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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Get A Move On

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

Panning requires you to smoothly follow the subject in your viewfinder by twisting your upper torso and, this is important, to continue to follow through with that motion after you’ve banged off your frames. Think of a baseball player hitting a ball. The batter won’t stop the swing once the bat connects with the ball; the batter continues to follow through after the bat connects with the ball.

Back in the film days, when it cost some bucks to experiment with techniques, I used to practice panning by shooting without film. If the subject was in the same relative position in my viewfinder after the series of exposures as it was when I started shooting, I could be relatively assured that I had successfully matched the speed of my panning to the speed of the subject.

These days, of course, you can see your results immediately, and there‚’s no worry about burning up film (and dollars) on experimentation. This also will help you determine the best shutter speed for your subject. And the more you practice, the higher the percentage of keepers you’ll have.

Sometimes, there’s just too much light around to get a slow enough shutter speed for panning. That’s when a neutral-density filter comes in handy. The Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter is especially useful because its variable two-to-eight-stop range lets you dial in enough neutral density to get just the right shutter speed for the job.

Flash Points

A variation on the panning theme is to throw a bit of flash into the mix. The flash can help to freeze the subject, while the long shutter speed adds the blur. It’s a great technique, much used in photojournalism, and photographers have pet names for it: "strobe and burn," "shake and bake" and "dragging the shutter" are but a few.

Flash Points

While I tend to do long-lens panning with available light only, the "shake and bake" technique is almost always used with normal to wide lenses. This is probably because of the relatively weak throw of most shoe-mount flashes. In addition, it’s harder to match the speed of the subject with a wide angle, thus the flash’s action-stopping burst of light helps to raise your percentage of keepers.

This technique essentially combines slow-sync flash—whereby the shutter speed drops to record the low-level ambient light in the background—with the motion of panning. Because the effect of motion is somewhat less visible than it is with the telephoto (due to the wide angle‚’s larger angle of view), my usable range of shutter speeds will drop down to about 1/4 or 1/8 sec. and up to about 1/30 sec. Slower than that, and large parts of your subject, frozen with flash, can disappear during the long ambient exposure. Faster than 1/30 sec., and you don’t get much feel of blur in the background.

For this technique to work well, you need background scenes with lots of ambient light. Panning and flashing, say, a horseman riding against a darkened prairie probably won’t work all that well compared to shooting a bicyclist on a brightly lit street in India. The background lights are the things that "drag" to indicate movement.

As with most other techniques, practice makes perfect when you want to add movement to your photos. But the effort will definitely put your visual storytelling skills in motion!

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