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It's All A Blur

Simple Techniques for Impressionistic Motion Photography

By Michael Reichmann

Rider #3. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. March, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 500
1/10 sec @ f/3.5

This article is about creating impressionistic images of subjects in motion. But before proceeding, a word of caution. These images were taken at a bull fight in Mexico. I am not a big fan of bull fighting, indeed I find them mostly unpleasant to watch. But, I accept that in some countries they are an established part of the culture and history. All of the images on this page are done in an impressionistic manner and deliberately none are gory. I have mainly focused on the horsemanship in this collection.

I therefore doubt that most people will find them objectionable. If you think that you might though, please leave this page now. Kindly do not write to me with an anti-bull-fighting screed. It will do nothing to change the world, and it will just piss me off. You also will not receive a reply from me. I have said what I have to say on the matter.



Defensive Moment. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. March, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 500
1/10 sec @ f/3.5
Because I find any form of cruelty to animals offensive, I was reluctant to attend bull fights once I moved to Mexico. I had seen one a number of years before while visiting southern Spain, and found it a turn-off. But some friends in San Miguel insisted that I go one day, because one of the matadors was world-class. He was, and it was then that I started to read about and understand something of the cultural history and appeal of bull fighting. If it wasn't for photography though, I might never have gone back a second or third time. 

I found little to interest me in watching or photographing that first time. But I recalled some earlier work by Ernst Haas and a few others, where by using a slow shutter speed a blurred and therefore impressionistic rendition was created. This took the gory edge off the spectacle, and I found it allowed the grace and artistry of the corrida to show though. Indeed, many quite verbal anti-bullfighting folks who have visited my home in Mexico, and who have seen some of these images on the wall, have commented on how they create a different perspective.
The Cape. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. March, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 200
1/6 sec @ f/9

What I have discovered over time is that the formula for this type of shooting in a bull ring is to sit high-up in the cheap seats. This way the background is the floor of the ring itself rather that the stands and people opposite. I use a zoom lens, in the 100-400mm range (in 135 format terms), and shutter speeds of between 1/6th and 1/10th of a second. In addition, and of equal importance to using a slow shutter speed, I pan with the action. This turns the sand of the bull ring into an almost canvas-textured background, further enhancing the impressionistic effect. The panning also allows some detail parallel to the axis of motion to be captured, preventing things from becoming a total blur.

Evasion. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. March, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 200
1/6 sec @ f/9

At these shutter speeds strange things happen. Part of images are completely blurred, some less so, and still others almost seem to stand still. Because the action at a bull fight is so fast there is no real way of telling how a particular frame will turn out, and so what I do is set the camera to high speed burst mode. But, with a slow shutter speed one doesn't get too many frames per second, so it's very much a situation where one doesn't really know what one will get until after the fact.



Prancing. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. March, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 200
1/6 sec @ f/20

Bull fights tend to occur in the late afternoon. There are usually two seating areas, in the sun and in the shade. Choose the shady side, though it's more expensive, because not only will you be cooler, but you won't find yourself shooting into a harsh backlight situation while waiting for the sun to go down.

One of the challenges of shooting at a slow shutter speed during the daytime is that a very small aperture is needed. Normally I would never shoot at f/20, so as to avoid diffraction blurring, but that hardly seems a concern when the entire point of the excercise is to blur the image. Nevertheless, for maximum control a 2-3 stop ND filter is worth having handy if the event is during the daytime.

Note that the above image "Prancing" violates my suggestion not to include the stands opposite. Here it worked quite well.



Turning Left. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. March, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 200
1/6 sec @ f/9

As I worked on these and related files, I noticed something curious. I found myself almost always cropping square. I have always been a fan of the 1:1 aspect ratio, from my days shooting both Rollei TLR and a Hasselblad 500C. These days I simply let the subject matter dictate the framing though, and some 75% of the time these type of images found themselves wanting to be square or close to it. Curious.


 

Close. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. March, 2014
Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8 @ ISO 200
1/6 sec @ f/18

This technique of using a slow shutter speed, a long lens, and panning, lends itself to quite a few other types of events. Certainly a rodeo, a horse race, car racing, downhill ski racing; any sport where the action is fast, the background is reasonably clean, and where one can position oneself appropriately. I would caution though that different venues in different countries have widely varying rules on photography. At a corrida in Mexico there are no rules. You can bring any sort of camera gear (no tripods, obviously), and shoot from just about anywhere, as long as you don't get in anyone's way. The rules may be quite different in other countries and at other venues, so check the prevailing situation before setting yourself up for disappointment.

Michael Reichmann
April, 2014

 


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Concepts: Shutter speed, Bullfighting, Bullring, Mexico, Jallikattu, Animal rights, San Miguel de Allende, Ernest Hemingway

Entities: San Miguel de Allende, Olympus, Mexico, Spain, shutter speed, zoom lens, ski racing, burst mode, aspect ratio, Michael Reichmann, Eliot Porter

Tags: slow shutter speed, Olympus OM-D E-M1, San Miguel, bull fight, Evasion. San Miguel, bull ring, verbal anti-bullfighting folks, high speed burst, Mexico, harsh backlight situation, stop ND filter, shutter speeds, impressionistic images, bull fights, Zuiko, bull fighting, impressionistic manner, Bull flights, impressionistic rendition, anti-bull-fighting screed, big fan, gory edge, impressionistic effect, Allende, Defensive Moment, southern Spain, different perspective, cultural history, Michael Reichmann, earlier work, 100-400mm range, format terms, total blur, Eliot Porter, Rollei TLR, canvas-textured background, related files, cheap seats, zoom lens, late afternoon