Mastering Motion in a Photograph

There’s a trick to taking good people photographs.

Because there’s no such thing as a composition “rule” in photography, it doesn’t work on EVERY photograph. But if you use this tip, I’m sure your action shots will improve.

Scroll down for details…

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

P.S. I got a couple calls about our upcoming photography workshop in Ecuador this week. You’ll find pictures from last year’s event, testimonials from previous attendees, and a bunch of articles I wrote about the trip, here:

May 2, 2009
The Right Way to Travel

By Shelly Perry in Portland, OR

Many photography basics aren’t strict rules that you have to follow all of the time.  Instead, they’re guidelines to help you compose an attractive -- and saleable -- photograph.

One of the most important guidelines is the “Rule of Thirds,” which keeps your composition fresh and interesting by making sure your subject isn’t dead center in the photo. (Read more about the Rule of Thirds)

Once you’ve mastered that, you can move on to more advanced guidelines, like making sure that the motion in your photo, whether real or implied, is moving into the shot… not out of it.

Here’s an example in which the subject of the photo (a person running) is moving into the photograph:

Mastering Motion

Notice that the runner is right on the left Thirds Line. She hasn’t yet hit the middle of the photo. And as she moves into the photo, our eyes are propelled along with her.

Here’s what it would look like if she were jogging out of the photo frame, instead:

The viewer’s eyes will tend to follow her right off the edge of the photo, essentially “wasting” the space behind her.

Here’s another example of motion moving into the frame:

As you compose a shot like this, you need to think carefully about the position of your subject. Since the couple has the rest of the frame to walk across, this shot works: Our eyes tend to move with the direction of the motion. Had the photographer waited until the couple had already passed to the left side of the photo, our gaze would follow them right out of the frame, leaving all the space behind them as wasted real estate.

In the first two examples, it’s pretty clear that the subjects are in motion. But even if there’s no obvious motion in your photo, there is usually some kind of implied motion. It’s a little trickier to make sure the implied motion of your subject is moving into the photo.

Taken from last month’s Photo Challenge, here is a really good example of implied motion moving into the shot:

As you can see, there is no real motion whatsoever, but with all those heads tossed back and looking into the air, we follow their gazes into and through the frame. It’s a nice strong composition.

Here’s another example of a shot without real movement:

But with the subject’s back to the wall and her body facing right, our eyes follow her implied motion into the frame.

Keep this in mind when you compose your silhouette and shadow shots for this month’s Photo Challenge. Here are some good examples of silhouettes or shadows moving into the photo:

Of course, there are times that you may want to break this rule. By all means, go for it -- it’s in experimenting and breaking rules that we can discover some wonderful creative expression. Just know that you are doing it on purpose, and for the right reason… and the other 95% of the time, try to use motion to bring the viewer into the shot.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]