Lots to think about: freeze the motion / emphasize the action / make it artistic / zoom it / pan it / time it right / know the subject … so many options to depict action. Action and digital photography go hand in hand. It expedites the learning process with instant feedback. If the results aren’t what you desire, modify the settings to produce the wanted effect. Bump up the shutter speed, slow it down, adjust the ISO for more versatility, change your angle, etc. Given the fact there’s so much to share with regards to action, this is a two-part Tip. This week’s tip concentrates on slowing down the action. Be sure to check the OP Tip of the Week on Action Quick Tips Part 1, which focused on bringing it to a stand still. Study both to bring diversity to your action images.
The word ACTION most often brings to mind a sporting event. Whether it be the big leagues or a neighborhood soccer game, action abounds. While sports tend to be what many photographers gravitate toward when they want to photograph action, action can be depicted in anything that moves. Try to think out of the box if you want to make your action shots stand out from the rest. To expand your horizons, rather than freeze the action with a fast shutter speed (Part 1), set the camera to fire at a slow shutter speed to “paint” the effect onto the sensor.
Subject Matter: Rather than immediately gravitate toward sports, make a list of all things that move and think about photographing them with a slowed down shutter. Before you know it, you’ll generate a list to keep you shooting for months. Armed with your list, get out in the field and make some pictures. Adjust the ISO and aperture to work with slow shutter speeds. If it’s bright and the slowest attainable shutter speed is still too fast, use neutral-density filters to help absorb some of the light. Use the LCD on the back of the camera to give you instant feedback regarding your desired effect. If the recorded motion is too slow, use a faster shutter speed. Conversely, if not enough motion is recorded, slow it down.
Work within the limitations of the existing light. If there’s not enough, boost the ISO to make the sensor more sensitive. Open the lens to its widest possible aperture. Use the fastest lens you own to allow as much light as possible to strike the sensor. If there’s too much light, close down your aperture, lower the ISO and use a neutral-density filter.
Implied Movement: In order to depict action, the subject needs to move. While this holds true 98% of the time, it’s not steadfast. There are a few techniques that allow action to be conveyed even if the subject is motionless—move the camera randomly during a long exposure, move a tripod-mounted camera along the vertical/horizontal axis during a long exposure or zoom the lens.
a) The first technique is the easiest. It works great with artificial lights, nighttime city scenes or any other situation with man-made points of light. Simply open the shutter for at least one second and randomly move the camera. Try fast, slow, abrupt and smooth movements for a variety of effects. Mix the technique with the use of flash. The flash freezes parts of the image, mixing it in with motion from the camera.
b) The second technique involves using a pan-and-tilt head mounted on a tripod. Great subject matter for this treatment includes trees in a forest and buildings. Wait for an overcast day, so the ambient light provides a slow enough shutter speed to perform the technique. Use a three- to five-stop neutral-density filter to obtain the necessary slow shutter speed. Create your forest or cityscape composition, and during a long exposure, pan the camera vertically. The shapes will be “painted” onto the sensor and provide an artistic feel. Just a slight pan goes a long way to create the effect.
c) Zoom the lens during a long exposure to imply action. Find a subject that’s stationary, and zoom the lens while the shutter is open to create a radial line effect. Nighttime scenes work well, but I’ve also done this during the day with good results using neutral-density filters. Zoom the lens slowly or quickly to get varying effects. Zoom from the long range to the short range for one effect and from the short range to the long for another effect. To keep the zoomed lines straight, mount the camera on a tripod or place it on a rigid surface. For the sake of variety, make some handheld exposures. This technique will record any movement made by your hands. Check the LCD for the result and modify the technique until you get what you want.
Panning: Use slow shutter speeds and pan the camera to exaggerate the motion of a moving subject. Painterly results can be made. Follow the motion of the subject with your camera to blur the background and create a sharp rendering of the subject. The slower the shutter the more movement. Prefocus in front of you where the action will begin. Start to follow the subject before it gets to the predetermined location. Release the shutter and continue to follow the movement with a smooth and fluid action. The faster the subject moves, the faster the necessary shutter speed to render a sharp subject against a background that blurs. If you’re new to the technique, passing cars are great subjects with which to practice. Pick a location where the speed of the cars is consistent and repeatable. Glean the information you get, and apply it to future ones you encounter.