Showing Motion through Long Exposure Photography at the Highline, New York City

How do you show subject motion in still photography? It's easy, just slow down the shutter speed. The problem is that if you're hand holding your camera, everything else gets blurry as well.

When Larry, CEO of Platypod and inventor of our tripods, took a Sunday stroll to the Highline in Chelsea, New York City, he thought it would be a great opportunity to test out his new invention, Ultra (preorder via Kickstarter). Due to the high flow of pedestrian traffic on the busy New York City walking path, spreading out tripod legs would be inappropriate and possibly hazardous, not mention how cumbersome it would be to haul on the mile long trail. Larry designed Ultra specifically for these types of situations, for places where traditional tripods just won't work.

The first photo of people walking along the path illustrates a few photographic and compositional principles. What makes an image interesting is often the way the elements lead the eye through the image. First-stop along the way is usually something bright or colorful, especially the color red, as in the man's sweater and the woman's top. Next, the eye moves through the "S" shaped curve of the path and along leading lines, seen in the railings at the two edges of the picture. It helps to have a story in the image as well and if you spend a few more seconds you notice the next element that grabs the eye, the two children posing for a photo as by passers look on with a grin that says "oh how cute" is the sharpest part of the picture.

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What makes this photo work are the people moving at different paces as well as having sharp elements in the surroundings and background. To achieve the slow exposure of 1/4 second in bright sunlight Larry employed four simple techniques:

  1. Stop down to the smallest aperture available which on this 24 to 70 mm zoom lens was f/22.
  2. Utilize the lowest ISO possible, in this case 50.
  3. Use a polarizer or neutral density filter.
  4. Stabilize the camera with a Platypod Ultra placed on the corner of a handrail overlooking the crowd, strapped to the rail and through the fence below tightly and some counter-pressure from a spike foot.
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Once the set up is done, just wait for the magic to happen with brightly colored clothes and two cute kids posing for the snapshot.

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The next shot occurred further down the promenade in a covered area with artists selling their sketches.

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Larry uses his standard tripods often, but there are some situations where they just aren't the right tool for the job.