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. Be sure you read last week’s Tip Of The Week to get the complete rundown.
Frozen In Time
When a subject moves quickly, a fast shutter speed is required to arrest its movement. The speed at which it moves dictates the shutter speed that freezes the action. Ambient light levels should be high and elevated ISOs are the norm. Use the lowest ISO that nets the effect you desire since lower ISOs provide less noise. Having said this, it’s better to introduce a bit of noise then wind up with an image that isn’t sharp due to subject movement. Use as wide an aperture as possible that covers the necessary amount of depth of field. Be precise positioning your focus point since your depth of field will be narrow when you use a wide aperture. Use “continuous” auto focus mode as opposed to single shot so the lens tracks the subject as it moves.
If the ambient light level is low and you need to capture frozen action, it’s essential you work with fast lenses and use a camera that provides high ISO quality. If flash is an option, try adding it into the mix. You may encounter times when the light level is too low to obtain frozen captures. This is a great time to use the low light methods mentioned in last week’s Tip Of The Week. Conversely, if the light levels are high but it’s your intent to create slow motion effects, lower the ISO, stop your lens down to its smallest aperture and use a neutral density filter.
A Lensbaby is a cool tool that has grown in popularity. It’s used to move the plane of focus to a given location. One part of the subject area remains sharp while the other falls out of focus, even when all subjects are on the same film plane. When used with moving subjects, it exaggerates the motion, especially when the section that’s tilted out of focus is placed over the moving subject. Another way a Lensbaby can depict motion is to include lines in the composition. Orient the tilt so the out-of-focus radial lines flow. It gives the impression that that part shows movement.
Studio strobes have modeling lights so that photographers can “preview” a given lighting effect. The modeling light can be used as a stand-alone source. By dialing down the flash output on the strobe to match the light output of the modeling light, the two sources can be integrated and used creatively. If you don’t have studio strobes, here’s the good news. The flash output from a top-end auxiliary flash for a DSLR can also be dialed down. If it’s dialed down to match the ambient light in a room, the studio strobe and DSLR flash can produce the same effect. Set your camera to Manual and calibrate the exposure based on the ambient light. It should be low in order to obtain a long exposure. Photograph something that moves and during the exposure, manually pop the flash to freeze that moment. For example, a falling feather will streak across the frame and be exposed by the ambient light and when the flash is fired, that moment will be frozen in time. Experiment and have some fun.
Slow shutters record movement. A moving subject will be blurry if a slow shutter is used. One would think this is bad but, when used creatively, the result can be gorgeous. Take for instance moving water, a popular subject for nature photographers. Slow shutter speeds render water with a milky appearance. The speed at which the water moves in conjunction with the chosen shutter speed determines how silky the water is presented. Mount your camera to a tripod. Experiment using long exposures as each renders a different look. Work in the shade to prevent contrast issues. Longer exposures provide more of an exaggerated look.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.