Weekly Photo Challenge: “Movement”
I love this week’s challenge from WordPress! My approach to showing movement in still photography is the same as my approach in February’s challenge “Ready”. This time, I simply couldn’t just post one image, I added a number of my favourite stock photos. I may have gone overboard!
Do you like sports? Football, hockey, auto racing, Olympic events, pro or little league; it doesn’t matter this is where we have our work cut out for us. Sports photographers know that conveying action is the holy grail of photographic achievement, and it really isn’t easy to pull off. Dynamic movement is fleeting so you have to practice studying the participants; people, cars, flailing and wielding weapons in the hands of martial artists. You watch and try real hard to anticipate movements that are potentially going to make images that make viewers stop and stare. It’s this constant observation for fleeting movement and moments that I also apply to street photography. You can apply the techniques practiced in sports photography to many other photographic forms and genres.
I’m not a particularly great dancer but I love dance. Watch for the contorting of bodies and limbs, the intricate and often deliberate positions of fingers. Apply the same techniques and vision to the shots you make when photographing your toddler pedaling her tricycle down the sidewalk, or your kids skipping Double-Dutch on a sunlit playground.
As with all photography, composition is crucial when capturing movement. Get to the inside corners of competitive long-distance road cycling routes where pelotons are sure push through. Get to the outer corners of stock car and Formula 1 race tracks that are built with steep angles. Get back to the inner corners and straightaways of velodrome tracks. Tilt your camera sometimes or steal away to secluded spots that will give you odd angles of perspective on your images. Get in as close as you can to the action. Even if you’re trying to get drama out of your life, leave it in your photographs.
If you use an SLR or DSLR, use a long lens as much as possible. It will help. Get in there and get the details, especially the facial expressions; the eyes. You can make everything in a picture a whirlwind blur and still come out with an awesome shot if you can sharply show the grimace or look of serious intent on someone’s face. Tremendous amount of emotion can be conveyed with clear shots of someone’s wide open or even closed eyes.
As it is good to use the blurring of subjects or even just the backgrounds as you follow your subject with your lens, it is also good to freeze everything sometimes. Boost your ISO and shutter speed to stop motion hard. Capture the sweat beads running down a dancer’s body, or flinging out of an athlete’s hair. Grab the distortion of a boxer’s face as the moment the glove of another makes contact with a cheek. Pin the volleyball player to the sky as she leaps up to spike the ball to a victory.
It’s often a good idea to apply a measure of blurred and fast held motion in your images. If you like street cycling or auto racing in broad daylight, start with these manual settings on your SLR or DSLR:
- ISO 400
- Speed 1/500
- Aperture f/4
Start shooting with these and don’t forget to “chimp” the shots if using a DSLR. It will help make your colours pop without Photoshopping (imagine how much richer your tones and colours may be when you do apply digital photo editing techniques), and give you a satisfying blend of motion blur and stillness when you either follow your subject’s movements across a background or allow the subject to streak between your lens and the background. Don’t get hung up on these settings though. Vary them as you need to from there; try lengthening and shortening your exposures. Increase grain, minimize grain. Take advantage of different light intensities and shadows with contours and textures of vehicle bodies, clothing wrinkles and muscle definitions. Use these elements to establish and enhance dimensional depth and perspective.
Flash can be good for your shots, provided it doesn’t interfere with the performers. A tip; many of North America’s and Europe’s major indoor sports arenas and stadiums are built with strobes and receivers high up in the ceilings for the benefit of pro sports shooters. So if you invest in good radio slaves like the PocketWizard brand, and you can dial into the right frequency, you can take advantage of powerful strobes to help you illuminate and stop high action. The flash from these units are often imperceptible to the naked eye focused on the playing field, but the effect on the final images will be present.
Don’t count out luck either. Many people are now aware of the sheer good fortune that allowed Neil Leifer to make those incredible shots of the Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston match of 1964. Although Ali looks like a Goliath menacingly standing there and glaring down at the fallen Liston for minutes, you realize that all of those dramatic poses and expressions took place in only one or two seconds when you watch the teleplay of that scene. Leifer was in the right place of the area, with his camera aimed and focused at the right time. Had he been at the opposite side of the mat, he wouldn’t have made those shots. Perhaps someone else would have. That’s luck!
Do get used to the idea of holding down the shutter release button for two second busts of rapid shooting as Neil Leifer did. Set you camera up for that if it has that function. That will seriously help you to get your lucky shots anywhere that you shoot.
One more thing, try to identify with the event and your subjects. If you have a passion for what’s going on or have a strong relationship with or admiration for the participants, you’re likely to really push yourself to compose those images well when you really do know what you’re doing with a camera. It doesn’t have to be a professional athlete or anyone else famous. Your best action shots might be those of your own brother riding his bike off a dock to plunge into a local lake or your dog sprinting toward you with all paws bounding off the ground.
See the possibilities. Grab the action!