Shoot Action and Make it Look Exciting!

Hi everyone, and thanks to Scott Kelby and Brad Moore for inviting me to post on the Kelby Blog.  This is truly an honor and I’m proud to have my writing alongside such world-class photographers!
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Action sports are extremely exciting.  They are fun to watch, play, and shoot!  But how do you get your images to reflect how exciting the sport actually is?

When starting out, a lot of photographers will take images that don’t showcase how extreme or tough the sport is.  And no, this isn’t another action article that says to blur the athlete or they will look too static, I’ve never really agreed with that…  Frozen motion IS cool and the details retain more sharpness.  Blurred images can be great too but there is no need to blur your images to create a sense of motion.

With all types of photography, your angle and lens choice are some of the most important aspects to creating an exciting image.  More extreme angles and wider or longer lenses will create images that showcase how extreme the sport really is.  Take skateboarding for example.  A standard ollie (popping the board up into the air) will look LAME if shot from eye level with a 35mm lens.  The athlete simply can’t pop the board up high enough, and normal angles like this will lack excitement since it’s a “NORMAL” angle, see what I’m getting at here??

Now take the same shot, of the same ollie, and lower the camera to the ground with a wide-angle lens.  This makes the trick feel BIGGER, and the wide angle adds a certain degree of distortion to the image that will provide a look that you couldn’t see through your own eyes.  This makes the image way more exciting!  Flip through any skate magazine and you’ll see how many images are shot wide or with a fisheye.  They do this for a reason.

My advice?  Go low and wide, go high and wide, go far and zoomed, go far and wide, go far and high, or far and low.  Any combination of angles that are out of the ordinary will boost the image’s appeal.  If you can find higher ground to take the shot, head for it, or bring a ladder!  If you can get right under a feature or right up next to the athlete, get in close and go wide!  Think out of the box.  Frame the shot with trees, or a cool net, do absolutely anything to make your image different from everyone else’s.

Action sports generally take place in cool and unique locations.  Show these locations in your images!  Sure, a photo of a skier going off a big cliff will always be impressive.  But take the same shot at a different angle to show the incredible mountain range in the background, and prepare for an eye-popping, jaw-dropping, heart-pounding image that really shows the lifestyle and just how extreme the athlete is!

With all images it’s important to try and tell the story.  There can be mystery to the image but you’ll want the viewer to at least have an idea of what is happening.  If the sport involves an air-born trick, include the landing, takeoff, or both to show the viewer what’s happening.  “Guy in the Sky” shots went out in the 80’s and aren’t coming back….  This is because the location never applies to a guy in the sky shot and anyone could take the same shot anywhere.  Be different.

Here’s a secret that will make your work even more awesome and different…  Shoot with flash!  And no, I’m not telling you to put a shiny gold grill over your teeth while you shoot along with your favorite gold chain.  I’m talking about the kind of flash that pops more light into the image.  Fill flash will make your images more unique than the majority of photographers.  Flash is the advantage that will take your work to the next level.  It’s also an important component for those low and wide shots since the sun will be above the athlete casting them in shadows.

Try shooting with a remote flash to really spice things up.  This will add more depth and dimension to the image, rendering it even cooler!  And with the new PocketWizard remotes, there’s no reason not to shoot remote since you can now push high sync speeds.  Using HyperSync I’ve been getting 1/1600th to 1/2000th sync speeds making for perfectly sharp and brilliantly lit images.

Strive to find the best angles you can that showcase the environment along with the feature, to create great action images.  Mix in a flash, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a top-notch action sports photographer!  Put that mouse down, get out there, and make incredible images.

Connor Walberg is a 23 year old professional photographer specializing in action photography, including skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and skateboarding.  His work has been published in several major publications around the world and is sold through Getty Images.  His sponsors include: Lensbaby, LumiQuest, and Datacolor.

You can learn more about shooting all types of action at ActionPhotoSchool.com, and view Connor’s work at CNWPhoto.com