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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Get A Move On

Use these techniques to add a feeling of motion to your images

One of its continuing appeals to viewers is that certain research indicates that a still image may actually be the way the human mind remembers things. Think about it. Despite the plethora of video clips out there, it’s often the still image that will sum up a famous event in our memories: the flag raising of Iwo Jima, the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby, even the recent Abu Ghraib prison debacle are all conjured up and filed in our memories by still images. So there’s no reason to give up freezing those decisive moments.

But I’m trying more and more to capture the fluidity of movement in my still pictures, and it takes some thinking to recognize situations that have potential to be depicted in motion. It usually involves a slow shutter speed, a tripod and a lot of frames. There are obvious situations for this technique: horseback riders, bicyclists, runners, etc. However, if you put yourself in the right mind-set, you can find many less-obvious subjects that are ripe for the movement treatment.

The trick is to get your mind to recognize situations of juxtaposition: something still against something moving. The obvious situations are where the subject is moving but the background is static. But travel, outdoor and nature photography also present the reverse, less-obvious scenario: where the subject is static but the background is moving.

Sometimes you can take what appears to be a liability—a moving subject you’d prefer to be static, like a field of wildflowers blowing in the wind—and make it an asset. Instead of freezing the field of flowers, go the other way and use a tripod and long exposure to reduce the flowers to waves of impressionistic color.

On a recent trip to the Galapagos, I came across some cooperative Sally Lightfoot crabs in the late-afternoon fading light. Rather than try to track the colorful creatures scampering across the rocks, I put the camera on a tripod and concentrated on the static ones near the water’s edge. I cranked the shutter speed lower to record the movement of the waves as they washed over the clinging crustaceans.

Here are a few pointers with which to refresh yourself if you decide to put your own work in motion, or more precisely, more motion in your work.

Get a move onPanning

The most popular technique for adding motion to a still photo is panning with a moving subject. Panning involves tracking the subject in the viewfinder and shooting during the tracking process. It always works best when the action is moving across your field of view, as opposed to toward or away from you.

For most of us, the ideal panning shot shows a lot of movement in the background and maybe even parts of the subject, but usually includes some part of the subject that’s sharp for the eye to rest on. Some of the best panning shots I’ve seen can be complete impressionistic blurs, however. It depends on the subject matter (not to mention the viewer’s tolerance for abstraction).

For horseback riders, bicyclists, runners, etc., a zoom in the 70-200mm range is ideal, and a useable shutter-speed range for a good combination of blur and sharpness for me seems to be 1/15 to 1/60 sec. Any slower than 1/15 sec., and it‚’s difficult to get anything sharp; anything faster than 1/60 sec., and it’s hard to retain any feel of movement.

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