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360 camera basics: adding excitement with motion blur

360 camera basics: how to add motion blur
360 camera basics: how to add motion blur

Add excitement to your photos with motion blur. Here’s how.

Most 360 cameras do a pretty good job with auto exposure.  Nonetheless, there are times when you can use manual exposure for creative effects.

Recently, I decided to sell my Onewheel on Craigslist, and I wanted to have my listing stand out.  One way to do that is to use an eye-catching photo that would capture the excitement of riding a Onewheel.

Here’s a comparison between a photo shot with manual exposure (left), and another shot with auto exposure (right).

Left: manual exposure. Right: auto exposure
Left: manual exposure. Right: auto exposure

Both were shot with the same camera — the Ricoh Theta Z1 (reviewed here) — in DNG mode, converted in Lightroom with the same settings.  They were taken about 10 minutes apart and have different poses, but the biggest difference is the exposure.

The one on the right was shot with auto exposure and it is perfectly fine but it almost looks like I’m stationary, even though I was actually moving as fast as I could (you can see some blur along the ground).  But I wanted to capture the excitement of riding a Onewheel, so I added motion blur by using a slower shutter speed.  In particular, the one on the right was shot with auto exposure at ISO 200, f/3.5, 1/100.  The one on the left was shot with manual exposure at ISO 80, f/5.6, 1/8.

Using a slow shutter speed while I am moving blurs the trees as I move past them.  But why am I not as blurred?  That’s because I was holding the camera, and relative to the camera, I wasn’t moving nearly as much as the background.

Here’s the 360 photo:

How to add motion blur

  1. Choose a 360 camera with manual exposure mode.
  2. Shoot at a time and place when it is not too bright, such as sunset.  This will enable you to shoot with a slower shutter speed for more blur.
  3. Optional: if your 360 camera has an ND filter available (such as the Insta360 One R), that will enable you to use slower shutter speed in brighter conditions.  The stronger the ND filter, the slower the shutter speed you can use.
  4. Set the ISO to the lowest available on your camera.
  5. If your camera has an aperture setting (such as the Theta Z1), using a narrower aperture will enable you to shoot at slow shutter speeds.
  6. Adjust the shutter speed to a slower shutter speed.  The slower the shutter speed is, the more noticeable the movement will be.  How slow the shutter speed should be depends on what you’re shooting.  In this case, because the selfie stick is handheld, the slowest I would go is around 1/8 or if you have steady hands, try 1/4.  If your camera is on a tripod and you’re shooting flowing water or traffic lights, you can set it much slower than that.
    The most significant limit to the shutter speed is the exposure brightness.  The slower the shutter speed, the brighter the exposure will be.  You must make sure there is nothing important in the photo that is so bright that it looks pure white (“blown highlights”).  Blown highlights are not recoverable.  For example, if you want at least some color in the sky, make sure the sky isn’t blown out.   On the other hand, it’s ok for very bright lights to appear totally white, such as the LED headlights on my Onewheel.
    If the shutter speed is already as slow as you want but the image is still too dark, then first open up the aperture (if you closed it down).  If the aperture is already wide open, then start increasing the ISO, or choose a brighter time or place.

If you want to learn more about exposure, check out this free tutorial, which is part of HQ Lite, a tutorial for fast and powerful editing.