Picture Perfect - Page 2
Runner: Ashey Arnold. Location: Redstone, Colorado.
>>This runner’s face and part of her shirt are sharp, while the rest of the image blurs by, giving the photo a sense of movement. This was achieved using a “pan blur,” with the shutter set on just 1/30th of a second. The photographer tracked the runner as she zipped by and a wide 50mm lens stopped way down to f/16 minimized focus error. Still, it took about a dozen takes to get this shot.<<
COMPOSITION__Trail-running photography lends itself to panoramic horizontal compositions, where you get the nice green vegetation in the foreground, blue sky or mountains in the background and the runner somewhere in the middle, usually running left to right, and slightly toward the camera. Easy. But, study the photos by greats such as Clifford and Dan Patitucci and you’ll note that (usually) either the foreground or background or both are intentionally softly out-of-focus, while the runner is tack sharp. Photos such as these isolate the runner, drawing your eye to the action, which is the ultimate goal. As mentioned earlier, use your camera’s aperture to set a depth of field that puts the runner in-focus and other parts of the photo out-of-focus. The aperture adjustment will vary wildly depending on your lens—take the same photo with the aperture all the way open, then fully stopped down and watch the depth of field change.
To shoot like a pro you will have to move around. Most shooters, for simple lack of knowing better, just stand flat footed facing the runner and bang away. For sure, you can get great images this way, but this standard, eye-level perspective gets boring quickly. Find a unique perspective by climbing a tree, standing on a boulder, lying on your back or shooting from a higher or lower vantage point. The extra effort will give your shots a unique look that elevates them above the drudge.
We get thousands of great photos and many of them look the same. Same-size runner, same lens, same light, same perspective and even the same runners. It’s like watching replays of the Olympic marathon over and over. Make it a habit to often switch out lenses and constantly be on the move. For instance, lie on your back and shoot up with a wide-angle lens, then switch to a 200mm lens and shoot the runner from a distance in profile, with the lens opened to f/2.8. Same runner, same trail, but wildly different perspectives.
OBEY THE RULE OF THIRDS__Centering your subject is visual suicide for photography. Strive for a pleasant, balanced photo by dividing your viewfinder into thirds vertically and horizontally and placing your subject in a quadrant that isn’t centered. If you are shooting a horizontal landscape, for example, make the top horizontal one third of the image the sky and the bottom two thirds the land, or vice versa if the clouds are more interesting.
SHOOT THE FACE__Imagine Mona Lisa. Now imagine that instead of coyly smiling at you, she is looking away. Facial expressions convey information and add drama, while seeing someone’s eyes engages you. Add these personal elements to your photos and avoid shots where the runner is running away.
Shooting the face isn’t easy. Most people run with their faces screwed up into an unflattering wince or have their eyes squinted nearly shut or have their mouths agape. Turn on your camera’s burst mode—digital frames are free—and you’ll increase your chances of getting the right expression. Be sure to focus so you get the eyes sharp, and, unless you are capturing your subject running out of a bank, never let him wear sunglasses.
RIGHT STRIDE__Great running photography is all about stride, capturing the instant when at least one (ideally both) of the runner’s feet are in the air. Having the lead foot just beginning to touch down or push off also works well. What doesn’t work is having both feet down or the lead foot all the way down, where the runner seems anchored to the turf and usually hunched. Hand position is also critical. You want the hands relaxed rather than clinched; think of holding a potato chip between your thumb and forefinger.
Getting the hands and stride right takes timing and instruction—tell your runners what you want. Set your camera to burst (just keep it there, always!), pre-focus and, usually, you’ll still have to ask the runner to do it again and again.
Photographing one runner simplifies the work. If you are shooting two or more runners, the problems compound exponentially—it’s tough to snap that pic where everyone is simultaneously in a nice stride with pleasing facial expressions. Asking them both to begin running at the same time, and off the same foot will increase your chances. Naturally, if you are shooting a race you’ll have to take what you get.
When someone is running straight at you, you’ll often get the undesirable “peg leg,” effect, where one foot is kicked high and obscured by the runner’s thigh, making that leg appear as if it was bitten off at the knee. Positioning yourself so the runner is slightly in profile will eliminate peg legs.
MOTION BLUR__Images where the runner is blurred and the background and foreground aren’t, or where the runner is sharp against blurred surroundings, convey action, and make them stand out. You don’t see many shots like these because they are tough to get just right. To blur running action, you’ll need to shoot around 1/30th of a second. Camera shake is a problem and will ruin most of your images. A tripod can help, but usually you’ll be shooting on the fly and won’t have one. Steady yourself by bracing against a tree and keep your elbows tight to your sides. To blur the runner, adjust the shutter to 1/30th and press the shutter (set on burst) as he goes by. If you hold it steady, you might have an interesting photo.
The better, more difficult pic to get is to “pan” your camera to track the runner. This will blur the surroundings and freeze the runner’s action. To pan, keep the runner centered in the viewfinder (break the rule of thirds) and track him as you hold the shutter down. Moving the camera and yourself at a steady pace that matches that of the runner requires practice, lots of it. Again, keep your elbows pressed in and concentrate on only moving the camera laterally, not up and down. Using a wide-angle lens such as 24mm will make it easier to follow the runner and will reduce camera shake.
Don’t get discouraged if you do everything right and still get a blurry photo. When most people run, their arms and legs are churning, yet their torsos and heads aren’t—you get the head sharp but the rest of the body is blurred. Finding that middle ground where you have some sharpness in the action is the trick that takes timing, practice and luck.