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Motion Blur vs. Ghosting: The Difference between These 2 Artifacts – From the HDR Photography Workshop Series

By Pye Jirsa on April 12th 2013

The following is an excerpt from our HDR Tutorial by SLR Lounge. This workshop dubbed “the gold standard of HDR education” by FStoppers contains over 13 hours of tutorials, RAW files for you to follow along, and dozens of full prep to post examples. We cover bracketed HDR, in-camera HDR, single-shot faux HDR, single-shot bracketed HDR, panoramic HDR and more! Click here for more info.

Introduction

In HDR photography, we are usually taking bracketed sequences to create the final HDR image. Since bracketing involves multiple consecutive shots, any moving objects in your scene will be moving across each bracketed image, a common artifact in HDR photography known as ghosting. Do not confuse ghosting with motion blur as motion blur and ghosting are two different artifacts created by two different pieces of the overall HDR process. In this article, we will explain the difference is between motion blur and ghosting in HDR photography.

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Ghosting

As mentioned before, ghosting is caused when moving objects across multiple images are combined into one image. Ghosting is an actual artifact created from the overall HDR processing. The most common example of ghosting is a bird flying through the scene. In a bracketed sequence, the shots taken are consecutive. Therefore, in the first shot of the bracketed sequence, the bird will be in Position A. In the next shot, the bird will be in Position B and in the last shot, the bird will be in Position C. The bird has moved right across the frame, so when we combine and stack these 3 images, we basically get duplicates of the bird. Each of these duplicates will look a little faded and transparent, making the duplicates of the bird look like little ghosts, hence the name “ghosting.” You will essentially end up with 3 birds in your final HDR image, so you will have to go back and fix each one of the images in the bracketed sequence. With ghosting, there is nothing you can really do, except to shoot a single-shot HDR whenever possible. If you can capture and compress everything to one single image, then shoot a single-shot HDR. If you must do a bracketed sequence, you will need to mask and clone out any ghosting in the HDR image in Photoshop. However, one factor that can help reduce ghosting in HDR photography is to use a DSLR with a faster frame rate, which we will discuss in a future article.

In the image below, the moving cars look a little transparent and faded, hence the name “ghosting.” There is also motion blur in this image, which we will explain next.
01-hdr-photography-ghosting-example

Motion Blur

The other type of artifact that we will get in HDR photography is motion blur. Motion blur is not necessarily a factor of the HDR process but rather the slow shutter speed on a camera. Motion blur occurs when the shutter speed is slow and there is movement within a single frame, not necessarily across the frame. For example, if your shutter speed is at 1/30th of a second and there is someone moving in your scene, that person will come out blurry in the image. So, motion blur is caused when the shutter is left open or “dragged’ when objects are moving in the scene, while ghosting is caused when we combine 3 images with moving objects into 1 single image.

As you can see in the image below, there is a blur where the cars are moving. In addition, the brake lights on the cars are being dragged out because of the slow shutter speed. When you have motion blur in your HDR image, you will always have ghosting as well. We will discuss why this is in the next section of the article.
02-hdr-photography-motion-blur

One without the Other

If the shutter speed on your camera is fast enough, it is possible to have ghosting without motion blur in your image. If the slowest shutter speed on your camera is 1/500th of a second, it will freeze most moving objects; therefore, you will not necessarily have motion blur in the image. However, regardless of how fast your camera’s frame rate is, there will still be a quick duration of time in which moving objects have time to move throughout each frame, thus causing ghosting. Therefore, you will still have ghosting, but you may not capture motion blur in your image.

It is also possible to get a combination of motion blur and ghosting in your image. Unlike ghosting where you can have one artifact (ghosting) without the other (motion blur), if you have motion blur in your image, you will have ghosting as well. For example, if there are moving objects in your scene and your shutter speed is slow, you will see a combination of motion blur and ghosting. Just remember that, depending on the overall shutter speed settings, ghosting can come without motion blur but motion blur always comes with ghosting. Now, there are many photographers who intentionally use motion blur and ghosting in their HDR images to create interesting effects, so ghosting and motion blur are not always bad.

Ghosting and motion blur are both visible in the image below. However, the motion blur also creates a cool effect with the brake lights, giving the impression that the cars are moving quickly.
03-hdr-photography-ghosting-and-motion-blur

Conclusion & Learn More!

Ghosting is caused by the combination of the 3 shots with moving objects while motion blur is caused by the moving object with a slow shutter speed. The speed of the moving object and the shutter speed will determine the amount of motion blur and ghosting that will be caused in the image. Although some photographers intentionally use the ghosting artifact to create effects in their images, ghosting may not always be intentional. The only way to fix ghosting across a bracketed sequence is to use Photoshop.

For more HDR education, be sure to check out our HDR Tutorial by SLR Lounge. This comprehensive “gold standard” guide will give you a mastery of HDR photography, from the scene considerations to the actual shooting to the post production. Click here for more info.

[Recap FAQ: What is HDR?]

About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

3 Comments

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Good info

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  2. Basit Zargar

    Great article

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  3. Joel Marvin Rosenberg

    Recently I travelled the Florida Keys taking 3-400 Images. I noticed that in many Images There was like a slight shadow around the image and was shooting at fairly high speed to capture a sharp image. There were also lines and some areas of “boxed” blures and lines. Can you explain what is happening? Most of my images were taken in the mid to high range purposely to freeze the motion.

    I have a 6-8 month Canon purchased from B&H camera in N.Y. City. It was purchased NEW!

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