Start by doing some of your own research into the photographers discussed above. Then, using fast shutter speeds, try to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject. Depending on the available light you may have to select a high ISO to avoid visible blur in the photograph. Add a selection of shots, together with relevant shooting data and a description of process (how you captured the images), to your learning log.
I think it’s impossible to envision this method of photography without going back to Photographers like Salvador Dali and Harold Edgerton. These two examples stand out for entirely different reasons. Obviously Dali was more of a surrealist artist – the image below is an almost perfect example of his work, he’s obviously more accomplished when it comes to paintings but many practitioners cite his work amongst some of the earliest pioneers of the art form. Utilising faster shutter speeds, intensely bright studio lights, felines and even his own paintings as subjects and props – he’s able to freeze water in time, the cats clambering in an attempt to flee as he himself dances in joy as the momentary chaos ensues.
This image is of course a classic. The main reason this photo is so important to photography is because it’s one of the earliest examples of the use of fast shutter speeds being perfected, sometimes it takes a true artist, such as Dali to fully utilise and explore the true technical capabilities of photography – obviously this picture is very visually intense, there’s a lot going on, but it encapsulates a fleeing moment – momentary chaos. This methodology can be adapted in most areas of photography, but most effective when you apply these visual cues to scenes with a lot of motion – this ‘freezing’ can isolate a moment that the human eye would not be able to see nor comprehend otherwise. Philippe Halsman worked behind the camera to fully encapsulate Dali’s vision, it took over 20 attempts to get this perfectly. Dali was at first insistent that the only way they could fully embrace the technology is by blowing up a duck using dynamite, Halsman was opposed to this idea completely and insisted they remain patient. The two would work together for over twenty years – Halsman often cited as the greatest French portrait photographer to ever have lived.
Harold on the other hand focused more on the scientific and experimental aspects of high speed photography. His inventions would help photography evolve even further, up until this point a lot of photographs would take a very long time to shoot, it was incredibly early days. Whenever we take photographs with a flash on our phones we should be secretly thanking Harold for his fantastic technical advancements, he had two passions in his life – photography and electricity. His invention of the strobe light helped him gain even more notoriety in they eyes of the more academically inclined and when combining his immense experience in electrical engineering with his creative eye for photography – this allowed his work to achieve untapped potential, as up until that point people weren’t used to seeing time freeze before their very eyes. These techniques were incredibly cutting edge, capturing a fast exposure like this needs an incredible amount of light. Harold was another early pioneer, his photos are referenced in both artistic and scientific publications even to this day. Looking back, I think you could say these images look quite dated by todays standards – but for the time they really helped develop photographer as a forward thinking visual medium – these days we often take for granted the ability to push photography’s limits. He would use a motion picture camera that had been heavily modified to shoot at speeds untapped by photographers up until that point, inventing high speed flashes, cameras and equipment that wouldn’t just push photography – but would also aid in the battlefield, for example in WW2 his invention of the high speed flash was used to quickly illuminate stranded soldiers, landing zones and aid in photographing enemy locations.
On a more serious note, Pulitzer Prize winning Photo Journalist Richard Drew revolutionised photography in a different way. See on September 11th 2001 the western world was struck by one of the most catastrophic events in recent history. Almost 3000 people lost their lives in this horrific incident. Richard’s photographs are some of the most emotionally resonant photos of all time because they don’t just isolate a moment, they isolate someone’s final moments. The fleeing moment we touched on briefly above amalgamated in one of the most traumatic events ever. The juxtaposition of artistic vision and absolute terror combined to create a timeless image. People lost their lives that day, but this image shows an even darker side of it – a side of the situation a lot of people overlook, the fact people made the conscious decision to commit suicide rather than being burned to death. It’s awful to even think about, but this is what makes a great photograph. A photograph doesn’t always have to be pleasant, sometimes in order to capture something accurately you must capture even its most darkest elements – no matter how harrowing the scenario may be. Using a faster shutter speed to capture images like this somehow transcends the art form itself, this is among some of the most iconic photographs of the 21st century. Freezing a moment like this has a completely different effect to the world discussed above. It conjures up a completely different emotional reaction, rather than composing a scenario in a controlled environment – this is almost completely oppositional to the work previously discussed considering the fact this isn’t surrealism, this isn’t science – it’s pain, and allows the viewer to empathise, sympathise even if it’s beyond the viewer’s comprehension.
Jeff Wall’s ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind’ is actually one of my favourite images ever taken. This image is actually flawless. As you can see there’s actually so much going on, a feeling of momentary chaos frozen in time forever. Jeff based this set of images from paintings he’d seen in the past. A lot of photographers experiment with this style, but Jeff’s work stands amongst some of the greatest photos ever taken. The muted colours, the tiny sheets of paper being picked up by the wind and floating through the scene like petals from a blossoms tree. I am not actually sure of the visual relevant of the line that goes across the frame – I have considered this could be a photographic artefact, as a result of photographic compositing. Again, completely different to the work previously discussed. My aim was to find pieces from every region of the photographic spectrum without making it a history lesson. I wanted to find works from artists that resonate with me in particular.
This painting seems to have had a tremendous impact on Jeff’s perception of photography as a visual art form. My college photography teacher once said ‘a photograph is the lazy man’s painting’ and that stuck with me, this is almost a perfect example of that crutch being used as a strength. Sure, a photograph can be perceived as ‘lazy’ but this one certainly doesn’t. There’s also something quite interesting in regards to how the artist has sampled elements from a historical painting, it gives it an almost timeless quality.
