White Ibis in flight, Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida, 2013
Using a shutter speed of 1/1600 of a second, I was able to stop time, and catch eight White Ibis in flight. Some fly directly at my lens, while others veer away. They seem to float through a screen of branches, making us wonder how they manage to elude them. These birds are part of a large mating colony that live among the trees in this vast swamp near the Florida Everglades.
High five, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
I used a fast 1/640th of a second shutter speed to stop the action here, freezing the hands of both mother and child as they share high fives at a Cuenca bus stop. I had photographed this woman and her child for about five minutes with a telephoto lens from across the street, capturing many different moods and relationships. This moment was my favorite – it speaks of spontaneity, pride, and love.
Apprentice, Arcosanti, Arizona, 2011
Arcosanti is a prototypical city of the future being built in the Central Arizona desert. Designed by the 93 year old architect Paolo Soleri, it intended to someday house 5, 000 people. It has been under construction for 30 years. A small group of apprentices live, work, and study here – they provide the manpower to build Arcosanti. This apprentice was not working. Instead, he was working out on the basketball court set within the beginnings of what someday will be a massive vaulted town center. I caught him in silhouette just as he lofted a shot into the net. His arms are still raised as the ball slips into the net, symbolizing a moment of triumph that can be seen as the ultimate purpose of his apprenticeship.
The jumper, Devil’s Island, French Guyana, 2010
I was photographing a family of tourists incongruously enjoying a day at the beach on what once was one of the most brutal prison colonies on earth. As this woman was pointing to something of interest, she never saw the young man throw himself into the sea just behind her. I caught his leap as he brushed past the pointing woman, arms held high, and a squeal of delight on his lips. The compression effect of my long 400mm telephoto focal length appears to have the child leaping on the back of the woman, and my shutter stops his flight only inches away from her. In reality, he missed her by several feet. She never turned her head.
Over and under, dolphins off Dominica, French West Indies, 2010
I stopped this pair of Frasers dolphins as one leaps and the other plunges at a shutter speed of 1,2500th of a second, using a long 400mm telephoto focal length. The animals were quite distant, making them very small in the frame. I cropped in on them, and changed the image from a horizontal to a vertical. I placed the animals in the upper half of the frame, and left a long panel of water below them to intensify the nature of their leap and the plunge.
Hawk, Arco, Idaho, 2010
Capturing a raptor in flight requires skill, the right equipment, and a bit of luck. I can’t use a heavy top of the line camera body because of weight issues, so I always must sacrifice a bit of focusing and burst shooting speed. In other words, I must always deal with some shutter lag, which can be a problem when it comes to stopping fast action. My lightweight camera, however, can stop key action moments if I am able to anticipate the moment, and begin shooting an instant before the moment I am trying to freeze. In this case, I began setting the focus and exposure on this hawk by pressing my shutter button half way down while it was still in its nest. After the focus and exposure was set, I pressed the shutter button all the way down to shoot, but this hawk was already leaving the nest. By the time my camera was able to record its first image, the bird was already in flight. I had my camera set on “burst” mode, and used a very fast shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second. The first image of burst was an awkward composition, with the bird and tree branches merging into a confusing mess. This image was the second shot in my multiple image burst – and it produced exactly what I wanted to capture. I was able to suspend the hawk in flight, frozen in time with wings upright, just inches from the outstretched branches of the tree, yet with part of the nest still in the frame.
Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, Idaho, 2010
Some photographers enjoy working on waterfalls with a tripod, using filters to cut the light and slow shutter speeds to create a smooth, silky flow of water. I never carry a tripod for slow shutter work. Instead, I prefer to work on waterfalls in the opposite way – using fast shutter speeds to suspend the flow in a fragment of time, and creating form and shape in ways that express the power and energy of a nature. I made several hundred hand held images of Shoshone Falls, underexposing my photographs by two full stops, and spot metering on the sun splashed spots, causing the shadowy part of the flow to go dark. Later, in my post processing, I bring up the detail in those dark shadows, as I do here. This was my favorite image – my fast shutter speed of 1/640th of a second creates a lunging fringe of water that hurtles down upon the misty, brightly illuminated golden pool at the base of the image.
Pigeon passage, Istanbul, Turkey, 2009
Warm evening light, an exotic mosque, and a row of Turkish flags make a picturesque travel shot. Making it even more expressive is the passage of three pigeons who space themselves out perfectly beneath the flags and between the roost on the roof at left and the pair of minarets. It is moment in time and space frozen at precisely the right instant. Some might call such spacing a matter of luck. But as photographers we can increase our chances by shooting a lot of frames and hoping for the best. I fired off a burst of three or four shots every time pigeons passed through my frame, and out of fifty or sixty tries, this was the shot that worked the best for me.
Gull fight, Fort Bragg, California, 2009
While photographing the unloading of a fishing boat in Fort Bragg’s harbor, I could not help but hear the screeches of some very angry gulls. I used a 400mm telephoto lens and significant cropping in post-processing to zoom in on the furious protagonists. I initially thought that 1/250th of a second shutter speed would be fast enough to stop the action, but these gulls proved me wrong. Their wings were moving in a blurred frenzy, probably a squabble over a stray piece of fish. I liked the blur so much that I did not even try to stop time here. I preferred to use a “time-extended” approach to intensify the energy that was exploding before me.
Skateboarder, Austin, Texas, 2009
I thought I was finished shooting for the day, and was trudging back to my hotel, when I heard the roar of a skateboard in the distance. I followed the sound, and discovered a young man using a sidewalk leading to a warehouse loading dock as a skateboard run. The warehouse itself offered a clean, unifying background, and the canopy over the loading dock provides a strong diagonal shadow as a counter point to the diagonal thrust of the steps below it. All I needed to complete the image was this final diagonal – formed here by the raised arm of the skateboarder as he floats through the air over the jagged diagonal of the steps. I have seized a moment in time here that stops movement, creates geometric coherence, and offers crackling tension in the negative space between the skateboard and the steps.
The kick, Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia, 2008
Sidi Bou Said, twelve miles north of Tunis, is a whitewashed village featuring blue windows and doors and many tourist shops. I left my tour group for a moment and wandered up the street to an intersection. I saw a bolt of light on the stone street that acted as a pointer. I also heard the repeated thumps of a ball being bounced and kicked and raised my camera just as this boy came into view. He was kicking the ball off his knee, again and again. I made a number of images, but this moment contains the most tension in the negative space between the knee and ball. He throws his arm back, rises on one toe, and propels the ball forward. The setting adds a sense of place and the light on the street points directly at him. It is very much Sidi Bou Said. And it is also a special moment in time. There are no maybes or almosts here. I simply found the exact moment I wanted to preserve.
Gull jam, Essaouira, Morocco, 2006
Thousands of gulls soar over the old fishing port, searching, no doubt, for a free lunch. There is no way to know exactly what kind of motions we can stop or blur in a situation like this. There are a dozen gulls in the air and fifteen others jammed on a railing below them – and no way to anticipate what comes next. I set my shutter speed on 1/400th of a second, zoomed out my lens to 230mm, and used burst shooting to fire off three separate bursts of four or five shots, each with a single press of the shutter button. This was the only image out of 15 or so where there were no gull mergers in the sky. Each gull was distinct from the others, and flying in its own space. The two gulls in profile at the center of the image are the best examples of stopped action here. In fact, the gull at top center is actually carrying a morsel with its feet.