Motion Blur, and Awe Inspiring “Candy Floss Water”

Using Motion Blur for Stunning Effects

Motion blur can be good, it can be bad, but it should be stunning. We want to make sure all your shots fall into the latter category, so we wrote this article for you!

Motion blur can produce many stunning effects, but of those the ones that really spring to mind are traffic light streams and that candy floss water effect. All of these effects use the same techniques, but for the sake of simplicity we're going to concentrate on only one of these today - candy floss water.

If you scroll down there's a video to accompany this article, but you'll learn far more if you both read and watch (plus we tend to put more little golden nuggets in our text articles). Scientific studies have been done on this - really! It's called multi modal learning.

If you have any questions, don't forget to ask in the comments section below!

Motion Blur Basics

If you're more experienced and / or too cool for camera school, you might want to fast forward to the camera settings section, or the good stuff where we show you what difference different settings make to the candy floss effect om water.

What is Motion Blur?

Motion blur is the effect we see in these images below. It is caused by movement in front of the camera while the shutter is open. If something remains still in front of the camera it will remain sharp. If something has time to travel from one part of the composition to another while the shutter remains open it will be recorded as blur - creating what we call "motion blur".

Motion Blur on Train

Blurred Train: 

The motion of the train has created blur, while the man stayed still and remains sharp. 

The camera's sensor captured every position the train was in while the shutter remained open - recording it as blur.

Motion Blur on Carrousel

Blurred Carrousel: 

The motion of the carousel turning has caused blur, and circular light streams.

The detail of the horses is lost to the movement, while everything which remained still while the shutter was open is sharp.

Motion Blur and Headlight Streams

Blurred Headlight Streams:

The moving headlights have created streams.

The Colosseum which obviously is immoveable remains sharp, while the details of vehicles and headlights are lost in motion blur. 

Motion Blur Effect on Dance

Human movement: 

The dancer has moved through the frame while the shutter was open.

Where the dancer was in one place for longer his body is more detailed, and blur is created where he was moving fast through the frame.

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How do I capture motion blur?

Candy Floss Water

Your cameras shutter needs to remain open while something has the chance to move from one side of the frame to the other. You can control the amount of time your shutter remains open using your shutter speed setting. 

You can set your shutter speed using your camera's shutter speed priority mode (or Time Value / Tv if you use Canon). If you're feeling more adventurous, you can go fully manual and set all your camera's settings yourself.

The longer your cameras shutter remains open while recording the exposure the more blur you have the potential to capture. This is particularly so when photographing running water which is in constant movement. The longer the shutter speed the more the potential for motion blur. We'll look at different shutter speeds later.

The hazards of capturing motion blur

The thing about capturing motion blur is that you tend to need long shutter speeds. And Houston, that leaves you with a problem. We're humans, and keeping a camera still while only holding it with our hands isn't something we're built for.

Unless you're a statue "camera shake" is likely to creep in. Camera shake is where the camera itself moves while the shutter is open, creating unwanted blur of the whole image.

Motion Blur in Photography - blacksmith

Motion Blur

A still camera with movement in the blacksmith's arm has created a great effect with motion blur. The rest of the image remains sharp.

Camera Shake

Camera Shake

None of this image is sharp. This is a giveaway that there has been camera shake while the image was taken. 


While there is motion blur in this blacksmith's arm, the additional camera shake ruins the whole shot.

What equipment will I need?

For more information check out this section of our kit pages. This tells you all about the kit photographers use to keep their camera steady times just like these.

A tripod or other stabalisation device

In order to keep the camera steady and avoid camera shake during the long exposures you're going to need, you will need a tripod or some other method of keeping the camera still:

  • A full tripod is the most sturdy option for this job - it is the job it was created for after all!
  • Depending on your skills in keeping still, and just how long your shutter sped is going to be, you may get away with resting your camera on a wall for example.
  • You may want to invest in a photographic beanbag, which is lighter to carry than a tripod.
  • You can obtain mini tripods, like a gorilla pod which has the advantage of being able to wrap around things like railings to secure them.

A cable release

This is not absolutely essential, but it helps. It connects to your camera, so that you don't have to press the camera's own shutter release button. The act of pressing the camera's shutter release can cause camera shake.

A neutral density filter / ND Filter

ND Filters

You may, or may not need one of these depending on your lighting conditions. Among several things, you're in danger of over exposing with long exposures, especially if it's bright light.

Simply put an ND filter limits the amount of light going into your lens, so that you can leave your shutter open for longer without wrecking your exposure. It's a filter that screws onto the end of your lens, and acts a bit like a pair of sunglasses. 

