Sequence photos provide a truly amazing perspective for action shots. They allow the viewer to see the progression of something as it is happening. Unlike video, all of the important parts are frozen, so we can see every step. There a lot of sports where action sequences bring out the true character of the athletes. Who doesn’t want to see a tennis racket slowly progressing toward the ball or a basketball player inching his way up to the hoop? Sequence shots allow you to convey movement in a way that single photos can't.
This is the first in a two part series on creating sequence photos. It covers everything up to what you will do in your computer's paint program. If you want a tutorial on how to stitch photos together, skip this one and go to part 2.
The photo you’re looking at was created by Ted Bendixson, a frequent visitor of the blog and avid snowboarder. To take the shot, he had his friends set up a tripod and hold the button down as he approached the jump to do what he calls 'a backside rodeo 720 - a spin kind of in between a backflip and a 360'.
So here’s how you can make your own sequence shot. You will need a tripod, Adobe Photoshop or a similar program, and a digital camera that can take continuous fire photos. Some point and shoot cameras will allow you to take multiple photos in a burst, but be aware that the they can’t always take photos as fast as a digital SLR can take them. Note also that some cameras can take the first few shots of a sequence quickly, but then start to increase the time between taking subsequent photos as they need to empty their internal buffer first. To see what your camera does, test it first by seeing how many shots it can take before starting to slow down. The photo above was taken with a Nikon D40x, which has a frame capture rate of 3 frames per second. To get as many frames as there are in the above shot, you will need a camera that can take pictures at least as fast as the D40x.
You are also going to need a lot of available light when you take a sequence of photos like this. There is only one way to properly freeze action, and that is to use a fast shutter speed. When your camera takes pictures at 1/500 of a second and above, figures appear in the frame without any blurring, even though they are moving very fast. To get a fast shutter speed, you need a lot of light. The above photo was taken in the middle the day. Although it is cloudy out, they were still able to get a fast enough shutter speed without darkening the photo.
It is very important to lock the exposure settings on your camera. You need all of your frames to look exactly the same in terms of light balance. The only real way to do this is with manual settings. To make sure I set the correct manual settings, I first choose Shutter Priority mode with a shutter speed of 1/500 sec. I then take a test photo pointing where my sequence shot will be taken, and look at the values for Aperture and ISO that my camera chose. I then set my camera to Manual Mode and choose exactly those settings. This ensures that all my pictures will be exposed exactly the same way.
Second to locking the exposure, you need lock your camera’s focus. This can be done by “pre-focusing” where you believe the action is going to take place. Start off in automatic focus mode, find a point, and focus on it. Now switch back to manual focus mode to actually take the stream of photos. If you keep your lens in automatic focus mode for the actual picture taking, the camera will “try” to focus again when you just want it to keep taking shots. Switching back to manual mode tells the camera you simply want to take a continuous stream of pictures.
Also, a tripod is absolutely essential for sequence shots. That’s because the slight amount of camera shake shifts the frame around just a little bit on each photo making it incredibly difficult to stitch everything together once the photos are taken. When you use a tripod, the frame for each picture stays in place, and everything is easier to put together.
Wait for the action to take place, and hold down the shutter while your friend does something crazy. Try to get a little bit of the action both before and after the main subject you want to capture. Try to make sure your friend moves around the frame too - the sequence works best when the subject of each frame does not overlap with where they were in the previous frame. You will notice that the photographer captured Ted just before he left the jump all the way to the end of his rotation. This creates a full stream of events, and makes the photo all the more interesting.
While you’re at it, don’t ignore the fundamentals. Just because you’re putting a sequence shot together, doesn’t mean it’s going to magically turn out great. Pay attention to composition and the rule of thirds. Try to line up the photo so most of the action occurs near one of the thirds divisions. You’ll notice that the path takes the snowboarder through the left third, right third, and top third. This tends to result in a visually interesting image.
The next step in the process is to stitch all of the photos together in Photoshop or a similar program. We will cover this in the next tutorial. For now, get on out there and capture your sequence. If you have any ideas, send them my way. I’m always looking for a fresh take on this fun photographic technique.
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