Sunday, March 30, 2008

Photographing Action

Blog Photo by Michael Alden

Spring and more snow! I am having a hard time to see the beauty of snow covered trees anymore.

March 29 was the first canoe race of the season. It was so cold there were icicles hanging off the thwarts 6 inches long. If any club members want to take action shots of canoe racers the canoe club MACKRO has a web site. It lists times, dates and locations for all the area races. Anyone at the start can tell you where to go for whitewater shots. Races are held every week into May. as a link to race photos by Michael Alden. He is local action photographer. His site is a good place to learn how to Michael frames and uses light in his action water shots. I always am wowed by his work.

Photographing Action

The most basic ingredient for success in action photography is having a plan for what you are going to do. For an example I will use canoe racing as an example but this works at a horse show, dog sled races, or a child ridding a bike. Where is the action? Where is the light? Where in the frame do you expect the action? How do you stop the action? And, do you want to stop the action or show movement.

Where is the action?

We all know the Kenduskeag. Most people head for 6 mile falls because that is where the TV sets up. It is a good spot and you see lots of swimmers. Another great spot is Shopping Cart where you can get very close to the racers. (Harlow Street after the last portage) The important message for any action is to have a plan about where you can be happy with the background and the light. Sometimes you have to learn to make do. Each shooting situation is slightly different, depending on the angle and intensity of the light and other factors. The following concepts can be used as guidelines.

1.) Know what your camera can not do. You can't shoot into the sun with glaring water. You can't stop action at 1/15 of a second. You won't get a closeup with a 20mm lens.

2.) How do you stop action? Action is stopped with shutter speed. Most of the time you read shutter speed in fractions. i.e. 4 in the shutter speed = 1/4 = 1 quarter of a second. It will then go into the 5 = 1/5 = one fifth of a second or 1"= one second or 15" = 15 seconds. To stop action you need to know how fast the subject is moving. Obviously you need more speed for a racing canoe than you do for grandma in her walker. (I have not judged properly photographing turtles and blurred their motion so with action/speed - more is better.)

3.) What setting should you use? If you have your camera on shutter priority and the light changes then the aperture would change. In the same way that if you had it set on Aperture priority and the light changed (i.e. sun ducking behind a dark cloud, etc.) then the shutter speed would change. The camera is reading the scene and deciding what the exposure should be. If you are in auto or program, the camera gets to set everything. If you are in Aperture or Shutter priority, you set one thing and the camera gets to set the other. If you are in manual, you have to do it all yourself. As a place to begin you will start to stop action higher than 1/200 of a second. More should be better. F stop needs to give you enough space to have the people in focus but you don't care about the water or rocks. (F8?)

4.) Should I use a tripod? With the popularity of image-stabilization lenses, we've seen a greater tendency among photographers to handhold their cameras and lenses, rather than to use their tripods. While this might seem sensible when shooting racing canoes that may require you actively following them about, I do not recommend it. Unless you are extremely steady, image stabilization can only do so much.

5.) What is a good practice plan? The Souadabscook is the river that runs under I95 south of the Hampden Rest Area. The best and simplest place for Action shots is on the Emerson Rd. Bridge. (1 mile behind Dysart's) The 9 am sprints will only see 20 boats soon after 9 am. The full Race will be under the bridge 40 or 50 minutes after the noon start. You will want to make a plan of where and how to shoot (check your Histogram) before the boats go down. Most boats will almost touch the tree on river left before the drop. (Now you have a plan)
Saturday, April 12 Souadabscook Stream Sprint 
Time: 9am
Location: Souadabscook Stream - (Emerson Mill Road Grange, Hampden)
Type: WW, 2 miles

Other info: Helmets are required. Race benefits Make-a-Wish Foundation

* * * *
Saturday, April 12 Souadabscook Stream Race
Time: 12:00pm
Location: Souadabscook Stream - (Emerson Mill Road Grange, Hampden)
Type: WW, 8 miles

Other info: Helmets are required. Race benefits Make-a-Wish Foundation
The Souadabscook will not have many swimmers but it has dramatic drops showing good experience and skill. Stay to the end if you want to catch many swimmers. They tend to be in the back of the pack. Have fun and stay warm.

The blog photo is of myself and my very good friend Cindy who lost her battle with Cancer. She came up with the Idea for Red Hats because we were Century Chicks. We were both over 50 and in the canoe world Century is a class with two combined ages over 100.

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