How to “Drag the Shutter” for Photos with Motion (VIDEO)

If you’ve heard photographers discuss “dragging the shutter,” but you’re not sure what that means, we’ve got you covered with today’s quick explainer. And you’ll learn how to use this technique to give photos a dynamic sense of motion.

Brought to you by Adorama TV, this tutorial is the latest episode in the popular Mastering You Craft series by SLR Lounge. In barely eight minutes you see how to add excitement to photos of cars, bikes, and other fast-moving subjects.

Instructor Pye Jirsa explains how easy it is to use this technique to transform unremarkable scenes into eye-catching action photos. Jirsa says he intentionally chose a “terrible” location for this behind-the-scenes video, “because I want to show you how incorporating motion can really spice up your images—regardless of the scene where you’re working.”

As you’ll see, when the goal is to emphasize motion, it’s often necessary to frame a shot differently that you might have done otherwise. Jirsa has several helpful composition tips, and he begins by choosing a camera angle that provides a highlighted area in the background, with a darker dappled foreground.

Then he drags the camera across the frame when a passing vehicle is within the bright area, to create an image with interesting movement and contrast. You’ll appreciate the impact of this method by viewing the before-and-after examples Jirsa provides.

The real key to this technique is choosing a shutter speed that yields the best compromise between maintaining sharpness in your main subject (in this case the car), while creating motion blur in the background as you pan with the camera. Jirsa walks you through that process by shooting with various exposure settings to arrive at a perfect balance.

For complete details on these and Jirsa’s other tips, spend eight minutes viewing the video. Then grab a camera, head outdoors, and drag the shutter to your heart’s content.

You can watch other helpful videos on the Adorama YouTube channel, and see more from SLR Lounge here.