Capturing Motion

The challenge of every sports photographer is to capture both the emotion and motion of an instant in time and as such,  the most asked question both from my workshop participants and from people who find out that I shoot sports is “How to I capture motion?

I only wish there were one right answer. If there were, I would have cards printed that would say, To Capture Motion do the following! Unfortunately there is no magical card with the one answer, just like so many things in photography, it is all situational.

There are a few guidelines that I will provide you has a start, but before I do, if you have a chance go back and read my blog post from December 2011, Shooting with Intention.

The reason to re-read my prior post is that it is critical that you understand the situation you are in and what you are trying to achieve prior to shooting.

One of the most common ways to capture motion is to use a slower shutter speed. I suggest that you experiment with shooting at 1/100th; 1/125th and 1/160th. In addition you can use the slowed shutter speed in two ways:

  • Panning – following the moving object as it goes by you; and
  • Letting the primary object blur while keeping the background in sharp focus.

The following two images are of Eneko Llanos and where shot from the back of a moto at the Abu Dhabi Triathlon on March 3, 2012.  I had my driver pull up along side Eneko and match his speed.  The first shot is at 1/1250th and the second shot is at 1/100th. These images where shot within seconds of each other as you can see by the view of the Persian Gulf from the bridge.

Eneko Llanos at the 2012 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (1/1250 sec.)
Eneko Llanos at the 2012 Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (1/100th sec.)
  • The first image is sharp, right down to the individual spokes and the logo on the wheels; and
  • The next image, there is some blur to the background, which is mostly noticeable on the vertical elements of the bridge structure and there is a spin on the logo on the wheels.  The island in the background still looks fairly sharp due primarily to its distance away from our main subject.

The next image was again shot from a moto at 1/100th of Jimmy Johnsen at Challenge Copenhagen.  Since the background is much closer you can see how it is blurred.

Jimmy Johnsen at 2011 Challenge Copenhagen.

I know there are very few of us that get to (or really want to) shoot while sitting backwards on the back of a motorcycle, but the effect is really the same as following the subject as they riding by. The recent technology of Image Stabilized lens are a great help.  If you are panning horizontally, the lens will stabilize the vertical movement of your lens. Similarly if you are panning vertically, your horizontal movements will be stabilized. Keep in mind, it image stabilization does nothing to stabilize the subject, it stabilizes the photographer!

Next we are going to slow the shutter speed even more, but hold the camera steady. Here are three shots from the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, one by me and two by one of my periodic partners in crime, Joe Michl. The shutter speeds are 1/50th, 1/30th and 1/20th respectively.

1/50th sec shutter speed.
1/30th sec shutter speed.
1/20th sec shutter speed.

Now that everyone is thinking about slow shutter speeds, it is also possible to convey the idea of motion by using a  high shutter speed (1/1000th).  The first image is again from the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon and showing the lead pack of runners early in the race.  Not only are their feet off of the ground, but the splashing of the water at the aid station, can only occur when there is motion.

1/1000 sec shutter speed

The next image is from the 2012 Minnesota High School Section Ski Championship.  Again the image is razor sharp (1/1600th) but slalom gate is bent over and the snow is kicking up under her skis, which can only happen at speed.

1/1600th sec shutter speed

Finally, now matter what your shutter speed, if you manage to get a shot of The Flash, you immediately know there is motion!

The Flash!

Shoot with intention, practice and go out and have some fun, remember the photons are free!

4 thoughts on “Capturing Motion

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