I have always enjoyed action and sports photography. In fact, it was my love of motorcycle racing that led to my love of photography. As a young adult, I spent countless hours tromping around the Laguna Seca Raceway, loaded down with camera gear, in pursuit of the ultimate racing photographs. Riders, like Kenny Roberts above, would race their motorcycles at lightning speed, challenging the expertise and fast reflexes of both themselves and sports photographers.
Action photography offers some special challenges. First of all, when dealing with high-speed action, it is important to capture enough frozen detail to give the viewer a “picture” of what is happening. Still photographs can disclose plenty of information not discernible to the naked eye. Check out the long-jumper below, frozen at the peak of her jump.
Her facial expression and outstretched arms are captured in great detail, this is something that you may not otherwise be able to see during the jump.
In many cases, it is important to include some motion blur in action photos in order to convey the sense of movement that is happening. A high shutter speed captures this bicycle racer in detail, but this image does not convey speed, movement or action. For all we know, the rider could be stopped and just balancing her bike upright.
Having the ability to use 1/4000 second shutter speeds does not mean they are the best choice for action. Photos like these need some motion blur to give the viewer the necessary clues that movement is occurring. One method is to use a slower shutter speed to allow movement to register in the image, and then follow the subject with the camera while taking the photo. This is called “panning” and is similar to the technique that hunters use when shooting at moving game. A couple of important things to remember when panning:
- begin the panning movement prior to releasing the shutter
- follow the subject carefully and keep it in the same place in the frame; the objective is to minimize the relative movement of the subject within the frame
- continue following the subject after the exposure has completed. If you stop panning when you press the shutter, the subject will continue to move across the frame, defeating the point of panning.
The result is some motion blur in the bicyclist’s legs and wheels. The background is heavily blurred because of the camera movement following the rider. Panning helps capture some detail in the bicycle frame, the rider’s head and upper body. Techniques like panning take lots of practice, so look for opportunities like local bike races to refine your methods.
The combination of detail with motion blur gives the viewer a good idea that the subject is moving quickly.
In my next post about action photography, we’ll look at the combination of motion blur and flash.
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