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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Action-Sequence Panoramas


How to capture time and space in a single frame


Four sequential images of a single sandhill crane demonstrate the secrets of its flight over the grasslands at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Once Lepp mastered the sequential action-panorama technique, he looked through his files for rapid-sequence captures that could be re-created as panoramas, and this opportunity showed up.

We see action before us as a blur of movement that often passes by in a linear progression. The spectator standing on the sidelines of a horse race watches his favorite charge by and turns his head from one side to the other in concert with the animal's passage through time and space. How do we tell this story in photographs?


Baboons don't like water, and this adolescent tried just about everything to keep from getting wet as it crossed a stream swollen by flooding in Botswana's Okavango Delta. The eight frames per second capture rate of Lepp's Canon EOS 7D gave him 13 images to choose from when he created this seven-layer composite panorama.
There are several options. Slow-motion video capture might provide the most complete rendition of the horse-race episode, with the result being projected or viewed on a monitor, but in my opinion this is the least interesting portrayal to archive and see again at will. With our still cameras, we can stop the action in a single frame or in a series of frames, which when printed or published side-by-side convey a sense of the animal's progression; the viewer sees a snippet or several small pieces of the story as the horse's stride is captured at various intervals. Another option is to capture the animal's progress in one or two seconds across a single frame, through multiple exposures, while the camera remains stationary. You may have seen a variation of this with images of a somersaulting skier or motorcycle in a number of positions, presented in a single image frame, the result of imaging-editing software or multiple electronic flashes firing against a dark background.

What if you want your viewer to follow the action over an uninterrupted, extended time and distance, all visible in one panoramic image? That's what I call an Action-Sequence Panorama, but others may have different names for the technique. Here, the camera is panned with the subject and fired at specific intervals, capturing the movement and the changing background at the same time. The overlapping captures are stitched together to portray the subject in a series of stop-action images moving across an uninterrupted panorama.

The Action-Sequence Panorama technique isn't particularly difficult if planned out ahead of time. Several factors are critical to success, however:

1 The subject should be sharp and the action frozen in each frame.
2 The subject should be portrayed at regularly placed intervals across the sequence and not overlapping.
3 The background must stitch together in a seamless panorama.
4 As always, composition counts.

The Capture
You want to stop action, so attain a very fast shutter speed by choosing a large ƒ-stop such as ƒ/2.8, ƒ/4, ƒ/5.6 or a higher ISO, which will help to capture the subject crisply at each position. Combine this with a steady panning motion, achieved either with a panning head on your tripod or with good hand-held technique, and the action should be frozen in every capture. A large lens opening also will offer the possible benefit of rendering the background out of focus due to a shallow depth of field.

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