Waterfall with bird flying in front
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Gallery: photographing poetry in motion

Poetry in motion

All that I adore

Songwriters: Michael Anthony / Paul Kaufman

There may be poetry in motion, but it’s not necessarily easy to capture that poetry in a still photograph. Despite that, we all try from time to time, and there are various techniques we can use.

For Patti’s Lens Artists Challenge this week I am sharing a few of my attempts and explaining my different approaches. Some, you may see, have been more successful at capturing the sense of motion than others.

Slow shutter speeds

One way of showing movement is to blur it by using a slow shutter speed. The longer the shutter is open, the more blurred any moving objects will appear, as they have a longer period in which to have moved.

This can be especially effective for waterfalls as these two shots of Aysgarth Falls in Wensleydale, Yorkshire, show. The one with the water almost frozen in droplets was taken with the shutter at 1/250th of a second. The one with the blurred water, in contrast, was taken at 1/13th of a second. Incidentally the brown colour of the water is due to peat from higher up in the Dales, running off after heavy rain earlier in the week.

Water flowing over a small waterfallBlurred water flowing over a small waterfall
Middle Falls, Aysgarth

This shot of the Seine in Paris at night was taken with a ½ second shutter speed. I didn’t have a tripod so I used the parapet of a bridge to steady the camera and a delayed shutter release so I wouldn’t jerk the camera when pressing it. That’s a favourite technique of mine, usually reasonably successful. The lights of the moving boat are blurred while the rest of the shot is acceptably sharp.

City river at night with bridge and passing boat
The Seine at night

When I took this photo of musicians at a camp in the Thar Desert two of them were uninvolved in the number being played at that moment. As you can see, they posed for me when they saw my camera, but the drummer carried on playing. You can see the movement in his hand as the 1/15th second shutter speed wasn’t enough to freeze it, even with flash.

Three people in traditional Indian dress sitting on the ground, one playing drum
Music and dance performance at Samsara in the Thar Desert

Fast shutter speeds

Alternatively you can try to freeze the motion by using a fast shutter speed. You’ll need to be sure you are focused on the subject, not easy when it won’t stay still! When we visited Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica earlier this year I spent some time on one of the beaches tracking pelicans with my lens. This was the best of the shots I captured.

Large bird flying above rocks in the sea
Pelican in Corcovado National Park

The same technique enabled me to get this shot of flamingos flying overhead at the Salar de Atacama in Chile.

Looking up at large pink birds flying overhead
Flamingos over the Salar de Atacama

Sometimes you just get lucky! This egret on the Rio Nosara, also in Costa Rica, took off just as I pressed the shutter.

Large white bird flying above a river with forest beyond
Egret on the Rio Nosara

Movement through context

Another way to photograph motion is to capture your subject in such a way that the movement is obvious, from the context or pose. You can sense the movement of these Red Lechwe in the Okavango Delta because of the water they are throwing up with their hooves. As with the pelican and flamingos above, I got the photo by tracking them with my lens. The background is blurred, adding to the sense of movement.

Two large deer running through shallow water
Red Lechwe in the Okavango Delta

This high jumper at the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London may be more or less frozen by my 1/500th second shutter speed, but there’s no doubt that he is moving. What is less clear is why he us wearing odd shoes!

Man in blue clearing high jump bar
High jumper at the World Athletics Championships, 2017

The motion of this young boy jumping in delight among these bubble in the Foro San Michele in Lucca is obvious.

Boy in red jumper leaping among large bubbles
In the Foro San Michele, Lucca

When travelling by boat or ship you can show the motion by photographing the wake you are leaving behind. This shot was taken on Lago Todos los Santos in Chile. The weather was so poor that day that there was little else to be seen or photographed!

Looking back at the wave created by a boat
On Lago Todos los Santos

Here we are leaving Friday Harbor on San Juan Island (Washington State) in search of orcas. The latter were no-shows, so again the views from the boat were among the more interesting photos I could get that day!

Looking back at the wave created by a small boat
Leaving Friday Harbor

Burst shooting

My new Panasonic Lumix has an interesting feature I’m just getting to grips with. I can shoot a burst of footage of a moving subject and then browse through the frames one by one to select which shots I want to save. The following photos were taken using that setting. I extracted four of the shots then stitched them back together in a short video sequence.

Bee sequence

I can also use that setting simply to capture a single still of a moving subject, as with this shot taken in a local churchyard.

Pale pink trumpet flower with a bee in the centre
Bee in a hollyhock, Ealing

I’m hoping to experiment more with that new setting when I get the chance for some bird and wildlife photography on future trips.

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still

Dorothea Lange


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