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Sporting Chance - part 5 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

by Mike McNamee Published 01/09/2006

These calculations assume that stopping action is vital. In reality this is not so. Aesthetics demands a bit of blur to create a sense of movement. The trick is to make it look like you meant it, not that you were incompetent! Note two other things. An image stabilising lens is of no help in stopping subject movement, all it will do is prevent you from adding camera shake to an already slightly fuzzy subject. The calculations assume that the subject is moving across the field of view. If the action is coming diagonally towards you, you can grab about a half stop to your benefit; if the action is directly towards you, you can grab just over a stop.

This assumes that the subject is moving at a single speed. However, a bowler running up to deliver is going at 20mph and if you are panning at that speed he is stationary on the film. However his arm is moving at 70mph at the ball but is effectively at zero mph at the shoulder. The ground is moving at an effective -20mph (backwards across the frame) which is why it is possible to have a near sharp bowler and a nice blur on the crowd in the background.

The speed differential is even greater if you are panning a racing car. Here the axle of the wheel has zero translational speed, the bottom of the wheel is stationary (if you are panning exactly) but the top of the wheel is moving forward at twice the speed of the vehicle. While all this is going on the rotational speed of the wheel is whatever it is. The net effect is almost sharp writing on Jensen Button's helmet, a blurred background and rotationally blurred wheels. If, in addition, the car is pitching under braking or due to a bumpy surface then only the logos in the centre of that pitching motion will be sharp.

This is an effect you can sometimes see on motorbikes as they dig their noses in under heavy braking into a bend.


RIGHT: Michael Chang serves at Wimbledon. The timing of the photographer must be almost on a par with that of the server if you are to catch the ball leaving the racket. It helps if you have played the sport you are photographing.

Framing and Timing

The uninitiated imagine that sports photographers hammer away at five or ten frames per second in all circumstances. This is not so. Timing a moment gives you a single chance to capture a cricket ball on the bat or pads.

If you fire at 5fps as the cricket ball moves through your field of view at 80mph it moves as much as 23 feet between frames - little chance to be in a frame. The secret is to anticipate the shot and time your shutter with the ball's impact on the bat. Timing comes with practice and good hand-to-eye coordination. Some people have better timing than others and it has to be said that some will never make sports photographers as long as they live. Although it pains us old codgers to admit it, it is also why young people are better than us!


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1st Published 01/09/2006
last update 17/10/2017 14:22:35

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Updated 17/10/2017 14:22:35 Last Modified: Tuesday, 17 October 2017