Some of the most difficult action photos to shoot are the quiet moments surrounding the peak action. The quiet action photo, if done right, can capture the essence of the activity in one big shot. Instead of a tight composition on the breaking action, the quiet shot is most often a wider shot. The photo frame brings in elements and activities outside or around the center of the action.
These quiet photos are often better at telling the story of the action than the alternative, which are the typical tightly composed action photos. It’s not easy to shoot these wide shots when the action is peaking, however, but we’ll get to the reason behind that shortly.
One of the masters of the quiet photo, whose work I greatly admire, is National Geographic photographer William Allard. Allard has published five books, my favorite of which is an earlier book titled Vanishing Breed: Photographs of the Cowboy and the West (Little Brown, 1982). The photos are classic Allard, with many portraits, but the book also includes a selection of great action photos.
In many of the photos, it’s as if, for just a moment, all the movement in the scene stood still, with all the elements of the photo falling into perfect place. Allard’s words aptly describe how he’s able to capture these photos: "My work is done 99 times out of a hundred in places where I can’t control anything. I can’t control the light, I can’t control the movement, the environment, I can’t control the clothes people wear. I can’t control anything—and that’s fine. So what I have to do, I have to be in the middle of these uncontrollable elements and I have to simply make my selection."