Capturing What’s in Your Imagination by Extending Time and Motion

More and more often today we’re presented with digital images that in no way represent what photographers are actually “seeing” around them. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes not so. I don’t trust anyone anymore. Why should I? I’m one of the most guilty of offering up my own version of reality to an unsuspecting public. The one thing every one of us is guilty of is our universal desire to impress, to express, to convince and to motivate. And yet, how often have I heard it argued that images that represent an imagined reality are somehow not what we should be aspiring to, as if documenting the various physical qualities of our world is THE ultimate goal of a photographer? There is no doubt that post-processing technology allows us to manipulate images and thus craft a more imaginative version of what we originally “saw” but what about considering ways that we can, at the time we shoot, craft a uniquely expressive version of our imagined reality.

An Enhanced Sense of Time and Motion with Moving Water:

One way to slow down (extend) time is to show water, not as it’s actually seen by the naked eye (Waterfall_as_seen.jpg), but as soft filamented strands of fluid and light (Waterfall_slowed_down.jpg) that take the added dimension of time to craft. Compression of the water becomes visible and what was a simple subject now becomes complex and dynamic. Start out with your shutter speed set to 1/30th second and see what happens to the look of flowing water in a creek, a waterfall or a fountain. Be prepared to set even slower shutter speeds if you wish more flow to the water. You’ll want to use your tripod, a two-second delay and perhaps, if you’re shooting in bright light, think about using a variable density filter that will slow down your camera and prevent you from over-exposing the shot. ISO set to 100 or 200 will also slow your camera down. Shutter Priority or Manual mode works just fine. Manual Focus might also be a good idea, as your AF mode might have trouble focusing on moving water.


An Enhanced Sense of Time and Motion with a Panning Shot:

The image I’ve used here (Whats_moving_now_stands_still.jpg) represents a panning shot taken in Shutter Priority mode (or Manual mode) at 1/10th of a second on a monopod. The effect of sweeping the camera in an arc, while synchronized with the speed of motion of our main subject, is to give the impression that our subject, which is actually moving quite quickly, is frozen in space while the background, which didn’t move (it better not have!) now shows as a horizontal blur of shapes and colours. Remember to set and hold your AF point on the subject well before you shoot. Then, when you’re ready, you can fire instantly with no concern for focus. You might want to set your Drive Mode to Continuous and fire three or four quick frames to ensure you get a choice. Start shooting slightly before your subject is abreast of you. Continue to sweep the camera body and fire at the same time. If you prefer using a tripod, even better. No need for ISO above 100 or 200 as there is no need for fast shutter speeds.

An Enhanced Sense of Time and Motion as Streaks of Light:

Here (tailights_as_red_streaks.jpg) we’ve shown the motion of this car as streaks of light. Over the period of the exposure (25 seconds), the car itself is not recorded on the sensor and the only elements bright enough to record are the background/foreground and the bright red tailights of the car. Use a tripod (turn your VR or IS or similar stabilization feature OFF). Set your lens to Manual Focus and don’t bother trying to track the moving subject but just let it move through the frame. Set your focus point 1/3 into the composition and set an aperture value (here I used f=14) that ensures an adequate Depth of Field. Use a 2-second timer to have your hands off of the camera’s body during the exposure and if the position of the main streaks within the overall composition aren’t important. ISO low (100 or 200) as there is no need to freeze motion.

At some point several years ago it became evident I was no longer capturing, or even motivated to capture, what I was actually seeing (unless, of course, my better half directed me to!). My work had evolved over a relatively short period of twelve to fourteen years. I was feeling very much more like the artist I had wished to be decades before albeit I now worked in a strange and wonderful new medium. And I was now able to begin to express how I “felt” about a subject without benefit of being an expert in post-processing software. Teaching during almost the entire time necessitated my delving into and experimenting with each and every aspect of digital cameras and digital technology. The long-term, very unexpected I must say, offshoot was that I gradually incorporated the workings of the camera’s digital technology into the way I approached my picture taking and my desire to express my “reality”. My camera now worked for me and not, thankfully, the other way around.

© 2014 by T. W. Cooper All images and blog content are the property of the author. All rights reserved.

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