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
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