Using corners in sports photography

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Recently I made some photos of kids who were practising for the Weet-Bix Tryathlon, which is a light-hearted triathlon for kids. The kids were using the actual course, and before they got started I went to look for shooting positions. Today we’ll look at what I chose for the cycling and running.

It pays to be realistic and there was virtually no hope of creating “arty” photos in the conditions that I found, although I’m always on the lookout for such opportunities. My primary goals were (1) to get some nice snaps for the kids and their families and (2) to show movement in those photos.  Thankfully it was heavily overcast, which is much better than full sun.

Cycling

Basically I wanted a corner with a plain background. When something in a photo has the potential to fall it adds life to a photo, and having the kids leaning into a corner would provide this even if they were too slow for motion blur.

Let’s start with a “bad” example. This girl’s family will probably like this photo, but it’s very static and it looks as if the bike is bolted to the ground:

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Let’s look at a three good examples. The driveway in the background gives a sense of depth, as does the layering caused by the shrub on the right. These shots deliver a sense of movement:

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Click to enlarge, then click again

This is a race of sorts, but the photos above don’t tell us this because they only show a single cyclist, and for all we the viewers know he could be out for a solo jaunt. See how having more than one cyclist in the frame makes the photo to tell a story that is closer to the reality of the situation:

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Click to enlarge, then click again

Running

The kids had to run a loop around a sports field, then go over a low footbridge before turning hard left to the finish. They had to turn as soon as they came off the bridge and I figured that this turn would produce some interesting body positions. Also, the bridge was a choke point so I knew that every kid would pass in front of my shooting position. The background wasn’t ideal, but was okay when blurred.

I sat on the grass between the bridge and the finish. Sitting was a lot more comfortable for a long spell, and an unusual viewpoint adds interest to a photo (adults aren’t used to looking up at kids so when the camera is below a child’s eye line you have an unusual viewpoint). This position also meant that the kids would be looking towards the camera when cornering. When heavy rain showers came through I impersonated a mushroom by putting an umbrella up for the duration.

First, the “bad” example:

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Those two are running in a straight line and, although their families will probably like the shot, it’s nothing special. I do like the rain, which is hard to see at this size.

The contortions of cornering have a lot more visual interest:

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Click to enlarge, then click again

A final tip

Don’t switch off your brain and your camera when the sports is over. The athletes gathered at the gear dump point after they’d done all the hard work and I saw an opportunity for rounding out the story with candid shots of relaxed kids. In anticipation (a very important skill in photojournalism) I swapped the telephoto I had been using for a standard lens and this was the result:

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Click to enlarge, then click again


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Street Sleeper

I do like a good juxtaposition, and they don’t get much better than this.

Street Sleeper

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A juxtaposition occurs when you place side-by-side two objects that wouldn’t normally be seen together. Doing so emphasises the properties of each object by contrasting it with the other. Imagine that you’re at a fashion show, watching (allegedly) glamorous models striding down the catwalk: after seeing the fiftieth fancy outfit they all start to blur together and none stands out. Suddenly, a car mechanic dressed in oily overalls appears in the middle of the line of models and strolls along with them. Now you are acutely aware of the fancy femininity of the models’ outfits because when they are juxtaposed with plain, dirty overalls your senses are awakened. Moreover, you notice the overalls far more than you do when you walk into a garage, and you’re likely to think about the differences between the lifestyles of models and mechanics. The juxtaposition has made you much more aware of the nature of models and the nature of mechanics, and done so on more than one level. If you made a photo that showed the mechanic among the models the juxtaposition would make the viewers engage with the photo, i.e. spend longer looking at it. To put it another way, the photo would be far, far more interesting than one of models on a catwalk. Successful (i.e. appealing) photos are ones that people emotionally engage with and spend time looking at, and a juxtaposition can make a photo successful.


Something different: psychedelia from editing LAB in Gimp

On Digital Photography School Helen Bradley wrote an article titled Ho-Hum to Wow! in Gimp. Here she gives very clear instructions for giving colours punch by using Gimp to edit the LAB colour space. I’m a Gimp user so I tried out the method, with the results that you see here.