I think one of the more interesting factors of this image is its tasteful use of photographic compositing – this image is actually a combination of a few different images, this editing technique allowed Jeff to think completely outside the box. This image has people questioning ‘how did he pull that off?’ and I think it really speaks for itself in this regard. What truly sets this apart from a lot of modern photographic work is Wall’s ability to fill the frame evenly which a concise amount of detail, it’s a truly meticulous task to combine all these visual elements together with such intricacy. As you can see, the line mentioned earlier is present on this combined composition – this leads me to believe that the line on the final image is in fact an artefact from photographic computing, as this photograph is actually a combination of several different photographs combined into one final image – stitched together.
Editing is often seen as ‘cheating’ when in fact it’s amongst one of the most integral aspects of being a photographer. People don’t actually realise that editing can be one of the more time consuming tasks as sometimes we want to push the creative boundaries of a particular project, this means you have to alter the colours until they’re completely different to what you captured on the day. And now iPhone filters are so overly used people often think there’s some just some ‘switch’ that can make any photo ‘pop’ when this is actually completely untrue. Photographs with a visual scale like this take an immense amount of skill to conceive. It’s a labour of love, and I think all of this work really pays off.
I’m not saying my skill and ability is anywhere near any of the photographers above, but it’s incredibly helpful to look into the methodology of other practitioner to expand my knowledge even further. It helps that I have experience in the field, so I’ve got somewhat of an idea of how to break image like this down.
Obviously I am not saying any of my work is even remotely in the same playing field as the artist shown above, but this exercise integral to my understanding of high speed photography. Obviously utilising my camera’s high shutter speed is something I do most of the time anyway. For example when I am shooting film and using the Sunny 16 rule it almost requires you shoot with higher shutter speeds to ensure I am not over exposing my photos on a sunny day. I have experimented in more creative scenarios as well, I find it refreshing to embark on creative projects and assignments as they often exercise parts of your brain you would otherwise wouldn’t be using when taking photographs of the natural world.
This is a simple series, literally snapping water droplets falling on a leather boot. Literally as simple as it gets, there’s nothing else that I can really say about these particular images. They were shot on film, ISO 400 at 1/1500th of a second with Ilford Black and White film on a Nikon F5 with the Sigma 30mm F1.4. As you can see with this particular set I wanted to freeze those droplets almost completely as a sequence. The F5 was famous for its Drive mode which could capture 6 35mm film slides per second. I don’t want to bore you with the technical aspects of this set but there’s something really interesting about seeing images like this coming from such an old film camera. I love the sharpness that came from this lens at f1.4, I think the lens did incredibly well in this situation. This is part of learning the ins and outs of this photographic device by really focusing in on the individual aspects that make this art form so immense.
This is a series of images taken on a timer, as soon as I flip the switch the camera would snap and document the speed of light – literally. I wanted to see if you could watch the bulb cooling down after it had been used for a considerable amount of time. This is a 1000w photo lamp, it carries some serious power and emanates some serious heat as well. Obviously in LED lights we don’t really catch this unique effect and I really like it. Obviously these photos are more just to show my understanding in fast shutter speeds and I know what to do in my work. I have used faster shutter speeds significantly, for example in my book from 2014 titled STATES, I would use really fast shutter speeds in the CANON 7D to capture birds mid-flight and moments I would otherwise miss if I was shooting relaxed. Obviously because of the sun in America you have to stick to 1/3000th of a second atleast anyway, especially when shooting with a 30mm F1.4. On the picture above I was dealing with an immense amount of light, I wanted to show how different these images are from one and other and how fast all that power can disappear. This example shows how slow you can actually snap and still have the ability to solidify motion. Obviously we’ve got a relatively static scene – there’s only one point of movement and that’s the light itself.
This was shot on a Blackmagic, I wanted to see the effects of using slower shutter speeds in video as well to try and capture different frames. I did this because I wanted to see if there’s any differences between video and pictures. When you isolate a frame from a moving video, because the shutter speed is still much slower than most pictures, you see a lot of smearing and motion blur. I wanted the liquid in the glass to feel apart of the image in the background – I wanted the light to pass through the glass and liquid to create somewhat of a chameleon effect. As you can see there’s not much going on in this particular image. There’s not much I can really other than that I was fiddling about with different scenarios and scenes, to experiment with different lighting setups.
For these, I simply just had the subject run towards me. I shot these at 1/60th of a second to make sure the flash had time to recharge between each shot. I was using a speed light, but it was still hard to ‘freeze’ the motion. The flash could shoot at 1/250th of a second but the flash wouldn’t recharge quick enough and every other photo would turn out really dark.
This was taken on Fuji Superia 400. I used spot-metering so the camera would expose for the drone, I don’t think my Nikon F5 was capable of exposing properly for something that’s moving quickly. I kept the camera at f1.8 at 50mm with a really quick shutter speed (about 1/3000th of a second) that’s why the frame is super dark. I had the drone fly towards the camera at 30mph, I knew the drone would stop well before it clashed in the camera so this Is a fantastic image for testing the cameras ability to freeze motion – this feels frozen in time. Don’t get me wrong, I know this photograph isn’t some photojournalistic masterpiece but I want to display the fact that I’ve been exploring the brief’s concepts in multiple different ways in order to display an even deeper understanding of each tool in the toolkit.
This is another film photo, shot on the same roll as the one previous. I wanted to take some wide angle bird photography – I have done better stuff before for my digital work, personally I despise the framing on this. But this was shot at 1500th of a second at f1.8. The robin flew away pretty much straight after I took this, so I think this is quite a fun one. I wouldn’t ever use this picture to represent my skills, as when I shoot birds I usually tend to get quite close up (using a 70-300 f3.5) and completely isolate the subject – but I’m working with using minimal kit these days, sometimes it’s just good to throw one camera and one lens in the boot and just drive out somewhere and see what you find.