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Photography Question 
Lisa M. Brewer

Capturing Motion of People

I am trying to capture kicks and punches being thrown during my child's karate lessons. Everytime I snap the button, the action is over before it registers the motion. What do I need to do to get the action wanted?

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4/16/2002 1:22:50 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Sounds like a big part of your problem is timing. Good sports photographers know the sport they are shooting and learn to anticipate peak moments. I suspect you are using a digital camera and can't capture several frames in a row. If you are using a film camera with a motor drive (or a higher end digi cam) then try to fire just before the punch is thrown and let the motor drive fire off a few more frames until the completion of the punch.

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4/16/2002 12:44:32 PM

doug Nelson   There's a low-tech possibility for you, If you don't mind buying still another camera. You want to be able to see the action while you are taking the picture.

Almost forgotten are the little rangefinder-type 35's from the 60's-70's. A Konica S3, Canonet QL 19GIII, Olympus 35 RC or Minolta Hi-Matic 7SII can be had for two figures on ebay. You can see the action through the viewfinder while you shoot, with no SLR mirror-slap blackout.

Shutter action is instantaneous. You set a 1/250 shutter speed and the camera automatically sets your aperture. The flash will work at any shutter speed, since it's a leaf-type shutter in the lens. A further bonus is that the lenses in these guys are as good as state-of-the-art lenses today. The camera industry wants us to forget that they made better stuff 30 years ago.

Only one caution: they all used the 1.3 volt mercury battery that's harder to get today. A serious camera store will sell you a Wein battery for these.

They don't have built-in flashes. Just as well, because you'll need a strong one if you're shooting inside.

If you get one of these beauties, see if it isn't the best camera you've ever owned.

Everything good does have a catch, though. The one here is that you focus these cameras yourself. In a sports situation, you focus on your little guy, or, if he's moving toward or away, pre-focus on where he's going to be.

There's no zoom lens. The lens is a 38 or 40 semi-wide angle, so you have to be fairly close.

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4/16/2002 2:01:03 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Several good suggestions thus far.

I disagree though with running a digital or film camera in "continuous" or "sequence" mode. This does not work that well. With a film camera it burns film very rapidly and with a digital it eats the memory equally fast, if not faster. 4-5 frames at a whack swallows an entire 36-exp roll with 7-9 sequence shots.

The pro photographers who use this method (not that many do), use a top-end pro camera body set up with a special 250 frame film back, and bulk load their film in a dark-room from 100 foot reels of film. Their top-end pro motor drives (not built in to the camera) run 10 frames per second, versus the typical 3-5 frames per second found on most consumer 35mm SLR's, or 0.2-0.3 seconds between frames. That's a lot of time between frames when shooting fast action, and a lot can happen *between* frames.

Sports and racing photographers did extremely well before motor drives and 250 frame bulk loaded film backs. Their secret was timing. They became very familiar with the type of action they were photographing and would watch for cues that occur just before some action of interest does. In boxing, they often watched the boxers' feet, which would become firmly planted just before making a decisively hard punch. There are probably similar "cues" and "tells" in karate that a close observer can watch for.

To catch the action when it happens requires anticipation of it and timing shutter release *before* it occurs. An SLR does not react instantaneously, even a manual focus one. The lens must stop down and mirror flip up before the shutter can travel. Autofocus SLR's and Point&Shoots have an even longer delay to allow the auto-focus system to set lens focus before lens stop-down and mirror travel.

I recommend watching several matches very closely, without the camera. Look at feet, knees, waists and shoulders, and try correlating their position and movement with kicks and punches that follow. With a little observation you should be able to see some patterns that predict kicks and punches just before they happen. Then practice a few times using these cues for timing a slight lead in your shutter release. Knowing you need a slight lead is half the battle. Knowing the cues and some practice is the other half. Most find the skill is not that difficult to learn and after a while it becomes automatic.

I sometimes use a motor winder when photographing fast action, but it's *always* on single-shot mode. It's used to automatically wind on to the next frame without having to do it manually, and allows better concentration on the action. However, it's not an essential device for me, only a convenience.

-- John

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4/16/2002 10:05:04 PM

Lisa M. Brewer   I am totally thankful for all the responses that I have gotten for my question, but... the responses seem to be geared to regular cameras, and I am using a Olympus Camedia C-3020 Zoom digital camera. I just need to know what the setting should be, and in what menu category, in order to capture the movement in mid-form. I should have been more specific in my question, and for that I apologize. It is my first time ever using such a site on the internet. I again apologize, and will appreciate any response now given.

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4/18/2002 4:09:21 AM

doug Nelson   You're not gonna like this, Lisa, but you may be asking a digicam to do the impossible. Every one I've ever used has a lag time between the instant you press the shutter and when the actual exposure is made. You will get lucky sometimes and anticipate the action just right. In general, you must use a fast shutter speed. Your Camedia, which I understand to be a decent digicam, must have an action mode or they may actually call it a shutter. Anyone out there have one of these?

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4/18/2002 7:49:51 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
Even a digital has a slight delay between the time you push the shutter release button and when the image is actually "recorded."

I was not clear on this in my first posting. There is more lag than just the camera's; there is your reaction time also. If you wait until you see what you want in the viewfinder, it's too late, even if the camera could react instantaneously. It's why I recommended observing closely to learn how to anticipate when things will happen before they do, and then practicing at the timing. In making action photographs I had to learn how to react a split-second just before the "decisive moment" and press the shutter release then. It's one of the reasons Doug mentioned the old rangefinder cameras as you can see it occur, hear the shutter travel simultaneously and know if you got the shot. With an SLR, I know if I *see* the decisive moment through the viewfinder I *know* I didn't get it as it's blacked out with the mirror up while the shutter is traveling.

-- John

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4/19/2002 11:48:41 PM

Gerda Grice
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/1/2001
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  Hi, Lisa,

I use an Olympus C-3020Z, too. I haven't yet done a whole lot of action shots, but I've done enough of them to experience the frustration caused by the shutter lag problem. I think that one part good timing, one part good anticipation, and several parts good luck are what we need to take good action shots with cameras like the C-3020Z. As for the settings, I find the Sports setting in the Scene mode is good is there's quite a bit of light available. Program also seems to work reasonably well with good light, but works best, for me anyway, with relatively close subjects. I'm sorry I can't be more help, but I'm still quite new to action shots.

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4/27/2002 3:45:25 AM

Eddie King   Hi Lisa. I have been trying to get action shots with my Olympus digital too. I have the most success with the settings on manual focus and aperture priority set to allow for the fastest shutter speed possible (you have to experiment before the shot in whatever light you are in). If you are close enough to use flash, even better. These settings seem to decrease the camera's response time versus auto focus and program mode. Of course it's vital to anticipate the action, pre-focus, and take a lot of shots. I enjoyed reading the replies to your question.

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4/27/2002 7:07:16 AM

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