You can buy "variable ND filters". With these you can alter their strength by twisting them - where one end of the scale will block a little light and the other end of the scale will block a lot of light. These have the advantage of only being one filter, but they can sometimes leave a diagonal line across your image due to the way their optics work.

You can also buy fixed ND filters of variable strength - it is best to buy these in sets, because you never know how strong you will need your filter to be.

Getting yourself set up

You have the right kit with you - check...

You're in front of a waterfall - check...

Now what?

If you want to get the candy floss water effect, a tripod is best, so get your camera mounted, and find what's the best view. I strongly advise lining up your composition before you think about mounting an ND filter on your lens, because the filter may be too dark for your eyes to see through!

Camera Settings

As shutter speed is your most important setting you can either use shutter speed priority mode, or manual. If you're unsure about setting those modes the videos below should help you.

Steps

  1. Since you're after a long exposure I'd suggest setting your ISO to 100 or lower to give you more room to play with (longer shutter speeds). It also has the advantage of limiting noise.
  2. I like to use manual mode for this exercise because an ND filter doesn't always play well with your camera's metering. I'll set my aperture to somewhere between f/11 (most lenses are sharpest at around f/11) and f/22 - giving more depth of field for the composition.
  3. Compose your shot.
  4. You then add your ND filter onto your lens if you have one, choose a shutter speed, shoot, rinse and repeat. If you want to shoot over 30 seconds you're likely to need to get familiar with your camera's "bulb" setting. 
  5. If you shoot the way I do in manual, you're guessing at your exposure, with a little bit of help from your camera's metering letting you know where it thinks the exposure is going to be right. If you're over exposed you'll want to darken your ND filter until the exposure is right, and vice versa if you're under exposed. 

If you don't have an ND filter you'll need to play around with your aperture and ISO to correct your exposure - here's where your camera's shutter speed priority might come in handy. You may be limited in the length of your exposures if you don't have an ND filter.

If you shoot in RAW you can bring back a multitude of sins in editing.

The Good Stuff...

Here's a gallery of the different effects you can get at different shutter speeds. A longer shutter speed will give a really pronounced "candy floss effect" on the water, whereas a slightly slower shutter speed will show more detail in the water. Which is best is very subjective - totally down to taste. That said, I personally like the really extreme candy floss effect.

Me photographing a waterfall

Ingleton Waterfalls: Taking the shots 1/100 second exposure

Click on the image to see it full size

This is me taking the Ingleton shots. You can see there is no candy floss effect on the water. Yes my tripod is indeed propped up with my purse to gain some extra height!

Candyfloss water at 2 seconds

Ingleton Waterfalls: 2 second exposure

Click on the image to see it full size

You can see the "candy floss" effect starting to develop nicely, but you can still see detail in the water, especially around the splash pool.

Candyfloss water at 5 seconds

Beck Hole Waterfalls: 5 second exposure

Click on the image to see it full size

The "candy floss effect" is becoming more pronounced, but could be a little smoother in places.

Candyfloss water at 8 seconds

Ingleton Waterfalls: 8 second exposure

Click on the image to see it full size

We're starting to get some really nice "candy floss" here. The splash pool is a lot smoother than at 2 seconds. You can still see s little directional detail in the splash pool.

Candyfloss water at 13 seconds

Beck Hole Waterfalls: 13 second exposure

Click on the image to see it full size

We've got a really nice "candy floss" effect here. You can still see some directional details of the water flow.

Candyfloss water at 30 seconds

Beck Hole Waterfalls:  30 second exposure

Click on the image to see it full size

Here's a fairly extreme "candy floss effect". It's just altogether "smoother". It's a matter of taste, but I tend to prefer exposures at this end of the scale.

Candyfloss water at 30 seconds

Ingleton Waterfalls: 30 second exposure

Click on the image to see it full size

If you compare the splash pool to the exposure at 8 seconds you can see the difference in smooth detail.

Here's the video we teased...

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Would you like to learn more about how to use shutter speed and other really cool effects?

If you're still learning and looking to master your camera's settings you might like our online beginner photography course: Photography FUNdamentals, there is something for everyone and you will be able to learn so much about photography. 

We have a whole module dedicated to camera craft which includes a chunk on shutter speed and the cool effects it can give you. It deals with freezing action aswell as motion blur. It’s an online photography course with a difference. We try and make photography for beginners fun and easy to understand. You’ll find easy to follow graphics, cheat sheets, exercises an online learning community and so much more.

If you would like more information and help with photography for beginners, please click here to buy the course now.

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