Photographing tip: Blur people from your pictures

Most bloggers will recommend you to get up really really early to snap pictures of popular landmarks with no one around. I’m a huge fan of having places to myself but in real life, it’s just not always possible. Thankfully there are others way to get cool pictures and one of them is to blur people out of them!



First thing first, you need to be able to use your camera in manual mode. If you need a little bit of help with this, you can check out my guide to manual mode and come back.



What is Motion Blur


Blurring people out is not about having them out of focus, which could be a solution sometimes.

Blurring people is about capturing their mouvements. The basic to understand is that if people are moving, and you are using a long exposure, during the time your shutter is open, these people will be going from one point to another and your camera will therefore record their mouvement. This will create the shadowy effect you are looking for.

Blur motion technique is what is commonly used to paint with light. All those beautiful night scene with light trails of cars, or stars are taken using a long exposure.

It is slightly more difficult to use in broad daylight because the longer the exposure, the more light is recorded by your camera. This means that in broad daylight, your picture might end up being totally over-exposed.


What you need to blur people 

To take pictures with a long exposure you need at minimum:

  • A camera you can use in manual mode
  • A tripod or at least somewhere you can put your camera on.

For the pictures I’m showing you here, I didn’t use a tripod, I simply put my camera on one of the columns.

You kind of also need people who are moving!! If people are just sitting there, if they are queuing, or generally speaking, moving very very slowly, the blurring effect will be minimum.



Another thing you probably should be looking for is contrast. If your background is white and the people around are wearing white, their blur will be kind of white and the result might work, or might not at all. Same thing, if your background is dark and they are all wearing dark clothes.

Contrast between the background and the crowd usually gives a more striking effect.


Light conditions are obviously extremely important. As mentioned above, the longer your exposure, the more light the camera records. On a bright summer day, you probably won’t be able to have a very long exposure, at least not without using filters. It depends of your camera and your lenses of course. Generally speaking, and without using filters, less light is best to achieve motion blur so try to shoot at sunset for example.


How to blur people 


So let’s dive in and see how to do it!

Your goal will probably be to have the longest possible exposure.

In daylight, this means you should set your camera ISO to the lowest possible (100 or 200 rather than 400 for ex) and choose the smallest aperture (f16, f22 or even f32 if your camera allows it). This means that those setting will allow for less light in the camera. But since your exposure will be long, there will be plenty of light hitting the camera sensor.

Put your camera on your tripod and check your light meter to find the appropriate exposure.

Choosing your exposure depends of the light conditions so I can’t give you a number only the example of the picture below which was taken at:  ISO 100 aperture f16 and exposure 1/2.5 which is 0.4s.


I wish I could have used an aperture of 1s or even 2s, but even on a winter day, this was not working.

By the way, this picture was taken at the Palais Royal in Paris. People come to see the colonnes de Buren. It is kind of a playground for children and adult alike. They climb on the columns, pose for pictures, walk around, all at different pace. A longer exposure would have allowed for everybody to be blurred, not just some.


Addition Tips 


Here are some additional tips on what to look for:

As mentionnes contrast usually works best. But sometimes, no contrast is good. If you manage to have a very long exposure and people are moving quite fast, they will almost completely disappear from your picture.
If people are running, your exposure won’t need to be very long. In less than a second for example, they will most likely already create a very nice blur effect.

If people are walking very slowly, your exposure will need to be longer. Maybe 2-3 seconds will be needed.


Try to position yourself so most people are not walking toward you but sideways, otherwise the shadow effect won’t be as good.

Remember having people in your picture isn’t always a bad thing. It can add a certain dimension and a focal point.

Check out this example below, I’m sure you will agree that the one with the person walking is slightly better (one step further would have probably been even better):



Next I will try to show you that you can erase people completely from your pictures using Photoshop. That’s pretty cool too!




That’s it for now. Have fun! 



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