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Picture Perfect: setting the scene

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Catching the perfect shot at precisely the 
right moment can be extremely challenging. But whether you shoot action, sunsets or night scenes, looking back through your flashes of photographic genius will 
encourage you to keep on clicking!

In our May feature we talked about the technical aspects of photography, and in particular film speed, aperture, depth of field, flash photography and avoiding camera shake. This month we get a little more visually creative, with ways to perfect action shots, long exposures, sunsets and night scenes.

Action Photography
The most important thing to remember when mastering the art of action photography is to make sure you’re using a very fast shutter speed. By doing this you will be able to ‘freeze’ the action and avoid blurry images.
If you want to incorporate a sense of movement in your image, you can adjust the shutter speed. Depending on what you’re shooting, it’s often better to have your camera on its manual or tracking setting. It will be easier for you – and your camera – if you focus in advance on the spot where you predict the action is going to take place. Make your aperture as small as conditions allow by keeping your camera on a higher f-stop; this will help you to get most things in the shot in focus even if your pre-focus point is slightly off.

One of the key things to remember when it comes to action photography is that getting the perfect shot doesn’t revolve solely around being in the right place at the right time; it also depends on composition. Always consider your surroundings, making sure that the background isn’t going to interfere with the subject in your photo, which could detract from a really powerful image. It’s important to remember that action doesn’t always have to be displayed in a long shot that includes the entire scene; sometimes a close-up of the subject can depict the action more powerfully. For example, a close up of racehorses’ hooves kicking up sand may be more effective than shooting the entire horse race from afar. Action photography is not something you will master overnight: it takes some training and plenty of practice.

LONG EXPOSURES
It’s hard to get the correct exposure in poor lighting conditions. The trick is to keep the shutter open for longer, in order to allow more light onto your camera sensor. The problem here is that people can’t hold a camera perfectly steady for such a long time, so consider getting yourself a tripod. You want to avoid too much grain and pixelation, so you should set your camera’s light sensitivity to ISO 50 or 100 if possible (see last month’s discussion of film speed). A fairly small or medium aperture is optimal, but remember, the smaller the aperture, the slower the shutter speed you’ll need to get the image you want. It’s important to remember that with a slow shutter speed, anything that moves in the frame will be blurred. For example, usually when you shoot a seascape with long exposures, the water gets a glossy sheen. This is caused by the movement of water during the exposure. The effect can be quite dreamy and beautiful, so don’t be afraid of incorporating a little blur. Usually when people shoot long exposures of waterfalls, streams, or anything that has a constant flow of movement, they will include an element of stability that is entirely in focus (a rock in a stream, for example) while the water rushing around it gives the image a sense of action or movement.

NIGHT SCENES
Your most vital piece of equipment when shooting at night – apart from a camera! – is a tripod. Because you will be shooting on an extremely low shutter speed to allow in as much light as possible, you’ll need a tripod to hold your camera steady. It’s almost impossible to capture the perfect ‘still’ night-time shot without one, unless you can brace or wedge your camera up against something. One of your priorities when shooting at night should be planning exactly how to frame your chosen scene. You need to know what you want to crop and how you’re going to crop it. For example, if you’re shooting a cityscape or a street scene, you must watch your verticals, so as to avoid distortion. Remember, because you’re shooting on such a slow shutter speed, any movement in the shot, such as people walking, will be blurred. For night-time shots, keep your aperture mid-range or closed, and your ISO fairly low to avoid digital noise. Avoid using a flash directly from the front. If you’re able, rather have a flash or other lighting off-camera and from the side. If you have a removable flash unit you can use it independently from your camera, to highlight certain areas in your frame. You should have plenty of time to set off the flash manually, seeing that you’re using such a slow shutter speed.

SUNSETS
When attempting to capture a breathtaking sunset, it’s vital that you always find a point of interest to include in the frame, be it a mountain to one side, a tree or maybe even a lighthouse. You also need to decide where to place your horizon line; move your camera around to see what makes a stronger image and how you’re going to incorporate your point of interest. The Rule of Thirds (see ‘Capturing the moments’ on page 54 of the May issue) dictates that you can put your chosen subject either in the middle or on one side of the middle third in your frame, drawing the viewer’s eye to the perfectly balanced image.
To avoid underexposure, set your camera to manual and slowly increase or decrease your aperture and shutter speed settings until you get the correct exposure. Your camera may be set to activate fill-in flash automatically when shooting at a sunset. If you prefer, switch the flash off and rely solely on available or fill-in light – unless, of course, you have people in the shot that you don’t want silhouetted. You need plenty of patience when shooting sunsets: take your time and watch the sky for any radical or interesting changes.

 

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