Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Photographing a swim meet in a totally different way: Using a slow shutter speed

Read almost any article or watch how-to videos on shooting sports, and the most important thing that will be stressed is to have a really fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Although that is generally true, today's blog post is going to intentionally break that rule. Why would I do that? Because in photography, it is fun to break the rules in order to capture images that are different from the masses. 

This first image of my daughter swimming is your typical "frozen image" with a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. Yep, with that shutter speed, you can freeze every drop of water and nail the action as it unfolds. But after shooting many of my kids swim meets, I thought that it would be fun to slow the shutter speed of the camera and see what would happen if I panned with the swimmers to get some motion blur. After all these years of shooting, I have never done that shooting swimming, until now!

I shot this first image at 1/50 sec which is MUCH slower than the photo above. The trick to shooting this type of photo is to pan (point your camera at the swimmer and move with them) at the exact same speed as they are traveling. This is not for the faint of heart and will not yield a great image every time.

Notice the blurring of this girl's hand as she reaches out for the next stroke. There is motion in her hand, her arm and the water, but her face is still perfectly in focus. This takes some practice, but will provide you with images that are very unique.

For this photo, I tried slowing down my shutter speed to 1/30 sec to show even more motion in the shot. When doing this, it makes it even harder to get the swimmers face in focus (because you have to be perfectly in sync with their motion and they can not be moving their head very much), but shows even more motion in her body and the water. (Try clicking on the image to see it larger and to see that her goggles are perfectly sharp with everything else in motion.)

Also taken at 1/30 sec, this photo really shows the amount of water splash coming off of the swimmer. Normally, since her face is not very sharp, I would have ignored this shot, but I really like the splashing of the water that would not be visible if shot at 1/2000 sec.

In this photo, if you look closely you will see the wall of water being separated by the swimmer's forward motion.

I found that this technique worked very well when shooting the backstroke. Since the swimmers generally have their arms rotating in a straight position, and their face exposed nicely, you can get nice sharp images of the swimmers expressions but get a lot of motion in their arms.

This last shot, which was taken at 1/60 sec really shows the turbulence in the water surrounding the swimmer. Not only can you see the swirling water around her body, but you can not help but notice the water splashing out from her head.

All in all, I think that this is another great example of why, in photography, it is sometimes good to break the rules. Clearly the photos were very different from images I had shot before, and I had a good time shooting them. Would I try this at the Olympics? Probably not during a race where I have to capture the key image, but I might try this during one of the practice sessions in London. We will have to wait and see. :)


Jolyn Laney said...

This is a very cool post. I would normally pass over these images since they aren't completely in FOCUS! But motion and movement is important to capture as well. I'll try to break the rules more often! ;)

durox said...

are you kidding us mr. Jeff?!

why write posts like this? you have lots of equipment, very good quality i shall add, please practice a lot a certain tehnique before coming out in public. it just paints an unprofessional look on your blog.. :D

@Jolyn Laney
by any means, this is not what you want when you talk about breaking the rules. there is nice and there is ugly blurr in photography. as a general rule, the blurr needs to flow or follow the movement... otherwise you get that 'accidental blurr feeling' in the photos that you see in all of the presented pictures except no. 2

the framing doesn't help either w/ this experiment: it is very sloppy and random.

WWICS Complaints said...

Loved your Post! It was an interesting perspective on how sports affects our decision making skills.