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A case against Stop Action

The usual “rule” for photography is to choose a shutter speed fast enough to eliminate the jitter or bluriness when the subject moves.

But sometimes ignoring the rule leads to more interesting photographs.

Here’s a few examples.

This little girl is practicing to become a major league baseball player. She’s winding up, ready to let ‘er rip.
By using a slower shutter speed, can’t you feel the breeze as she whips the ball towards the batter? Here the shutter speed was 1/50th second. Had I used a faster shutter speed, her left arm would have been frozen.
Here she’s enjoying the outdoor swingset. By itself, the photo shows no movement. But seeing her at the apogee (highest point) of the swing, doesn’t it conjure the feeling of motion? Recall that at the top of her swing, the velocity is zero – enabling you to use a relatively slow shutter speed to “capture” the motion.

Again we see a subject on a swingset but this time upside down. The relatively slow shutter speed of 1/100th second stops the action at the top of her swing.

In this case, the pose with her legs flailing about helps to introduce movement. And see how her hair is flying thereby adding to the feeling of action in the image.

A final example is this photo that lets me see the speed of the hoop and just about hear the air whirling around.

For this photo, I patiently waited for a moment when the young girl’s face was in a relatively fixed position while at the same time her arms were wildly gyrating within the hoop.


Use your camera’s shutter speed priority mode. Try setting the shutter speed to 1/100th of a second or slower – e.g. 1/25 or 1/50. If you use an even slower shutter speed, you may end up with blurry photos since you may not be able to hold the camera steady enough without introducing camera shake.

With just a little practice you can make your photos move.

Written by Arnie Lee


Don’t Just Stand There

05th August 2011

a case for more activity


With fourteen grandkids, I feel very lucky to have ample opportunity to catch them on film.

And while I enjoy taking portraits of them – conventional static pictures of them at rest – I also like to capture them as they’re going about their youthful business.

Below are a few examples of each.

Here I’ve asked Logan to give up a few seconds from playing in the sandbox and “hold still”.

In this shot I’ve caught Eden in the air just as she jumped onto the pavement as she emerged from the back door.

Both are pleasant enough pictures of each.

But let’s look at a couple of other snapshots to see if there’s a different way to capture the kids.

Can you feel their joy as they slurp down the cold ice cream on a warm summer evening? For me, this is a more memorable picture.

Instead of another “smile please” snapshot, I was able to shoot Ezzie practicing her longboarding skills.


You have a many choices when capturing kids. If you haven’t done so already, try shooting the young ones as they’re involved with their activities.



Written by Arnie Lee


You don’t always have to stop the action


Sports and action photos are most often made with a higher shutter speed that “stops the action” and produces a tack-sharp image.

However by using a relatively slow shutter speed, you can emphasize the movement to create a totally different feel to the picture.

This “stop action” photo was captured using a relatively high shutter speed of 1/500th second. The young girl’s face is sharp.

By changing the shutter speed to 1/15th second, the blurred image creates a definite feeling of movement.

Here, the movement is mainly the girl’s arm striking the tree. Her face is still relatively sharp with a 1/30th second exposure.

Using a relatively slow shutter speed and panning (moving the camera to follow the action), produces blur except for the main subject. It takes a little practice to produce this effect.


Don’t hesitate to set your shutter speed to 1/30 or slower and let the action do the talking. Slow dancing can make for some interesting photos. Do you agree? Send me your comments.



Written by Arnie Lee


Beyond the Faces

06th May 2011

Adding Action to Portraits


As a grandfather with a camera, I’m very often snapping away when the grandchildren are nearby. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I have hundreds (maybe thousands) of photos of these kids in my collection.

Yesterday, three of them were out playing in our backyard. Here’s a few snapshots that I took. I’m a big fan of trying to incorporate action into these portraits. You be the judge of whether the action helps to make the picture.

My favorites are the candids. These are shots where the subject is totally unaware. When they’re preoccupied with having a fun experience, they may not know that you’re “spying” with your camera.


Obviously this is not a candid. Eden
knows that I’m taking her photo

But here she is unaware that
I’m snapping away

When it’s not possible to be totally candid you can use a semi-posed action shot. The action helps to avoid a face that’s preoccupied with the picturetaker.


This full length portrait of Logan
shows little motion

Here the angle of the shot
emphasizes his action on the slide

With a little patience, you can turn a static shot into a live action photo. A few minutes after taking the photo on the left below, she was being doing calisthenics – making the photo on the right much more exciting.


Here Ezra is clutching the wooden
post that’s supporting the swing set

Here she’s showing me the
agility that I wish I could still muster.


While each of the left-hand photos are OK, I’ve learned that adding a little action to the mix can turn my snapshots into real “keepers”.

Do you agree?



