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Sports Photography: How to Emphasize Speed by Contrasting Stillness with Motion

For photographing 1-on-1 duelling sports such as fencing, you usually want your shot to depict the excitement of the match. In this article, we will take a look at how we can effectively do so by using panning to showcase the stillness and movements of the athletes in a single shot. (Report by: Shugo Takemi)

A slow shutter image that juxtaposes stillness with motion

EOS-1D X Mark II/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 150mm/ Manual exposure (f/6.3, 1/10 sec)/ ISO 50/ WB: Auto

 

In fencing, one split second is all it takes to determine who wins and who loses. I wanted to depict the split second where one of the athletes was moving and the other stationary, in a single photograph. When both subjects are moving, in order to capture both stillness and movement concurrently, your shutter speed cannot be too fast, but neither can it be too slow. I wanted to avoid ending up with a shot where both subjects were obscured by motion blur, but neither did I want one where both were frozen in action.

While this may vary depending on the movement speed of the subject, you might want to change your shutter speed based on how fast they are moving. In this case, I managed to create a motion blur from the fencer in motion by using a shutter speed of 1/10 seconds, whereas the fencer making smaller movements could be captured clearly with a shutter speed of about 1/2 a second.

Another tip would be to use panning in your shots. When panning, focus your shot on the stationary athlete, rather than following the athlete with greater movement. As the stationary athlete might still move slightly, the panning shot should try to anticipate and follow his/her minute movements. In doing so, the athlete with the larger movement in the opposite direction of your panning movement will create a greater blur effect while the athlete you are focused on will remain frozen in action.

For yet another way of using panning to capture the action in sports photography, check out:
Camera FAQ #22: How Do I Make Sports Photographs Look More Dynamic?

 

Freezing the decisive moment

There is indeed a certain charm that can be found in the speed and movements during that single moment of fencing. However, there is another way to capture the split second where the two fencers face off—by freezing the action entirely with a fast shutter speed. For the photo below, shot at 1/2,000 seconds, I focused on one of the fencers beforehand, then released the shutter when I was ready.

Here’s another useful read: How to Use High-speed Continuous Shooting to Freeze Moments Skilfully

Fencing shot at fast shutter speed

EOS-1D X Mark II/ EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM + Extender EF 2x III/ FL: 800mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/2,000 sec)/ ISO 10000/ WB: Auto
Freezing both players in action using a fast shutter speed of 1/2,000 sec brought out the tension of the decisive moment.


More tips here: Sports – Customizing the AF Function to Capture the Right Moment

 


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A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
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Shugo Takemi

Shugo Takemi

Born in 1985, Takemi graduated from the Department of Photography at Nihon University’s College of Art. After completing his studies he relocated to Vancouver in Canada where he worked for a local newspaper, MINKEI NEWS VANCOUVER. After returning to Japan, he was involved in photography activities in various genres. His work included photography for magazines, posters for sports events and programmes. He was also a photographer for the application committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. Currently, he is active as a freelance photographer.