Mobile photography and motion blur – options limited only by imagination – imagine more!


Mobile photography and motion blur – options limited only by imagination – imagine more!

In my first mobile phone photography article I looked at the idea of making the subject of an image stand out by using a shallow depth of field. This week, in my final article, I wanted to look at another really great method to make the subject of an image stand out, motion blur. I also wanted to get a little bit artistic with it, but more on that later.

The beauty of motion blur is that not only does it blur the background and make the subject stand out but it also adds that dynamic sense of speed and movement that freezing an entire scene with a fast shutter can lack. As with traditional photography equipment and software, motion blur can be achieved straight out of mobile phone camera or, if we wish to simulate it in post processing we can do.

Motion blur straight out of mobile phone camera:

In my depth of field article, I touched on the fact that mobile phone cameras have a fixed aperture impacting both the exposure triangle (other constituents being ISO and shutter speed) and control over depth of field.

However as mobile phone technology has advanced, developers have given us the ability to take manual control of those other two exposure triangle elements. As a result we have some control over shutter speed and therefore some control over whether we want to freeze a moving subject or include an element of motion blur. The following screen grabs from my preferred IOS camera replacement app ProCamera8 demonstrate:


The first screen grab is full auto exposure. For the purposes of this article, I haven’t even activated the separate focus and exposure reticules. You can see that the +/- exposure compensation option is activated at the top of the screen and is adjustable with the slider at the foot.

The second screen grab demonstrates full manual control. First the ISO at top right is selected and manually adjusted to ISO200. ISO200 being 4x as sensitive as the automatically selected ISO50 results in massive over exposure. I therefore select the shutter speed option at top left and increase the speed to correct exposure – not surprisingly 4x faster.

The final screen grab demonstrates full manual control again. This time the ISO is selected and manually adjusted to ISO50. ISO50 being 4x less sensitive than the previous setting results in massive under exposure. I therefore select the shutter speed option and decrease the speed to correct exposure – roughly 4x slower.

As an aside, I always keep the optional histogram viewable because screen brightness can sometimes make it difficult to judge highlight and shadow. Keeping an eye on histogram distribution and clipping just helps to reassure.

The point of all this? In normal light situations it is possible to raise and lower shutter speed in a wide range much lower and higher than this example and therefore elect to either freeze an image or by panning with a slow shutter speed at the time of capture generate motion blur straight out of mobile phone camera.

Some straight out of camera examples (captured with Hipstamatic):


Panning the camera to create background motion blur and allow the subject to stand out.


Stationary camera allowing the cyclists to frame the figures. Provides an interesting contrast between motion and stillness.


Stationary camera allowing the bus to move between me and the background. The bus station being quite a dark place means that even though the bus was just pulling off and moving very slowly, the slow shutter speed generated an interesting motion blur effect. Almost an ethereal feel.


Moving camera with a relatively stationary subject. Some quite artistic effects can be created using standard mobile phone camera replacement apps in low light situations. This image (which also has some post processing) was captured by moving the camera through a 180 degree arc from down to up and tapping roughly halfway through the arc. I call this image ‘no escape’.

Motion blur in post processing:

Maybe you have captured a static image with little movement. Possibly the strength of light was such that you couldn’t get the shutter speed down sufficiently to generate motion blur without causing exposure issues. Alternatively you just want to use your artistic license to add motion blur – maybe even faking camera movement rather than subject movement.

The app I mentioned in my depth of field article, AfterFocus also provides a motion blur option.


Here we see an image at capture side by side with an image quickly edited to add motion blur in AfterFocus. It gives the impression of a panned slow shutter speed capture and is I think very authentic.

Specialist slow shutter apps:

There are a number of slow shutter apps which allow us to simulate long exposure images almost without regard to exposure. In that sense they are probably best thought of as the mobile photography equivalent of a collection of neutral density filters. They can allow longer exposure times than the amount of natural light would normally allow.

They can generate the milky calm atmosphere we see in long exposure shots involving moving water for example. They can also generate some really interesting effects when capturing moving objects / figures. My friend Alan Kastner – @Wallah on Instagram is a bit of a master at this. My ‘no escape’ image earlier is quite similar to the results he achieves.

My own preferred app of this type is Slow Shutter Cam by Cogitap.

A couple of my own examples:


People watching is a long exposure (0.5 secs) capture with Slow Shutter Cam. My main subject remained stationary whilst other people move through the scene. I used a table to steady the phone during capture but a tripod or similar would be helpful in more exposed areas. If interested in the full edit for this image, it can be viewed here.


This image was captured with an obviously stationary subject but with a moving mobile phone camera using the same technique as ‘no escape’ to blur the image through a 180 degree down to up arc. I had to use a specialist long exposure app on this occasion because the amount of natural light did not allow me to set a low enough shutter speed in a ‘normal’ mobile phone camera replacement app. The full edit for this image can be viewed here.


Motion Blur can be created at capture or in post processing (ideally aim to do it at capture).

At capture standard mobile phone camera replacement apps give sufficient manual controls to capture motion blur in many light situations.

Where light is too strong or motion too slow, specialist long exposure apps can be used.

Motion blur can make a stationary subject stand out against movement (stationary camera) or,

Motion blur can make a moving subject stand out against stationary subjects (panning camera).

Creating motion blur by moving the camera when capturing static objects can create interesting distortions and artistic compositions.

Thank you:

Finally, I would like to thank the team at Manfrotto for inviting me to contribute a selection of my mobile phone photography tips and techniques and most importantly, you the reader for contributing to the debate across on the Manfrotto Facebook Page.

My other articles for Manfrotto Imagine More:





Known as Skip to friends, Paul is an exhibited, commissioned and prize winning iPhone photographer from Lincoln, England. He runs his own successful blog at skipology.com outlining the apps and processes involved in creating his images. His style ranges from low edit street shots to highly textured / painterly composites all created using only the iPhone and iPad. Socially, connect with Skip on Facebook at www.facebook.com/skipology Instagram at instagram.com/skipology or Twitter at twitter.com/skipology

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