Readers Photo Challenge: Putting things in motion


The latest Readers Photo Challenge assignment is: Motion. I have a friend who’s always complaining that he can’t get a good action shot of his daughter playing on her high school volleyball and basketball teams. Conveying movement in a photo can be problematic for those not practiced in shooting it. There are two main practices in showing movement in a single still photo with a third created by sort of combining concepts from both.

Sports photographers often use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action of most sports. A 1/500th of a second or faster is required to stop an athlete in their tracks, metaphorically speaking. We’ve all seen photos of a wide receiver caught in midair leaping for a pass or a runner suspended over a hurdle. It’s all done with a high shutter speed. They’re tiny slices of time that are sharp and clear with a lot of visual impact.

The second technique is to use a slow shutter speed. It may seen counterintuitive to those who live an breathe by the fast shutter option, but the use of a slow shutter may in some cases actually show more action than a fast one.

When you use a slow shutter speed on a moving object it will be blurred, but it’s that blur that can be the dynamic of the photo. True, if you want to show an athlete’s face clearly a slow shutter can’t do that well. But there are times when it can show more movement than a fast one. Take motor sports, for instance. A fast shutter speed will cause a race car to look like it’s moving slowly or even standing still. If so then it may as well be parked. A slow shutter will blur the car, but it will look like it’s moving fast.

When using a relatively slow shutter speed it’s generally good to have something in the frame, such as the foreground or background that’s sharp to give the viewer some visual point of reference.

The third technique integrates ideas from both methods: A sharp main subject with the sense of action created by motion blur. It’s called panning and with it you use a relatively slow shutter speed (generally 1/125th of a second to about 1/30th of a second depending on the speed of your subject). Then you follow, or pan along with the action keeping the subject in about the same place in the frame as you do. This will keep your subject mostly sharp while the background blurry giving a sense of motion and action. It takes a lot of practice to master but once you do it can be a very effective technique.

Once you have these methods worked out then shooting motion comes down to timing, when to press the button, which in and of itself can be a daunting task. Practice, practice, practice, as they say, is the most effective way to perfect your timing.

From youth recreational soccer, to high school football to college level sports this time of year is ripe with opportunities for action/motion photos. The biggest problem with sports is getting close enough. With the exception of cross-country where you can use a shorter lens, it usually means that you have to use a telephoto lens, the longer the better. In football or volleyball, which are played at night and/or indoors, matters are complicated by the fact you’ll need a lens with low-light capabilities (re: expensive). But there are some sports, such as soccer, water polo or the aforementioned cross-country that are usually played during daylight hours outdoors.

But you don’t have to limit yourself to sports. The techniques of sports photography can be applied to almost anything that moves. You can use a fast shutter speed to turn a creek as still as glass or plop your camera down on a tripod, use a slow shutter and turn that stream into a wispy flow of water.

The subjects are yours to choose (trees blowing in the wind, water flowing from a hose, children running across the lawn, a soccer game, etc.), as are the techniques you want to employ, but they have to be moving in some form. Good luck and have fun shooting.

Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Motion” in the subject line.

2. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used. If you can, tell us what shutter speed you used.

3. The subject is up to you but it must be in motion.

4. If your photo is of a person please include the name (first and last) of your subject, their relationship to you (relative, friend or stranger off the street), their ages (if they are juveniles) and where the photo was taken.

5. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, Oct. 6. Photos must be shot between Sept. 23and Oct. 6). The top examples will be published on Monday, Oct. 14 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day

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