Six techniques to use motion for exciting photos
Action-Stopper. On the other end of the spectrum of motion photography are action-freezing, blazing shutter speeds: 1⁄1000 sec., 1⁄2000 sec. and even higher. The goal is to eliminate any blur in the image. This doesn't mean you're eliminating the sense of motion; you're only eliminating blur in the shot.
In this example, although the action is stopped, there's no doubt about motion in the image! To really stop the action, start with a shutter speed of 1⁄1000 sec. This speed normally freezes the action, but you may need to go even faster, depending on the subject.
The compromise is that you'll need a large aperture opening to allow enough light in for the proper exposure. With the improved low noise of the newer digital cameras, try dialing up your ISO to 400 or 800 to gain extra speed.
The other consideration is getting sharp focus on your subject. There are two ways to accomplish this: predictive focus tracking or prefocus. Today's cameras are amazingly accurate with their focus tracking, so I normally use this method. Many cameras allow you to choose a group-focusing pattern that prompts the camera to search for your subject as it moves through the frame. If you don't have an autofocus lens, try focusing on a spot where your subject will pass through to get sharp images; just make sure you have enough depth of field.
To shoot star trails, first make sure your battery is fully charged. Next, employ a tripod and a cable release with a lock. I normally set my white balance to Incandescent for star trails. This white balance gives the night sky a stunning indigo blue color.
Also, if your camera features long-exposure noise reduction, turn it on. The challenge with hour-long exposures is reducing the amount of noise in the final image. By turning on noise reduction in your camera, you'll get a much cleaner image. Just remember that the noise-reduction process in your camera takes the same amount of time as the exposure. So a one-hour exposure will take one hour to process before you see an image on your LCD!
I like to find the North Star in the sky and place this in my image. This results in the stars all rotating around a central point. Also, I normally find an interesting foreground, maybe some trees or a rock formation, to anchor the shot. If you want to go wild, try light-painting your foreground with a small flashlight and then leave your shutter open for an hour. Light painting and star trails blended in the same image—incredible!
Double Exposure. What happens if you have a static subject, say, colorful flowers, and you want to add some subtle motion to the scene? You have a few options. The easiest method is simply to shake your camera while taking the photograph. Another technique, and one that gives better results, is a double exposure. Most cameras today automatically figure out the correct exposure for double exposures. Just dial in the number of exposures you want, and let your camera do the rest. Gone are the days of calculations and math problems! Take the first shot tack-sharp. With the second shot, slightly blur the focus and shoot again. The final result is an image with a soft blur around the edges, enhancing the feeling of motion. Push-Pull
Push-Pull. Another way to add motion to a static subject (or a moving subject) requires a zoom lens. I like to use my 70-200mm lens for this technique. Start by choosing a slow shutter speed, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1⁄2 sec. or slower. This means choosing your slowest ISO, an aperture around ƒ/22 and maybe adding a polarizing filter to reduce more light.
Next, set your zoom to one end of its zoom range. Then, while taking the shot, zoom in or out with the shutter open. This results in wild streaks of motion from a center point. Push-pull refers to lenses that require you to push or pull the zoom ring to change the focal length. I like to use my tripod with this method, which allows me to get a tack-sharp center point.
Final Thoughts. I'm totally energized after photographing Patrick paddling off the waterfall. I can't believe what I just saw, and I have great images, to boot. I see some purple lupine flowers beside the trail and decide to take a few shots. But something is missing; the shot isn't that dynamic. I know the remedy—just add some motion!
To see more of Tom Bol's photography, visit his website at www.tombolphoto.com.