As a former Army-guy, one of my favorite activities was to go to the range and fire my weapon…combining aim, breath control, trigger squeeze, and timing in order to hit objects I could barely see for the brief amount of time thy were up. Those same elements now combine to help me capture those split-second moments for an athlete when they reach that dramatic moment in there routine that expresses their skills and daring.
I recently setup the strobes to capture young cheerleaders at a competition and challenged them do their best stunt for the camera. To capture this image I had the performer face directly into the primary strobe, set 45 degrees on the left of my position. A secondary strobe was set to the right and about 10 feet in the air in order to light the subject from above as they jumped. I also removed the camera from the tripod in order to be more flexible in framing the shot.
AIM…having the camera off the tripos was great for framing but requires some practice getting the proper aim. The movement is dynamic and each jump is slightly different. To offset this a little I tried to get as close as possible with the shortest focal length and still give me room in the frame to be off a little, fixing the framing in post production.
BREATH CONTROL…really this is just having YOU amped-up and ready to shoot, totally focused on the subject and every sense poised to react when you need to.
TRIGGER SQUEEZE…since the camera is off the tripod your movement combined with the movement of the subject creates the potential for blurry images. I recommend using the strap wrapped around your arm or bracing your elbows, forearms, or even your body against a support structure to limit any movement of the camera.
TIMING…as the subject of this article, IS EVERYTHING. For this I had the subject give me a countdown and conduct a few practice jumps in order for me to understand the tempo of the maneuver. As the subject counted, that breath control came into play and mentally had to anticipate the action in order to hit the mark. To make things just a little more complicated, the trigger responds just a split second after you want it to so I had the button depressed half-way (also sets the focus ahead of time) during the count and fully depressed the button just a fraction of a second before the height of the stunt.
The shutter speed was set at 1/320, above the recommended 1/250 for strobe photography. For me it was worth losing some of the bottom of the image (due to the curtain-synch on the camera) in order to get a sharper image. Oddly, it didn’t affect the image at all. Who knew!?
And yes, you get that same rush when you get a decent shot combining all the elements mentioned above as you do when you see your target go down on the range, smell the powder and feel the concussion of the rifle.