Nikon Know-how

Fast-mov­ing sub­jects are the ul­ti­mate test of good, re­ac­tive cam­er­a­work. Michael Free­man talks through the sur­pris­ingly wide range of pos­si­ble tech­niques avail­able for pho­tograph­ing move­ment

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Cap­tur­ing ac­tion is a crit­i­cal part of pho­tog­ra­phy – but what’s the best way to give your shots a sense of mo­tion? Michael Free­man ex­plores the dif­fer­ent ways you can cap­ture ac­tion with your cam­era, and the kit and set­tings needed for each

When most peo­ple think of pho­tograph­ing mov­ing sub­jects, they as­sume speed is a fac­tor – the kind of ve­loc­ity that puts de­mands on both the cam­era (in terms of the shut­ter speed) and your abil­ity to use it rapidly. What ac­tu­ally counts as fast de­pends to a large ex­tent on the sub­ject.

Con­ven­tion­ally – and it is just a con­ven­tion, no more – ac­tion that can be caught with­out blur at 1/125 sec is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered av­er­age, while speeds of 1/250 sec and above are thought of as ‘fast’. Of course, this isn’t fast for Nikon D-SLRs, which can go up to 1/4000 or even 1/8000 sec; what makes it ‘fast’ is the pho­tog­ra­pher’s own re­ac­tion time, which is some­thing you can im­prove with prac­tice. In­ci­den­tally, us­ing Live View is not a good idea for cap­tur­ing fast ac­tion, as it adds a time-lag to shoot­ing.

And then there’s an­other, en­tirely dif­fer­ent way of record­ing speed, by stretch­ing and ex­tend­ing mo­ments, and slow­ing them down in ways that we can never ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence or see with our own eyes. At, say, half a sec­ond or longer – and some­times much longer – the move­ment of the sub­ject be­comes soft and vague and streaks into mo­tion blur. We’ve all grown so used to see­ing this kind of streak­ing that we sim­ply ac­cept it as a part of the pho­to­graphic lan­guage of ‘slow­ness’, but in re­al­ity it doesn’t have any equiv­a­lent in our nor­mal way of see­ing the world, which is a strong part of its ap­peal – as you can see in the long-ex­po­sure seas­cape on page 89. The one is­sue with slow-ex­po­sure pho­tog­ra­phy is that if lots of us do it all the time, it starts to lose its nov­elty value. The key lies in know­ing when – and when not – to use it.

Flamin­goes tak­ing off at the Rio La­gar­tos re­serve in Yu­catan needed 1/500 sec at f/4 and ISO50 with a 600mm lens, even when pan­ning, be­cause of the rapid the leg move­ments

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