Experimenting with different creative techniques feeds into developing your own personal style of photography and filmmaking, plus it’s just a fun thing to do.
Women Who Ride

The Event

I was hired to shoot an all women’s dirt bike/motocross event one weekend in La Pine, Oregon. Hundreds of women participated in The Dream Roll and Dirtastic. Pictured left: Redbull's pro motocross athlete Tarah Gieger.

The Job

My client and I had briefly chatted about her section of the event, Dirtastic, a few months prior. Most of the women at her event would be riding dirt bikes, testing skills and learning new ones. Many of the women, my client informed me, would want to purchase prints of themselves riding and participating in the event. All-in-all, it seemed like a good creative challenge for me.


First up was some research on the sport of motocross and on the brands my client was building sponsorship relationships with, because many of them would be there or donating gear. Fasthouse was one of the brands that contributed.

Next up, deciding how to go about shooting it all. I had no idea what the OHV area would be like since I had never been to one. Most of the women would be riding at the same time, but in different areas. The whole shoot would be a brand new experience for me and I was excited to see what I could pull off. More research...

The Gear

1. Sony a7rIII DSLR 2. Olympus TG-4 3. GoPro Hero 5 4. Google Pixel XL

I like shooting with smaller technology and multiple cameras. I decided I would bring four cameras. Three of them could fit in my pockets, one of them was wearable, plus I would have a small backpack on for everything else. From my research, I knew I wanted to get some hand held images with motion blur and for that, one camera would be a DSLR.

Using References

I first learned about motion blur from some old used books by Kodak called More Joy of Photography and The Book of Special Effects Photography by Michael Langford. I was using an Olympus OM 1 35mm film camera, a hand me down from my sister. Motion blur is an effect of a slow shutter speed.

Using an old 35mm camera can be a great photography learning tool, even if you are immersed in the digital world.

The motion blur images for this journal were taken with the Sony a7rIII, a mirrorless DSLR. I also used a Sony 24-70mm f2.8 lens. You can choose almost any lens to experiment with. I had to shoot video and other types of photos, so this lens was the best choice for my situation.

Old film photography books can be a great inspiration for creativity

The Camera Settings

1. Set the Mode dial on your DSLR to Shutter Priority (Tv or S) or use Manual (M). If you use Manual Mode, you will select both the Aperture and Shutter Speed yourself. The ISO can be set at Auto or you can do it manually as well. For outdoor photography, I tend to keep the ISO low at 100.

For this example, I am using a Canon 7D. The dial on the left has the mode settings. If you want to shoot with manual (M), you will be setting both the shutter speed and f/stop or aperture.

Here the shutter is set at 1/30 and the aperture at f/2.8 In Manual mode select an aperture that properly exposes your image. You may need to use an Neutral Density filter.

Consider your ISO and shutter speed when choosing and use the built in meter. There is more to understand using manual mode and exposure, but that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

The camera mode is set to Tv which is Shutter Priority, some cameras use S as the same thing. With this setting you will choose the shutter speed and the camera will pick the appropriate aperture. This is a good way to start if you are not familiar with exposure settings.

2. Next, select a slow shutter speed: 1/30 – 1/125 is a good range to experiment with. It will also depend on how fast your subject is going and if you are shooting handheld. I used some very slow shutter speeds, handheld, and got a few really interesting blur results.

Handheld with Shutter set at 1/30.
Most of these images were shot at 1/30 shutter speed, but sometimes I would go slower just to see what kind of blur it would produce
Handheld shutter at 1/8- nothing is sharp focus here, but I liked the result

The Technique

Panning is a motion blur technique used when following your subject with your camera during exposure. Depending on what you are shooting and the results you are looking for, you may choose to use a tripod or go handheld, which is what I did. If you use a tripod you can use a ball head or pan head to follow your subject smoothly. Each tripod head has its advantages and disadvantages. Ease of use and price are two factors. Using a tripod keeps the camera on the same plane for the duration of your shot. I used the handheld method and sometimes moved the camera as well for a different blur look.

Left: Ball Head Right: Pan Head

Typically, you will pre-focus aka zone focus where the subject will be when you expose the shot. Stand in the direction your subject is coming from and as soon as you see the subject in your viewfinder press the shutter button and begin following your subject. Twist your upper body along with the subject's movement. When your subject hits your pre-focused spot release the shutter while following through with your subject. It should be one smooth and steady movement with your body or tripod, if you are using one.

Panning with the camera to follow subject

I chose this technique because it shows motion and speed within a single still image. The outcome is a relatively sharp subject against a blurred background. The closer I came to the subject the more the sense of speed and motion would be achieved. It is not a difficult technique to do, but requires practice and experimenting to get the effect you want.

What I Learned

By taking time in choosing where I placed myself, I could work on composing my shots in a way that would enhance the use of motion blur and immerse the viewer into the action.

There can be self imposed pressure to get all the action as soon as it starts. I realized it was best to wait and watch where the women were riding and what they were practicing before I chose where to place myself. There were many areas being used at the same time and the riders were not doing the same things - I couldn't move through the sand pits and shoot pictures of them all at once. Visualizing the kinds of shots you want to capture is very helpful.

Also, I found at first, I used the same shutter speed for many shots because everything was happening so fast. Taking my time and experimenting with combination of settings gave me a wide variety of motion blur shots.

Other Types of Motion Blur

Intentional motion blur can add a beautiful, unique sense of movement and emotion to your visual story. Experimenting is the best way to find what out you like. Here are two more techniques to try, which create motion blur a little differently:

Zoom Burst

Use a DSLR and telephoto lens, tripod is optional. again you will use the Shutter Priority mode at 1 - 5 secs. First zoom into your subject and lock focus (optional). When you hit the shutter button zoom out with your lens. You can also do the reverse and zoom in. The effect is abstract and the type of motion it evokes will depend on your subject. The traffic zoom image was shot on the Olympus OM 1 with 35mm film.


Use a DSLR and Shutter Priority mode and choose any style lens. Set the focus on your subject and then take a 360 or 180 spin with your body while pressing the shutter button. It takes a few tries to get a keeper, but depending on your subject, it can be a wonderful effect. The trees in sunlight image was taken with a Canon 7D and Canon 16-35mm (at 25mm) and 60 sec exposure.


All photos by Faelan Lee Maley/Backpack Films ©2021. Images and text may not be copied in any form, reproduced or distributed without written permission from Backpack Films. Dirtastic logo is copyrighted and may not be used anywhere, copied or downloaded.

Created By
Faelan Maley


Faelan Lee Maley | Backpack Films 2021.