Ryu: Copy that

It’s been long time since I’ve written a blog post. As expected, I’m blaming my Japan trip and my laziness. More Japan than lazy. But now that the tsunami is over and done with, I can put 98% of my energy into writing blog posts for you. Yes, you should be delighted, because it’s either my blog posts or Matt’s and I know which one you want.

Wanted to talk about the method of improving so that you can become the awesomest sports photographer in the neighbourhood. Yes, I’m fully aware that if you are the only sports photographer in the neighbourhood, you are numero uno by default. But for argument’s sake, let’s say that you are an eager participant in our Training Ground. Although you have a bit of a masochistic side, you are fed up with us tearing your photos apart. “It’s boring” and “Lazy photography” and “Too happy to have shot an frozen action shot” and “You suck”. You should be happy that we don’t talk about your mother. But what are you supposed to do to make yourself into a better sports photographer? What does it take to shoot something truly awe inspiring? I thought I can give you some tips that should lead you to Valhalla of sports photography.

1. Look at the good stuff
What is the difference between a “good” sports photo and a “bad” one? The answer is “You know when you see one”. As simple as that. Photography being a subjective pursuit of happiness, there is no way to quantify good stuff and the bad. But you are surrounded by great sports photographers. Check Matt and my work for a starter. Then check out all the monthly You Win winners. Then move onto magazines and websites and locate sports photos you like. Find out who shot them and check out their other work. You have to train your eyes in order to differentiate between good and the bad. Although it may sound easy, judging from the shots that have been submitted to You Win and Training Ground, well, I’m not so sure. But I assure you that more quality work you come across, the better your eyes will become. When you come across an image that you really like, then it’s time to ask yourself, “Can I do the same thing?”

2. Deconstruct the shot
Recently, my dear friend Matt Cohen shot some multiple exposure during a tennis tournament. I had no idea how he shot it, but he kindly told his minions that it was done by in-camera multiple exposure. I googled first and then went into D3’s menu and found out that I too could do this. Last night, I decided to have a go at this.  I wanted to use this to shoot shoot the player’s walking onto the pitch. After playing around with it, there were questions. How fast does the shutter speed need to be? What angle should it be? How many frames? And so forth. I wanted my shot to look like what Matt shot, 3 to 4 distinct shots in a single frame. As time approached, I was mentally ticking off my check list. Angles. Check. Exposure numbers. Check. Function switched on (you need to manually switch this function on and it turns off after the designated number of frames are shot). Check. As the players came onto the field, I hit the release and off it went. Off it went, 9 freaking frames per second. As you can see from the shot, I did a terrible job. Since the shutter was on continuous, it went through the 5 frames like nobody’s business. I’m still hanging my head in shame.

3. Repeat
I failed. I know I failed. But I know why I failed. Trying new technique is daunting. You’ve seen a shot you like, you’ve deconstructed the shot, and now you’re left with garbage. In most cases, this is what happens. You won’t get it the first time, especially if you are trying out a new concept or a new technique. It comes with practice and knowing exactly what needs to be done in order to get the shot. I for one now know that I need to put the release on single shots, find a way to stabilise the camera for the duration of the exposures, and find a way to take 5 exposures about 1 second apart. Although what I wrote makes sense to me now, it might turn out to be a disaster when I’m taking those shots. I will then need to make further adjustments and more adjustments until I get it right. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I hope it doesn’t take 100+ years to get this shot.

That’s about as far as I can take you. You might think we wave our 70-200 and presto we get this awesome shot. Things might be easier when you are shooting something static, but this is sports. The athletes will not stop and pause for you, nor will they repeat the action you’ve just missed. What you need is to visualise what you want to do, get the technique down pat, and pray to your god that things work out when you hit the shutter. The only thing you leave it to chance is what happens in the frame. Everything else must be automatic.

So hopefully next time I will be able to tell you that I have successfully imitated Matt’ technique to the point that I’m better at it than he is.

Imitation is the best form of flattery.


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5 thoughts on “Ryu: Copy that

  1. This is Matt’s photo that you’re talking about, right?

    Denis Kudla - 2012 SAP Open

    I did something similar last summer, but I didn’t do it in-camera.

    Minnesota Twins Liam Hendriks MLB Debut, September 6, 2011

    I wonder how it would have turned out if I had tried doing it in-camera instead. I might have to try that sometime. I know mine could have never run as an editorial photograph of course since it was “manipulated” in post-production. Doing it in camera would technically be acceptable though.

  2. Ben,

    No, he did a better one which was with McEnroe.
    As for photoshopping images for editorial use, it’s happening a lot more often than you think. A LOT more. It’s just we don’t notice it as people who are doing them have gotten a lot better at it. Nothing drastic, but mysterious balls appearing out of nowhere is not uncommon.

    In camera seems to be the safer option. :)


  3. Johnny Mac

    That’s the one I assume.

    Oh yes, I’m well aware of your view on Photoshop from the podcasts. I still can’t believe how common you say that is. I mean last summer there was a photographer over here in the U.S. that got fired because he accidentally transmitted a photo where he had cropped out someone standing in the background at a golf tournament using the Content Aware Fill tool in Photoshop CS5. It didn’t even change the subject matter of the photo at all, it just cleaned up the background slightly. Apparently he did it to show a friend how easy the new tool was to use in Photoshop. He never intended to transmit the photo, but he did accidentally and it cost him his job.

  4. Ryu, you can use both “Multiple exposure” and “Interval timer shooting” on your D3 at the same time, though it isn’t a perfect solution to your problem. First set the number of shots you want in the “Multiple Exposure” menu, then go to “Interval timer shooting” and choose start time “Now”, interval 1 seconds, “intervals” 1 and “no. of shots” to the same number as you set in the Multiple Exposure menu.

    The problem with this workaround is that the first shot of the multiple exposure isn’t taken when you press “OK” in the Interval timer shooting menu, but (in this case) 1 second after you pressed it, so you get the effect of a really long shutter lag. Still, it could work if you time it right.

  5. Ben,

    Photographers these days are under a lot of pressure to get the perfect shots. “If AP / Getty / Reuters got it, why didn’t you get it?”. That type of thing. Since the business of sports photography with agencies is “make sure you get the same shit everyone else does so that we don’t look like incompetent bastards”, the photographer needs to do whatever to get the shot. I don’t edit any of my pictures that goes to the agency, but for the ones I put up on my site and flickr? Hell yes. It’s my artistic right to do whatever the hell I want with my images. I do have my own rules about how much I will “edit”, but I do have my boundaries. :)


    See, I knew there are people who are way smarter than I am. I am going to give that one a try next time. It’s gonna be fun again. :)

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