How to Capture Better Motion in Portraits

Montana winters are long and relentless. Nearly six brutal months are spent in a studio setting, working with static imagery. When Spring finally makes an appearance, there is nothing more enticing than getting outside and playing with motion. It seems that no matter how well acquainted I become with the practice, I still need a quick refresher at the beginning of the season. It only takes a few frames before everything clicks and becomes second nature again. Here are a few of my favorite tips for capturing motion portraits.

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My Favorite Shooting Modes

I have been fortunate enough to shoot with different camera brands at The Phoblographer. In doing so, I have found that I enjoy some systems’ shooting modes better than others. My first choice continues to be single shooting with tracking. Enabling eye detection results in far fewer misses. That was the only option I cared about at a recent wedding, and it captured every frame.

I enjoy utilizing intelligent autofocus on a Leica SL2-S and Sony’s AF-A when photographing beautiful fashion pieces. The exact mode depends on the brand of the camera. It does a very decent job of choosing to focus on the subject and letting the other elements of the image melt into the background. Selecting a single focus point works well when waiting for the precise moment to press your shutter.

The capabilities of today’s mirrorless cameras never cease to amaze me. Don’t worry if you aren’t shooting mirrorless; DSLRs are still fully capable of capturing motion superbly well.

Get Your Subject Moving

Direct your model or subject to interact with their clothing in more fashion-centric images. They can throw a scarf, fluff a skirt, flare a jacket, and spin. At weddings, you can choose continuous focus with tracking when applicable. It’s excellent for anticipating sporadic movements and changes in direction. I also like it for capturing the raw, intimate moments quickly. It’s a great photojournalistic approach.

Freeze It

There are times that call for freezing motion. I was on a fashion shoot in Montauk last summer, and the wind was creating impeccable drama with the fabric and my model’s hair. I picked a fast shutter speed and switched to continuous shooting. Then, I asked her to run around the beach and spin around. Was it possible to capture a usable image in single shooting mode? Absolutely. Although, continuous mode captured the perfect smiles and subtle motions in between that add substance.

Freezing motion is always great for capturing little kids in family photos. It is also a fantastic option for capturing the emotions and moments when shooting a wedding.

Drag Your Shutter And Move

I find myself embracing the unpredictability and soft focus of motion the longer I shoot. It’s a necessary byproduct from decades of chasing unattainable perfection. I have grown bored with perfection. There is such beauty in imperfection. Plus, it adds a wonderful dynamic in fashion imagery and other types of motion portraits.

One of my favorite things to do is have my model twirl around while they are wearing an incredible dress. I like to drag the shutter, both a little and a lot, in varying autofocus modes. When I’m working on a mood with the model, I opt for intelligent autofocus and drag the shutter speed slightly.

I will choose manual focus and drag the shutter substantially when I want more emphasis on the movement. Additionally, I move the camera slightly in the opposite direction that I have my model move. It keeps the background from being a distraction. The focus remains on the subject. Sometimes it’s best to be slightly out of focus when you want a softer, more ethereal moment. When I am in the studio, I prefer to utilize second curtain sync. It proves to create better results for me.

Final Thoughts

Adding motion to portraits brings a lot of character and life to a portrait image, whether it’s fluid or a moment frozen in time. It’s a great addition to elevate wedding, fashion, and family portraiture.

Today’s cameras’ capabilities are fantastic and make capturing motion more achievable. It’s as simple as choosing your focal point, overall mood, and dialing in. It becomes easier to develop a rhythm and style with a bit of practice.

Brittany Smith

Brittany is a commercial fashion and portrait photographer working in Montana and NYC. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local artisan coffeeshop, writing for photography education sites and publications, teaching fitness classes, or baking something fabulous.