Last week, I did a two article series on how to create a composite sequence photo with a digital SLR camera and some photo manipulation software. I have received some excellent examples of photo sequences, and I would like to share and critique one of them with you. The following image was sent by Jack Bivins, and it is a prime example of an action sequence. You get a true sense of motion and a subject who is visibly thrilled to be jumping over 30 feet into the deep blue.
Jack took some time to give me a little bit of background on this image. Interestingly, this picture isn’t just a composite of the jumper’s actions. Even the waterfalls are created with a completely separate exposure. Jack then layered all of these exposures on top of one another to create the final image.
I am immediately struck by the vibrant green trees in the upper section. They provide a nice contrast to the jumper, framing his motion through the shot. You will notice that they surround the jumper without crowding him out or distracting the viewer from the action. They also dip down, almost as if they are following his trajectory.
This rich green color simply isn’t achievable without doing a longer exposure. Jack informed me that he setup a tripod and used a slower shutter speed. In doing so, he gives the trees a longer time to expose on the image sensor, causing their dark green color to come out even more.
Conveying a sense of motion
Jack also exposed the waterfall for a much longer time. You will notice that it blends into one large moving body. This is great because it helps to emphasize the sense of motion. The waterfall shoots out to the left, mimicking the jumper’s direction. Had the photographer decided to use the same shutter speed he used to capture the jumper to capture the waterfall, the waterfall would feel frozen and out of place.
I really like the photographer’s use of negative space in this image. The blue water in the bottom left corner balances out the green in the upper right corner and serves as an excellent exit point for the eye. Whenever you have a moving subject, you want to create a space in front of that subject for it to move into, and the water serves its purpose very well in this respect.
I must also point out the real sense of scale with this image. It gives the viewer a true feeling of how frightening it must have been to make this jump. By simply zooming out and finding a way of cropping the image so the viewer can compare the jumper with the rest of the scene, the photographer helps to immerse us in the image.
Avoid “guy in the sky” shots
I see a lot of action photographs that I call “guy in the sky” photos. They usually consist of a person who is doing some kind of jump, and he or she is completely surrounded by air. While it’s nice to see someone in the middle of something challenging or risky, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on without some kind of reference. That’s where this picture succeeds. The photographer knows exactly where to place the frame so the subject can be seen in relation to everything else.
There is only one place where this photo could be improved, and I am pretty sure the photographer already knows. While taking the sequence of jumper shots, the shutter speed must have been a little slow. The jumper appears blurred in all of the images. This could be improved by using a faster shutter speed to take the individual sequenced images of the jumper. The jumper will appear a little dark or grainy (if you increase ISO to get a brighter exposure) with this change, but he won’t be blurry. All in all, this isn’t too much of an issue because the blurriness conveys his motion.
In critiquing this photo, we touched on many of the basics for taking good action shots. As a rule, always provide some kind of reference and remember to give your subject a space to move into. This sequence photo is a prime example of how the two can be combined to create something meaningful.
Keep sending your photos my way, and I’ll keep picking new themes for the weekly photo critiques. I look forward to seeing what you capture!
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