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Photo Composition #2

Images that Mean ACTION!

Action photographs can do a lot to pick up a page and give it life. Unfortunately, a great majority of the pictures taken do not properly present the action taking place. The typical reasons for this are:
  • The photographer decided that since the image didn't line up with the horizon, thus defying gravity, he or she compensated.

  • The image did not cover enough of the scene to show where the subject(s) were coming from, or where they were going to. The essential elements of motion.
Whether for a business or personal home page, showing off your action shots can add some real spice to your page, and help tell a story. Let's look at a couple of real-life, homegrown action photos and see what we can do with them.

What is wrong with this picture?
In our first test photograph below we have two people repeling down the side of a rocky cliff. The photographer in this case, decided that the camera should be tilted so that the line of action crosses perfectly along the dead center of the film. As we discussed in Photo Compostion #1, landscape is the desired orientation for action pictures. Note: the original photograph was in true portrait format!.

Looking at this picture can be somewhat confusing. You almost have to wonder if they would have an easier time walking the crestline of the rocks without the ropes. A strong wind must be blowing as well, for some reason they seem to be leaning forward.

250H x 250W 13,984 Bytes

What can we do to fix it?
Well, a few things! The first step is to take the existing picture and set things straight. In this case, we need to restore proper perspective by rotating the image about 60 degrees to the right. Remember, this is not lying. We are to the best of our ability undoing the lie that was created by the photographer.

Look at the vertical lines formed by the climber's bodies. Now things tend to agree more with gravity, and with why would be expecting our friends to be using ropes.

Using our virtual crayon, I have marked the cropping lines with blue, and for illustration purposes created an action line following the (in this case) obvious direction of movement. This cropping should result in an image that both accurately depicts what happened, as well as an image that is pleasing to the eye.

The resulting image contains our central action, and just enough background of rock and sky to give depth to the scene. You can almost feel tension waiting for the woman's feet to touch the rocks again. Part of creating the sense of action in an image is to well, leave things hanging.

Decide on a Subject: Action or Scenery!
Often when working with photographs taken from a distance, it is tempting to forget the subject at hand when faced with a breathtaking view. In our next picture shown below, we actually have two dirt bikes and two ATV's speeding down a dusty gravel road. I know it is a little hard to make that out.

240H x 300W 27,405 Bytes

Our first step in working with this image is to identify our action line. You will actually find in a great many pictures, that this line is created naturally by either a road, river, waves, or even clouds. In this shot, the road just happened to conveniently draw the line for us.

We still have the problem of not being able to make out the actual detail of the action. A closer look shows that half the picture is nothing more than a litter of rocks. Our crop lines reveal that we are going to eliminate about two-thirds of our picture. How is this going to get us anyplace?

We are going to take advantage of the fact that any photograph's resolution is much better than that of any monitor we might own. This image was originally scanned at about 72 dots per inch (DPI). To make an enlargement, I rescanned it at 130 DPI and then cut out what I wanted from the larger image.

202H x 344W 22,990 Bytes

The result is that I have brought the reader closer to the action. I kept just enough of the background to preserve the diagonal action line and give the reader an idea of where this was taking place. You can tell we are not in a rain forest, right? The dust raised by the wheels adds to the sense of motion, and you can even see that the biker in the middle is looking back at us!

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