Richard’s top tips
There are certain things you want to freeze and certain things that you want to blur. In motorsport you want to show motion and you want to blur it because if you take a picture of a car or a bike at 1/2000th of a second it looks like it’s parked up and not going anywhere. So you want to shoot that and use a slower shutter speed to convey that motion. By blurring the background you’re showing the viewer the movement or the speed of something.
Water’s a bit different, you could shoot water either way. You can blur it or freeze it instantly at a really high shutter speed to show that moment and you just see that explosion of water going everywhere. For me, although you’re freezing everything, that means you’re almost showing motion because you can see where it’s going.
You have to pick your technique for your subjects. There’s no harm in trying both freezing and blurring, but you have to think about it and what works best for each subject.
There’s no harm in experimenting. You’re probably not going to get it right rst time. Most of the time you need to experiment, play and practice. The best photography almost always comes out of experimenting and trying new things. Messing things up to begin with isn’t a bad thing. It’s part of the learning process. So, it’s a case of ‘Okay, that didn’t work. I’m going to try something else.’
One of the rst assignments in my college photography course was to break the rules. It was a lesson in experimenting,
nding out how things react and work and whether you need to try something different. That’s not a bad thing. You create your own style and you only create your own style by doing things like breaking rules. If everyone followed a rulebook everything would look the same, no one would be creative, no one would stand out. track and it’s very predictable, so you know where you’re going to need to be focusing.’
Freezing within a blur
Although shooting motion in motorsport is about using creative blur, there are other factors at play. ‘A point of interest of a motorbike rider or racing driver is that you can’t see their face. They have got a helmet on and that’s the part of the subject you want to be sharp. If you have a pan/blur and the only part that’s sharp is on the side or the rear of the car but the head is all blurred, you’ve missed the picture. You need the head, the focal point, the person, the human being to be sharp.
‘You’ve also got to decide where you want your subject to be within the picture and then use a focus point to help frame it. Move your focus point across to that place and then, making sure you’re not autofocusing, use that focus point as a reference point, track your subject as it moves. This will help to get a
Richard Heathcote is an award winning sports photographer, culminating in winning the coveted Ed Lacey Trophy by the Sports Journalists’ Association. With over 20 years of experience, he has covered FIFA World Cup tournaments,
UEFA European Championships, Olympic Games, the Rugby World Cup, golf’s four majors and The Ryder Cup. richardheathcote.com. much higher hit rate with your pans, then you can always try tilting the camera. You can create a sense of speed by a slight tilt on the frame.’
Another key factor for shutter speed selections is the consideration of the speed of the subject. ‘A shutter speed that blurs a footballer running down a pitch will be slower than the shutter speed you would choose to blur a 100 metres sprinter. To blur a car you’d have a faster shutter speed, so you can’t just go and choose 1/15th of second and get them all. 1/15th of a second will give you a nice blur on the footballer but for a 100 metre sprinter you wouldn’t get as much sharp; your hit rate would be smaller. If you shot a Formula 1 car at that shutter speed you’d hardly get anything.
‘If you look at the metadata on a lot of motion shots, the sprinters down a 100 metre track might be at 1/30th of a second but the Formula 1 cars could be on 1/60th of a second. The pictures look similar in terms of the amount of motion and
the amount of blur in the frame, but it’s about picking the shutter speed relevant to the subject that you’re shooting. That comes from trial and error, as well as learning from other photographers.’
Combining the correct exposure settings to convey motion in images is just one part of the overall picture – another is using other elements in the frame to show motion. In conventional sports pictures you’d ideally want very clean backgrounds but Heathcote explains, ‘The interesting thing about backgrounds is when you’re attempting a pan/ blur, a messy background can actually help because those highlights or different colours in the background, once you blur it, give you lines and shapes. Then those lines, shapes and colours become a pattern within the picture. For example, using something between you and your subject to intensify that feeling of speed and motion.’
In early 2020 Heathcote took home the coveted Sports Journalists’ Association (SJA) Sports Photographer of the Year award with a portfolio that included the aforementioned freeze-frame image of British boxer Anthony Joshua punching Mexico’s Andy Ruiz Jr. and an ultra-colourful pan/blur shot of superbike racing action at Donington Park.
He also deploys techniques such as choosing a point of interest and rotating the camera to give the impression of motion in a frame – notably in a shot of tennis superstar Rafa Nadal serving – and he has also used a robotic camera in order to capture an iconic overhead shot of US swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte competing in a 200m individual medley semi-final at the 2012 London Olympics. It’s clear that, whatever the sport and whatever the technique used to capture it, Richard Heathcote is a true master of shooting motion.