Action and motion can be conveyed in two ways. Fast shutter speeds can be used to capture a frozen moment OR the motion can be exaggerated via the use of a slow shutter speed. Both methods are effective and each is created using different capture techniques. Some photographers capture action with tack sharp accuracy using fast shutter speeds. Others show fluidity in movement with slow speeds. The technical aspects are dependent upon the amount of available light, if a neutral density filter is used, the speed of the lens, if auxiliary light is incorporated and more. In this two-part series, I'll share some methods used to capture images that depict both frozen and graceful images seen in action photography. Follow up with next week’s Tip to get the complete run down.
Panning is used to depict a sharply recorded subject against a blurred background. It depicts the speed and movement of a subject in a more artistic way. The photographer moves the camera commensurate with the subject’s movement and uses a slow shutter to make the picture. The chosen shutter speed depends on how fast the subject moves, which in turn determines how fast the pan needs to occur. Too slow a shutter renders too much movement and too fast doesn’t convey the creativity of the technique. Experiment with the shutter speed to produce the effect you want. To create the effect, move the camera horizontally across the same plane as the subject. To ensure the sharpest possible subject when you pan, mount your camera to a level tripod. Loosen the knob that allows the head to spin 360 degrees. Begin to follow the subject prior to it reaching the location at which you want to make the photo. When it nears the optimum position, start firing. Stop once it gets past perpendicular. Check the LCD and adjust the shutter speed accordingly to introduce more or less subject motion offset against the blurred background.
“The background is equally as important as the subject.” I’ve said this thousands of times. Panning works great to disguise a distracting background. When photographing moving subjects and you don’t have the option to change your position, use the panning technique so the background becomes a blur of color rather than a distraction. If the background isn’t aesthetically pleasing in a straight action shot, try panning.
Panning With Flash
If light levels are low and you can gain close proximity to your subject, perform the above panning steps AND introduce a flash into the mix. The duration of a flash is very short so it freezes the subject’s motion. The ambient light provides illumination to record the background blur. The flash freezes the moving subject that passes in front of the lens. Set the flash in TTL mode and fire away. If the emitted light from the flash is too much, dial it down using exposure compensation on the rear of the flash.
Move The Camera
Movement can be implied even with stationary subjects. Adjust your ISO, aperture and shutter speed so you can get a shutter speed of at least one second. If your aperture is fully closed and your ISO lowered to its maximum, add a neutral density filter. Head to your nearest city at night and make photos where you intentionally move the camera to make abstracts of the city lights. Experiment moving the camera in different directions and at different speeds. Vary the shutter speed using slower and faster ones. Check your LCD to see how to fine-tune the result. All is game when making abstracts. Tail lights of vehicles, city lights, store window displays and bridges are but a few of the subjects with which you can have fun.
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