A big club thanks to Medieval Martial Arts for their visit last session, it certainly was a meeting out of the ordinary! From the postings to the club Facebook Page I see that the opportunities were well taken up. Look forward to seeing some of those on their website. Set me to thinking about action shots.
Action shots are not just sports shots. Yes sports shots are about freezing the action, but even so panning to keep the subject in focus whilst blurring the background is an important variation of the fast-lens-fast-shutter-speed-freeze-action photography that might spring to mind. But, as ever, it is NOT about the KIT, it is about the PHOTOGRAPHER. Well mostly. The equipment can help and when you are being regularly paid to get the shot, not moan about not getting the shot, then the margins, which may be small, are worth the considerable investment. Otherwise it is the case of all the gear and no idea. Not a problem if you can afford it in both the financial and the emotional senses. Big problem otherwise.
Scott Kelby reckons that there are, essentially, four identifiable elements to action photography (sports, specifically but the terms are interchangeable for our purposes): Isolation; Getting in close; Good technique for all likely environmental situations met; Equipment (see above). It is important to note that the last does not stop you taking action (specifically sports) photographs, that technique can help, but there are physical limits and those met on a regular basis might be the reason to buy – if used regularly – or hire – if not. The two things they all do is action and emotion. Hard to get the emotion when dressed head to toe in protective gear including visor, but hey, you have to look for it in the raise of an arm, the tilt of the head, in other words in the body language. The one thing that helps more than anything is knowing what is going to happen next. My contribution to the Medieval night was, admittedly of very little artistic merit, to try and show some of the flow of the action, so shot with animated Gifs in mind so as to show form, predominantly. It was a spur of the moment thing as I can’t use the clubs flash triggers with my Sony. The results show thinking is required and it is because I don’t know the activity I ended up using an ultra wide lens and high ISO and the motor drive in an effort to follow the action. The ones that worked best were the ones where I had an idea of which way the action was going, that is the ones that didn’t show the characteristics of a drive-by point and hold the trigger till the buffer gives out. A certain amount of anticipation was required as at 10 fps the buffer soon fills (tip, change from RAW to medium JPEG, you get a lot more bang for your buck).
More often than not the results were so so, but the few sequences that worked better were towards the end of the session when I had a better idea. I also tried a 50 fps video which worked better than I thought but action photographed at 1/100th of a second isn’t going to produce great stills, before you consider that 1080p produces only 2.1 mega-pixel images (fine for a web pages maybe?) NB: You can use faster shutter speeds, each frame is a separate image but the shutter speed is usually calculated at (a minimum of) twice the frame rate – as a rough guide. The 2 x frame rate shutter speed gives the sort of motion blur our eyes are used to. Go too far and the action looks jerky, rather like an animated gif, which is where I started. The exposure triangle still applies.
Not all, however, action shots are strictly sports, of course. Nature photography also is a major contributor to capturing movement. Birds in flight are a pretty good test of the four elements Kelby outlines for sport. One technique that stands out for both is rear or back button focus, where a button on the rear of the camera does the focusing for you and leaves the shutter release purely operating the shutter. This is a function to be found on most DSLR’s and DSLT’s. (This shouldn’t be confused with back and or front focusing between lens and film/sensor plain which is where the sharp focus in your images is consistently just in front or just behind what you want to focus on and is a technical problem). The reasons for the commonalities between sports, nature, air shows, dance and the rest, though the subtleties are different and multitudinous, is the fact of movement, or as we have called it, action. That is to say the techniques are worth learning even if we only apply them occasionally, in which case we need to adapt to the equipment we have as it is generally cheaper than a divorce settlement, as Kelby points out.
None of this negates the idea of the decisive moment, and certainly there is more in the elements Kelby talks about when they come together. Mark this, however, about the equipment. Cartier-Bresson didn’t have access to a motor drive, photography, for him was an “Instrument of intuition and spontaneity”. Each frame on his Leica was a double throw of the film advance lever, by which time history had moved on. Not, given his training and philosophy, that point and squirt was likely to have formed part of his working methods. As he observed, “There are no new ideas in the world, only a rearrangement of things” and he didn’t shoot movies. Nor, the odd cyclist apart, did he shoot sports, or martial arts, come to that, and if he did he kept quiet about it so it probably didn’t turn out too well!
You can contact Medieval Martial Arts through their website, for this sort of thing or, if you pefer, in slo-mo and again thanks from us for the opportunity to think about and practice our hobby on something different.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Thursday 9th April 2015: The WCPF Travelling Critique. Entries to the WCPF competition which gives us an insight into the standard out there and also opportunities to do our own critique. For some guides to criticism click this link Reflex WCPF 2014 Blog or enter the terms in Google, it is the top two results, or keep scrolling down on the blog page till you come to the posts marked 10th and 24th of April 2014. WCPF for more details from Gerry.
Thursday 16th April 2015: Club Camera Battle at Backwell. F8 and be there. Backwell Battle Gerry tells you all about it.