My friend Bill Vriesema continues to share even more ways photography—learning to see through the lens—can change the way we see the world. This time: seeing motion. (Part of an ongoing series on slowing down to see, entitled “Seeing Lessons.”)

Seeing Motion through the Lens

by Bill Vriesema

I often wondered what the world would like if we saw things in a different time frame. To some extent, our eyes and brains work a little bit like little film projectors where the “frame rate,” or number of individual pictures flashed consecutively, gives the appearance of continual motion. Computer screens and florescent lights will flash approximately 60 times per second (60 Hertz). Try standing under a florescent light and moving your hand back and forth. It is almost as if a subtle strobe light captures individual “frames” of your hand in motion. (It is also why having a florescent light near your computer screen can cause flickering and give people headaches!)

A camera can capture motion in an even more fascinating way that records motion within one frame rather than a sequence of frames. For example, here is a photo of a small stream where the camera was on a tripod and set to expose the water at 1 second.


The result is a smooth, milky pathway that shows the water in motion. We never see it this way with our eyes, but through the camera lens, “seeing” motion becomes doable. Let’s back up a minute. Here is another shot of a waterfall, the Upper Tahquamenon Falls near Paradise, Michigan.


This photo was shot at a faster shutter speed and stops the action much like our eyes might see it. We can see individual ripples of water and even foam flying through the air. But when we shoot at a slower speed, the water blurs, creating motion in a way that we as humans cannot see (below).


It strikes me that movement like in this waterfall is around us all the time, but we simply cannot see like this due to the human limitations of our eyes and brain. What beauty is around us all the time, but we do not even notice it?

What other ways can the camera see motion or movement in a way we cannot? This summer my wife and I went for a ride in a kayak. While she was doing all the paddling (unbeknownst to her), I was shooting photos (a benefit of riding in the back seat). I took a couple of slow shutter speed photos to convey movement.



The feeling of movement is conveyed by having parts of the photo blurred.

Doing a similar technique at night can also yield some interesting results that help us to see movement. Here is a photo of my son Jess yielding a plastic light saber in true Jedi style. The exposure was around 3 seconds—which blurred the light from the light saber, and the flash popped and lit up Jess nicely in sharp focus.


And here is my wife Judy making a circle with a sparkler on the fourth of July. The same camera technique was used as above.


This past year I was privileged to see a Korean fan dance. Although each dancer was magnificent, seeing them dance together in a unified flow was spell-binding. So, I tried to capture that movement.


How about other types of movement? Water is constantly moving. How about the wind? We cannot see it, but know it is there. Can you see the wind in this photo?


Maybe not, but you can see the result of the wind.

This photo reminds me of the passage in John 3:8 where it says “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Although not the original intent of the verse, this train of thought led me to imagine what it would be like to visually see the movement of the Holy Spirit amongst us—something our eyes are not really capable of.

But what if we trained ourselves to see with our hearts? What would we see? How might we begin to see others around us whom the Spirit “blows” or “flows” through? How would it change the way we view how much God works with us and cares for us? How would it change how we live together? It’s just a thought….

“Seeing” movement can open our minds to the vast beauty this world offers. Now we experience such a limited view of the wonder of creation all around us. One day our human constraints will be lifted and we will see God’s creativity in ways that are not bound by time in limited “frame rates.”

What if we could train our eyes and imaginations to “see” movement like a camera can? What beauty and wonder might we discover?

You can see more of my photos at my Flickr web site:


Bill Vriesema