style is often something that evolves with time as your tastes and preferences change.

This post is the first in a series of tips where we’ll explore different creative ideas you can experiment with in your own photography. I hope these ideas inspire you to try new things and take creative risks as you dial in your photographic style. For all of these tutorials, take from them what you like, leave what you don’t, and make each tip your own. Let’s dive in!

In today’s tutorial, we’ll cover how to create this motion blur look:

But first, what the heck is motion blur?

Motion blur comes from shooting with a slow shutter speed. Because your shutter is open for a longer amount of time, any movement shows up blurred as the camera captures the subject moving across the frame. The faster the movement, the faster your shutter speed needs to be to freeze the subject in your frame.

For concert photographers, motion blur can be a nightmare when you don’t want it in your shot. The dark environments we work in make it incredibly challenging to get the right balance of exposure, noise reduction, and shutter speed. But that’s also part of the fun! For this tutorial, we’ll be intentionally creating motion blur and using it to our advantage. 

Creating the motion blur double exposure in 3 steps

The blur effect in these photos comes from combining two images into a double exposure.

  1. A first photo with intentional motion blur.
  2. A second photo that freezes the action.

If you’ve ever shot with a rear-curtain sync flash the end results are similar, but creating the effect with a double exposure gives you more control over the results. 

Step 1: Enable double exposures

The first thing you’ll need to do is enable your camera to capture a double exposure. Depending on your camera, the exact menu may look different, but you’ll see some variation of this. Enable double exposures and set the number of exposures to 2.

Step 2: Take the first shot, the blurry one

Next, dial in your camera settings. For your first shot, you’ll want a slower shutter speed—I aim for something between 1/4 – 1/30 of a second with a 50mm lens. For longer lenses, you can use a higher shutter speed.

A good rule of thumb to get motion blur is to use a shutter speed slower than the length of the lens. For an 85mm lens that would be less than 1/85th of a second, less than 1/24th for a 24mm lens, and so on.

If your subject is standing relatively still, quickly whip pan your camera from one side to the other as you take the first photo to create the blur. You may need to try this a few times to get a feel for the timing and amount of movement.

Step 3: Take the second shot to freeze the action

For your second photo, adjust your settings for a faster shutter speed using the inverse of the focal length rule. For a 50mm lens, you’ll want a shutter speed faster than 1/50th of a second. 

Now for the tricky bit, as you adjust your settings and line up your second photo, try to keep the camera as still as you can. This will get the blur lines to match up with the edges of your subject.

And that’s it! Your camera will do the rest and combine the images into one photo.

This trick isn’t just for concerts. Try it out with portraits, behind the scenes photos, and anything else you can think of. It’s especially great to liven up situations with minimal or static lighting. 

I hope you find it useful. If you try it out for yourself, tag us in your photos on Instagram @PhotographerTonight.

Until next time, keep having fun and keep shooting!

✌️ – James