10 Tips for Action Photography

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

It is midnight on the flanks of Mount Shasta, an immense stratovolcano in northern California, and T.C. Worley is huddled in a tent. Wind explodes on the slopes above, gusts and snow slides thundering like locomotives at 10,000 feet.

On assignment to photograph climbers on the peak, Worley fights to sleep before a planned 4a.m. start. A camera body, lenses, and batteries jostle in his sleeping bag, freezable implements he keeps close to his core.


Worley, 31, is a Minneapolis-based photojournalist who’s specialty is adventure travel and the outdoors. From climbing mountains to trekking in search of the world’s tallest tree, Worley makes a living hauling camera equipment to remote corners — and then attempting to capture the perfect shot.

Working as a contributing photographer for New York Times, Worley’s work has appeared in dozens of articles for the paper. Here are 10 tips — from common techniques to unorthodox tricks — Worley offers for burgeoning photographers looking to capture action and scenery in any scenario outdoors.

1. Extreme Weather Tricks
On Mount Shasta, Worley kept batteries in a pocket next to his body as he climbed, preserving stored electricity that otherwise is zapped by cold. For shooting in precipitation, Worley sometimes slides his camera into the sleeve of a Gore-Tex jacket, nudging a long lens to the opening at the cuff and shooting with an ad hoc cover.

2. Varying Perspectives
Shooting a Nature Valley Grand Prix bike race last summer, Worley noticed a pack of photographers together all shooting with 300mm lenses — all essentially getting the same shots. To make his images stand out, Worley got close and put on a wide-angle lens. “At events, I try not to shoot the same vantage or angle as everyone else,” he said.


above: A long lens and fast shutter speed (top image) produces a predictable photograph at the Nature Valley Grand Prix bike race. A wide-angle lens on the bottom photo and some panning, which blurs the background, offers a unique image with a visual emphasis on speed
(Click for TC WORLEY PHOTO GALLERY)

3. Makeshift Tripod
When it’s dark or you need a long exposure for effect, set your camera on a rock, log, or ledge and employ the self-timer function to take a hands-free shot.

4. Safety Shot
A photojournalism standard is to first get a “safety shot,” which is an image that, though maybe not the most creative, tells the whole story of the scene or event. “If your kid is skiing, get a simple shot of him standing in his skis before you get creative,” Worley said. From an equipment approach, this can mean using a standard lens before grabbing a telephoto or a wide-angle lens.

5. Motion in Photos
If you shoot bike racing, skiing, or other high-action sports, learn to show motion in your photos. Panning — a technique where you move the lens to follow a subject — blurs the background while keeping the subject in focus. Or do the opposite: Make a longer exposure to blur the subject against a still background scene.


above: Cyclocross racers captured in a conventional manner (top image) and with a panning of the lens
(Click for TC WORLEY PHOTO GALLERY)

6. New Perspective
While planning a trip, Worley tries to avoid seeing photos of his destination. “I want a fresh perspective when I get there,” he said. Classic images of an area — say a famous vista at a National Park — can stick in your head as the must-get shot. Worley said this can cause a photographer to gloss past details and other opportunities.

7. Viewfinder Walk-Around
Can’t conjure the right composition for a photo? Worley recommends walking around with your eye to the viewfinder until you see the scene. He said the natural view from the human eye — which is about the equivalent of a 50mm lens — makes it difficult to visualize a scene when using a long lens or a wide-angle.

8. Stay Fit
Physical fitness is requisite to this job. Worley has to keep up with his subjects — often guides and athletes. He runs and bikes to be sure he can stay ahead and get the shot.


above: For these two shots of surfers on Lake Superior, the wider-angle (top) image is better — the subject is off-center, not bulls-eyed, and the repetition of the waves draws in more composition tools to create a better texture. Neither shot is bad, but the wider shot contains more artistic elements
(Click for TC WORLEY PHOTO GALLERY)

9. Continuous Focus
Single-shot autofocus cannot always keep up with mountain bikers on a trail or ski racers whizzing past. For subjects moving quickly toward or away from the shooter, employ a camera’s continuous focus mode to keep the action sharp, steady and in real time.

10. Freeze Frame
High action demands a quick shutter. For most scenes, Worley recommends setting a camera to no slower than 1/500 of a second to obtain a sharply focused subject. “That’s where you can catch the sweat drops flying and spinning bike wheels frozen in time.”

—Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

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Posted by Shawn - 03/29/2009 09:59 PM

Nice article. Thanks for the tips!

Posted by Jamie - 07/14/2009 03:16 PM

Jamie is an on-location Photographer specializing in artistic photography that captures the essence of life. Her infectious, captivating and passionate spirit draws in subjects of all ages and coaxes children out of their shell to produce images that are memoirs of their journey through life.

http://www.jamiegoffman.com

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