Action Blur in Landscape Photography

If you were down in the woods today you might have seen a couple of photographers practicing some landscape photography technique… I’ve been with another student on a one-to-one Photography Course and the light here in Bonny Galloway has been glorious.

I confess I am not fond of forests and deep woodlands – they give me the creeps and a feeling of claustrophobia. I much prefer to be out in the open, along the coast, in the hills or at sea where I can see for ever. But it can’t be denied that woodlands can make wonderful landscape photography subjects.

My student for the day was keen to explore some techniques in abstract photography.

My views on photographing abstracts are very clear – especially when it comes to creating blurred effects by moving the camera when the shutter is open.

First Rule of Abstract Photography
First learn the rules of light and composition, add a sound understanding of basic camera craft  – then create your abstracts. It may surprise you that one of the greatest abstract artists of all time – Picasso, was a trained and highly skilled draughtsman well before he was an abstract painter. In other words, he knew the rules first, then went out and broke them.

Without that knowledge your abstract photographs will always be hit and miss – mostly miss. I certainly do not subscribe to the idea of waving cameras about with the shutter open in order to create blurry abstract effects – unless!

action blur in landscape photography

By moving the camera downwards vertically as the shutter was fired, very pleasing abstract effects can be created. It is a technique to be treated with caution, or you will create a dog's breakfast. Photograph by Philip Dunn

Unless… the blur is created by the photographer who moves the camera in a calculated and controlled manner, and with the certain knowledge of the outcome. That certainty comes with experience, knowledge and camera craft. then the camera can be treated like a paintbrush.

Camera setting for the picture above:

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter speed:  1/10sec
  • Aperture: f/22

This morning we were photographing the patterns of the tree trunks lit by wonderful sidelight, but I suggested that we try slowing down the shutter speed and moving the camera in a vertical direction (same direction as the tree trunks) in order to create a pleasing blurred abstract effect. It is of little use moving the camera in a horizontal direction with this type of subject. It just doesn’t work and the blurred effect in not pleasant.

I know these effects can be achieved in Photoshop, but where is the satisfaction and skill in that? Get it right in the camera.

If you have any question about creating motion blur, Contact Philip Dunn and he will try to answer them by email or in another PhotoActive blog post.

You can learn many landscape photography techniques on a Photography Course or Photography Holiday with Philip Dunn – Gift Vouchers are available.


  1. Ah yes – Picasso!! I confess that for many yearsI could not understand this modern abstract art stuff at all. I was convinced that it was all a huge ‘con’. Then a friend who had studied art, and was herself an accomplished artist, showed me some sketchbooks of wild horses that Picasso had produced in South America. They were breathtaking – produced in seconds, but anatomically perfect. So whatever else, the guy could draw.

    She also told me of something that Picasso had said regarding his first encounter with a camera; ‘I might as well kill myself – there is nothing more I can learn – I have just discovered photography’

    Instead of which, Picasso stopped trying to reproduce everything in fine realistic detail, and began to explore the different perspectives that form the basis of modern art.

    And I have to say – whilst he is not remembered as such – Picasso went on to be a very proficient photographer in his own right

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