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Friday, April 1, 2005

From Sharp To Blur

Art Wolfe shares his insights for the creative use of motion

When photographing wildlife, don't let the subject blind you to everything else around it. This can lead to disappointment when a distracting element, such as a car, is found in the final image.

"When I photograph a wild animal, I anticipate where the animal is moving," Wolfe explains. "I quickly react and try to point my camera ahead of the subject so that when it enters the frame, I have the subject in front of me against the background I prefer." By doing so, he becomes increasingly aware of what surrounds the subject and ensures that unwanted elements in the scene aren't present.

This anticipation allows Wolfe to place himself in the best position to take advantage of the light and the background. He acknowledges that it's very easy to be distracted by the main subject, but that a photographer who expects to create an exceptional image must be fully aware of all the elements of a scene and be prepared to make the most of them.

Continuous Firing

The continuous firing capability of his film and digital cameras are key tools for Wolfe. He will set his camera for its fastest burst rate rather than for single frame to ensure he gets the shot he's looking for.

"I use the continuous firing mode and shoot as fast as I can because I know that although there may be six shots that are almost identical, invariably there will be one out of the six frames where the paw of the big cat or the wing of the bird is just perfect. You need all those frames just to make sure you come away with the right one."

Although continuous firing often is used when freezing action, Wolfe explains that it's just as effective when capturing blur. He says that it becomes much more than merely depressing the shutter and hoping for a good shot, but rather anticipating the moment, just before that significant gesture that creates a stunning photograph.

As a photographer who has made the transition to digital, Wolfe has found the immediate feedback of digital cameras helpful when capturing motion.

"It's a great tool for verifying the shutter speed that you're choosing, right on the spot," he says. However, he cautions that photographers shouldn't be so quick to assume that their images are sharp by merely looking at the LCD. He recommends using the zoom feature during playback to magnify the recorded image. This allows you to confirm that your subject is as sharp as you intended it to be.

"It's critical to verify," he says. "The zoom on the LCD allows you to do that."

Wolfe rarely exposes a frame without imagining his shot beforehand. Harking back to his days as a painter, this previsualization allows him to consider all the various elements of a scene: lighting, contrast, subject, background and motion.

"I'm often drawing pictures of what I want," he says of many of his landscape images. But even when he isn't working with pen and paper, he's open to making changes to the scene to compose a successful image.

Even when the subject isn't motion itself, Wolfe uses movement to create a more dynamic image. A static shot of a group of monks was transformed by having them jump up and down in front of his camera lens, for example. Their smiling faces and a slow shutter speed captured the movement of their limbs and resulted in a shot filled with emotion.

"By having them moving, they found themselves smiling because they weren't just staring at the lens," he says.

Cameras are wonderful tools for freezing action, and Wolfe believes that using these tools to render and interpret motion allows photographers to expand the palette of their creativity and the way they choose to express themselves.

"When you're using motion, it's an effort to do something different," says Wolfe. "Those who repeat and repeat or copy what has been created before are never going to achieve what they're after. I'm always trying to push my craft forward.

"I want people to look at my image and say that they've just seen something that they've never seen before."



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