Urban photography: how to blur people in busy city scenes

Urban photography: how to blur people in busy city scenes

A great way to add drama to your urban photography is to add motion blur to pictures of busy city scenes. In this tutorial we’ll show you how to set up your camera and use an ND filter to allow you to use a slow enough shutter speed to do so.

Urban photography: how to blur people in busy city scenes

Want to learn how to speed up time? Just slow down your DSLR. Adding a blur of pedestrians is a quick and easy way to spice up any urban photography, as it creates a feeling of bustle in an otherwise static shot of the streets.

If you’re shooting during the day, you’ll need to use an ND filter to allow you to set a slow shutter speed. You’ll also need a tripod to enable you to keep your camera still for seconds at a time.

Scout out a location for your urban photography that has a steady footfall of passing people. We shot early in the morning outside a train station to capture the rush of commuters.

Another classic place to try is a busy city bridge. If you’re standing in the middle of it, passing people will have no choice but to walk towards and then around you.

You’ll end up with rushing streams of people that look really dynamic. Busy pavements will work too.

Wherever you choose for your urban photography project, stand somewhere safe and away from traffic, as you’ll have to stay put for a while, and don’t pick somewhere so busy that people will trip over you or your tripod.

How to add motion blur to your urban photography

How to add motion blur to your urban photography: step 1

01 Slow it down
First, select RAW+Fine in the Image Quality menu for easy cropping later. Switch to Manual mode and select a slow shutter speed. We found that anything from one to two seconds gave us a good blur. Pick an aperture of something like f/8 and an ISO of 200.


How to add motion blur to your urban photography: step 2

02 Get shooting
Take some test shots of passing pedestrians and check the photos to see if they’re looking right: the people should be blurred but distinguishable, and the background should be sharp. Try to find an angle that lets you fill your scene with a steady flow of bodies.


How to add motion blur to your urban photography: step 3

03 Vary your angle
When you’ve got the essentials of this technique right, see where else you can shoot from. Try a perpendicular shot for a passing blurry wall of commuters, or get low and capture the feet of people walking by. Shooting a pedestrian crossing worked well for us.


How to add motion blur to your urban photography: step 4

04 Freeze your friends
Create a dynamic urban portrait by asking a friend to stand completely still while the crowd blurs around them. You’ll probably need a shorter shutter speed for this. We switched to 1/6th of a second, which let our model Dan stay frozen while people streamed past him.

SEE MORE: Using filters – the only cheat sheet you’ll ever need to get beautifully balanced exposures

The long exposure toolkit

The long exposure toolkit: tripod

Three legs good
A decent tripod like our trusty Uni-Loc 1600 is essential to keep your camera still during long exposures. If you’re shooting in crowds, a heavier one will keep your camera safer if it does get bumped into.


The long exposure toolkit: filter

Filter it out
If you’re shooting in the daytime you’ll need to use an ND filter like this variable one from SRB Photographic to compensate for the bright conditions. You won’t need one if you’re shooting indoors or in late evening light.


The long exposure toolkit: remote release

Go remote
We’ve always got our Nikon MC-DC2 remote cable release in our camera bag. It’s not essential, but it’s a big help for long exposures, as you won’t accidentally jog the camera when you press the shutter button.


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