Bodies in Motion – Mission Beach San Diego

Mission Beach San Diego California Board Walk RollerbladeCanon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm f/4 IS USM at 47mm, f/11 for 1/50s at ISO 100, circular polarizer


If you intend to visit San Diego during the summer, there is no place that says “San Diego” better than the Mission Beach area. Mission Beach is flanked by the Pacific Ocean on the west and Mission Bay on the east. Nearby attractions include the world famous Sea World, Belmont Park and the Board Walk. During the summer and the warmer days though out the year, huge crowds set out to bike, skate, surf, play volleyball, sunbath or just to hang out and enjoy the weather. The area is densely packed with people and is a photo rich environment.

How to get this type of shot

Like most forms of photography, patients is the key. I was drawn to the wall with the “8 MPH” and two red arrows and immediately knew I wanted it as my background. To add interest to the scene I needed a subject, so my wife and I patiently waited for runners, cyclists and rollerbladers to pass by. We literally sat on a bench in front of this wall for about 1 hour waiting for the right subjects to enter the frame.

To give the photo a more dynamic feel I wanted to create a sense of motion. I achieved this by setting a slow shutter speed relative to the subjects in motion. The slow shutter speed created a motion blur in the subjects while I kept my camera pointed straight at the background wall. I experimented with the shutter speed throughout the day and I found 1/20 to 1/60 of a second or so worked best. To increase my hit rate, I used high speed continuous shooting. Even with 6 fps, I was only able to get around three shots per burst where the subject was in the frame, and of those three, only one was typically usable. I used a circular polarizer to decrease glare, darken the sky and to increase saturation.

I wanted to keep the compositions as clean as possible so I shot from a low angle and deliberately did not include the subject’s faces. Typically with a motion blur shot, if the faces are not in focus, the image generally does not work. To avoid that, I chose to focus only on the bodies and the motions created on them. By doing this, I hoped to create more focus on the activity itself (rollerblading, cycling or running) rather than the image being an action portrait type shot.

Mission Beach San Diego California Board Walk RunnerCanon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm f/4 IS USM at 88mm, f/9 for 1/60s at ISO 100, circular polarizer

Mission Beach San Diego California Board Walk Bike CycleCanon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm f/4 IS USM at 47mm, f/16 for 1/20s at ISO 100, circular polarizer


Mission Beach Board Walk (coordinates: 32.767859,-117.252546)

14 thoughts on “Bodies in Motion – Mission Beach San Diego

  1. I love that background and the first shot worked best for me. It really creates a sense of fun and motion. Nothing like spending a day out shooting with the missus eh? :)

  2. such a cool perspective, who knew a cement rail with arrows and numbers would make for a fabulous background. I like the slanted angle of the first one, the way the second is over the top and has people in the background, and the way the cyclist is more in the mind than the photo. this reminds me to think outside the box!

    • Thanks Heather. I think what I struggle with the most (and I suspect other photographers do also) is finding creative ways to shoot everyday things. I have been amazed at the images some photographers are able to create from the mundane.

  3. This is a very cool idea. They all look wonderful, but the action of the first shot works best for me. Having said that, I am intrigued by bike spokes in the third image. Beautiful work!

  4. Very nice photos, especially the second one has hit a very sweet spot between the stillness of the letters on the wall and the person that runs. Colors are great too. Well done!
    Also, thanks for the like on the blog of :)

    • Thanks for stopping by and hopefully my photos will give you some nice memories of San Diego.

      Yes these are hand held, although a tripod would be an option too since I had my focus fixed in the wall and did not have to focus track on the subjects.

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