Written by Arnie Lee


Action Tip # 6

25th October 2010

Continuous Shooting

Most digital SLR and many point-and-shoots have a feature called continuous shooting that lets you capture several photos in a very short period of time. This is also referred to burst mode. So at the soccer game, by keeping the shutter depressed you can capture your star player as she runs towards the action, swivels her leg into launch position behind her, quickly drives her kicking shoe forward and finally strikes the ball.

On a recent outing, I caught one of our future diving stars practicing at the pool. With the camera set to take continuous photos, I quickly fired off nine shots as she made her big leap into the water.

Pressing the shutter was the easy part.

After reviewing the photos, I wanted to be able to show the young girl’s diving exploits to others. One method is to make a composite of the action. Here’s a miniature composite:

Making a larger composite makes it easier to see the detail of each frame. However, the time and expense may cause you search for an alternative if you’re planning to make many such composites.

Another way to show these is to convert the nine individual frames into a movie. One free and easy way to do this is to use Picasa 3*.

After starting Picasa, I added the nine photos to my library. Next I highlighted these nine frames and clicked on the Movie icon (towards the bottom of the screen).

For Transition Style, I chose Disolve.

For Slide Duration, I chose 1.0 second. You can choose a longer time which lets you study each frame more, but I prefer the shorter duration which makes the action seem to flow more naturally.

For Overlap, I chose 100%. For the diving action, this setting seems to provide the best effect.

Then I click on the Create Movie button. This converts the 9 individual frames into a short movie.

In just a few seconds, Picasa turns the images into a short movie with which you can enjoy the action with others. Click here to see the movie.

Yes, you can have a fun using the camera’s continuous shooting mode. But sharing the action with the world makes the fun last much longer.

* Picasa is available for the PC and Mac by free download from Google.

Action Tip # 5

13th October 2010

Once again, patience counts

Sometimes the only way to catch the perfect photo is to take a lot of them until you achieve the desired result. To retain the feeling of motion, I used a slow shutter speed (1/60th of a second). My goal was to “freeze” the young girl’s face, yet convey movement. After taking about twenty photos, I finally snapped one that I liked by being persistent (and patient).

I took about twenty photos similar to this one using a relatively slow shutter speed. While it captures the motion of the young girl, overall the photo is too blurred.

Here I snapped while the young girl is at the top of her swing where her velocity is zero. By waiting for this exact moment, I’ve been able to stop most of the motion.

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Action Tip # 4

03rd March 2010

Here in Michigan, we still have an abundance of snow. Rather than lock ourselves inside, we’ve decided to brave the winter weather and “enjoy”. After all, there’s plenty of life in the brisk cold.

Winter Wonderland

Here Kris is celebrating the completion of her snowman. Although the sun is shining, the yard is in the shade of the trees thereby keeping her face in the shade.

Simply by using the camera’s exposure compensation and increasing the exposure by +1, we’ve reduced the effect of the shade and made her smile standout more.

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Action Tip #3

11th January 2010

There’s beauty at 30,000 feet and 600 miles per hour. Here’s how I’ve been able to capture some of this beauty when I’m flying way up high.

Up, Up and Away Suggestions

  1. Ask for a window seat on left side of the aircraft. Approaches to landing are most often made with left hand turns.
  2. Turn the camera’s flash off.
  3. When the light is dim, set the ISO to 800 or higher.
  4. Avoid shots when the sun is shining directly at the plane’s windows.
  5. Rest the camera lens gently against the window.
  6. For takeoffs and landings, you’ll need to use a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster.
    At cruise, you’ll be able to use a shutter speed of 1/125.

On an early morning flight we passed over the Rockies. The snow capped peaks make for a great contrast to the dark mountain base.

Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft passes through the lower layer of clouds on the way to open skies. The sun is starting to peak through the upper layer.

Here’s another attractive formation in the Rockies. I was lucky to have the warm color of the morning sunrise shed its even light on the mountains.

There’s beauty closer to the earth too. Here’s a shot of a picturesque river on approach to the Munich Airport.
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Action Tip #2

26th July 2009

Today’s digital cameras make it easy for you to snap exciting action photos. Here’s an obvious tip for taking advantage of one of your camera’s impressive capability.

Patience Counts

A common practice is to snap as soon as the action begins. Here our young swimmer has started his run down the diving board and I’ve stopped the action using the camera’s Sport mode.

A few minutes later, a second diver took to the air. This time, I waited patiently until his body was fully extended in the air – just before his huge belly flop. The “pose” tells the story.
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Action Tip #1

05th July 2009

When your subject is moving, the usual way to capture the action is to use a short shutter speed. This freezes the action, but is there a better way to “show” the action?

Capturing the motion

By using a short shutter speed, you can freeze the action of your subject. For this shot, I’ve used Sport mode to stop the motion of our young girl.

By deliberately using a short shutter speed e.g. 1/30th or 1/15th of a second, I’ve captured the subject as she’s moving. While the young girl is no longer in sharp focus, we can almost feel the swinging motion.