The Drama Of Movement
By Michael Russell

The camera can seemingly produce miracles, stopping the wingbeats of an insect or a speeding bullet with a flash of light. Movement can be recorded in its many forms, the explosive energy of the athlete, or the rhythmic swaying of a group of dancers, or even the blurring of an image to convey speed or other special effects can be just as powerful. Shutter speed is the main ingredient in successful action photography. Exposures can be adjusted so that the shutter speed is fast enough to capture any rapidly moving object.

Even in places with low light conditions the sensible combination of film speed and shutter speed and a suitable lens can produce professional photographs. Action photography depends upon more than your equipment. The acceleration of events dictates that the photographer must develop his own skills in selecting exposure, focus on the subject, framing the image and timing of the picture in advance. Other steps to consider would be to select a spot where the action will eventually take place and pre-focus on that spot.

 

Action photography is best carried out with a top shutter speed of 1/1000, suitable to freeze the action in mid flight. To operate at a slower speed and pan the camera as the action goes past is an alternative method . These fast shutter speeds also reduce the amount of light allowed into the camera body and onto the film. Often the best solution is to use faster film, however in circumstances of dim lighting, even a fast film may not be sufficiently sensitive. In this case increasing the development time of the film, known as pushing the film, should be carried out.

A fast lens, one with a large maximum aperture, is a necessity for action photography. The fast lens gathers more light and hence produces a brighter viewfinder and is easier to focus. Due to the extra light a fast lens can allow you to set a faster shutter speed even in low light. Hence it is easier to freeze action in conditions that would normally require you to blur the image with a longer exposure.

The disadvantages to a faster lens are that they generally have a more complex construction and are generally more costly, heavier and bulkier than the standard lenses. When capturing action pictures, your sense of timing is crucial to a good photograph. The capturing of an image of an athlete at a particular moment can define that motion whether in the midst of a stride with a look of strain upon his face, or the high-jumper, a fraction of an inch away from failure as they soar backwards through the air towards the crossbar. The photographer must study the action beforehand to be able to anticipate when to trigger the shutter release at a predetermined fixed point. Thus choosing the peak often gives the image that sense of drama and is usually well framed.

Some peaks are fairly obvious to determine, such as in ball sports, where the ball should be included in the photographs and the actual impact with the ball is often the best moment. A carefully selected camera position can make the difference between a dull, uninteresting picture and a picture where the viewer feels as though they are in the middle of the action. Often this can be determined by studying the pattern of play in the game and to get it right means to capture plenty of action in a tightly framed shot. Consideration should also be given to the background to make sure it will not blend in or blur the image.

Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Photography

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