What do you think of the second photo? Post a comment and share your thoughts.

Ho-Hum: here I edited the curves and levels in the conventional RGB colour space

Here I've edited the LAB colour space using Helen Bradley's method. The plastic has gone psychedelic and, as advertised, the colour and contrast of the leaves and branches has been given a real lift. This is just a quick edit and I expect that further experimentation would improve it. Putting photos on WordPress does degrade them.


A response to “Photography vs. Image-making”

Art by Xanti Rodriguez. FEP European Photographer of the Year 2011 commercial section winner

On T.O.P. Roger Overall has written an articled titled Photography vs. Image-making. He talks about heavily manipulated images such as the one you see here and asks the following questions:

What exactly is a photograph these days[*]? Should we make a distinction between photography and image-making? If so, where exactly do we place the divide?

The first step to answering those questions is to look at the two fundamental categories of art, which are (1) additive and (2) subtractive.

Arts such as drawing and painting are additive. The artist starts with a blank piece of paper and only what he decides to add to that paper will appear in the final result. His creative process is one of deciding what to include in his piece of art.

Photography is subtractive. The photographer starts with the huge world that is all around him and decides which part of it is going to appear in his photo. His creative process consists of deciding what to exclude from his final result, and whatever he does not exclude will appear in his photo.

If a photographer clones a distracting element out of a photo that is a subtractive action and he’s operating within the photographic paradigm. If that same photographer adds something to the photo – as seen on the right – he’s moving out of the photographic paradigm and into that of the traditional arts.

To answer the question, the division between “photography and image-making†” is the division between additive and subtractive art. Roger also asks if we should make such a distinction, and images such as the one you see here indicate that making such a distinction is futile because the creativity that is built into humans drives some of them to start in one paradigm and end in another.


* Strictly speaking, an image made with a digital camera isn’t a photograph: it’s a reprograph.
† Photography is image-making (not “taking”), so in this context I would prefer to say “digital art”.


Cameras are interpreters

In an article on Digital Photography School the author says

The camera is an instrument that records exactly what is there, without judgment or interpretation.

I must respectfully disagree, because a camera always interprets – alters – what is “sees”. There are many factors involved in this interpretation including shutter speed, aperture, lens (extreme example: fisheye lens), focal length, film (think about black and white), sensor, and processor (the computer in a digital camera which processes the data coming from the sensor). Just as an interpretation of language never captures the full nuances of the original speech with all its cultural connotations and subtleties of meaning that a native speaker would pick up, so does a camera never provide a true and full rendering of a scene that matches what we would see when viewing the same scene with naked eyes. If you put on rose tinted spectacles they will interpret or alter what you see, just as viewing a photo puts an interpreter/camera between you and a scene.

Consider these two examples (clicking on a photo will enlarge it):

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This photo is close to what came out of the camera, but it looks nothing like what I saw at the time, because when we look at a scene we think that everything is in focus. I controlled the camera's interpretation of the scene by selecting a particular focal length and aperture (focal length is the "measurement" of a lens in mm. The same focal length and aperture would give a different result when used with a camera which had a sensor smaller or larger than the one in my camera, but I don't want to get too technical here).



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This photo is close to what came out of the camera, but it looks nothing like what I saw at the time due to the shutter speed I chose and the fact that I moved the camera while the shutter was open.



The great thing about photography is that we can control the interpreter – the camera – and make it produce a pleasing interpretation of a scene: that is the skill and the art of photography. This where previsualisation is invaluable, i.e. knowing what you want the final result to look like before you pick up your camera/interpreter. When you know what the destination is you can guide the interpreter accordingly. When I was watching the people that you see below I visualised a photo with silhouettes, lots of motion blur, drama, and a strong sense of movement. In closing, this is the final interpretation of that scene, which looks completely different to what I saw at the time*:

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* The great thing about digital photography is that it is easy to continue the interpretation process on a computer, as I did in this case when I converted to monochrome (black and white). Apart from that what you see in this photo is essentially what came out of the camera.


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