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Shooting High Action SportsPreparation is the key ..
Last year I had the opportunity to indulge in one of my passions that of attending a motor race or two, specifically the Bathurst 24 Hour and the final round of the V8 Supercars at Eastern Creek here in Sydney.
Many, many people at both events had camcorders and digital cameras to record the action for later playback, but it was interesting to note that with very few exceptions, it is a very safe bet the resulting playback of their footage will be quite boring. This is not to say the average person is clueless, just an opportunity to give some ideas on how what starts as basic footage can be with a little forethought turned into a movie everyone will enjoy. The keys are preparedness and keeping your eyes open. And while the examples here use motor racing as the backdrop, the principles equally apply to just about any other sport too ?
Behind the 8 Ball
The first thing to realise is that even before you start, you are at a disadvantage. Sounds a bit of a negative thing to say, but when you understand the benchmark for these sorts of events is the way people see them on television, the reality is that you will never be able to emulate that type of shoot. Thats the disadvantage.
But this can be turned into a positive very easily, as unlike a TV crew, you are not bound by the whims of a director or producer.
So, as you dont have access to super long zoom lenses, multiple cameras and angles and all those other things at a broadcasters disposal, you need to compensate by being creative. And you can certainly be more mobile than a camera crew and have the luxury of indulging in some experimentation that a TV director would go into paroxysms over!
Even before you leave for the event, make sure you have all the things you need batteries, tripod, filters, tape, external mics, lights and so on. And test they are all working correctly; there is nothing worse then getting ?on location to find the batteries are flat, the tripod rusted solid or all the tapes in the bag are ones that have been used but not dumped down to a hard drive yet.
Next and this is most important to get a REALLY good shoot is to scout out the location. In motor racing for example, this normally means visiting the venue for one or two of the practice days and marking out where it is best to situate yourself to shoot really interesting action. It might be a particular sharp corner or behind a rise so the cars leap into view. Anywhere there is lots of colour and movement is good; the pits (if you can gain access), in the garages, on the grid and even at points where fire marshals and safety crew are based as they all have a part to play in the overall story and that is what you must remember you are telling a story and therefore all the ?actors need to be involved!
You wouldnt imagine shooting a play for example, and only including half the cast leaving the audience to guess at what those other voices look like now would you!
Once I have the shooting points worked out, the next thing I try and do is sit down with a pad and paper and sketch out a brief storyboard of what shots I want based on these points (others might do this in reverse, but whichever works best for you).
Again using the motor racing analogy, your opening scene might be a quick montage of rapid close up shots of wheels, engines, tools etc to set the scene for what comes next. With judicious inclusion of appropriate music this can be very effective. A great example of this is the intro to Channel 10s RPM program.
Next might be crowd shots mixed in with shots of the grid girls lining the cars up - and if possible, close ups of the drivers sitting in their cars. If you can get shots of emotion on their faces as they wait, all the better!
Now as this is motor racing, it is imperative you capture the start of the race (or the tip off, or the toss of the coin, or the kick off you get the idea). It is also necessary to get the drama of the event. Here this would be pit stops, tyre changes, mechanics bashing out bent panels (or again, a coach remonstrating with a player, a physio trying to uncramp a hamstring and so on). These all go to make up the bigger picture and add variety to the total movie.
The Actual Shoot
Once you have created all your establishment shots (which in reality happens over the course of the entire day although it is wise to get as much as you can prior to the start) its time to get the action footage. Its very hard to capture all of the on-track (or pitch/ field/ court) incidents as you cannot be everywhere at once, but a lot of this comes with practice and experience. In car racing for example, it is watching for the signs of a car going too fast or off line for a corner, the sound of a squealing brake or maybe noticing tyre smoke from a rubbing panel. Where many a mistake is made or more correctly a top shot is missed is when it assumed the drama is past.
Many high actions shots occur AFTER a corner for example. You might have panned the car all the way into the corner and even going around it, but as soon as the car has started to straighten, you take your attention away, and bingo, too much power is applied by the driver and the back of the car clouts the wall. Lost shot!
In high action sports you need to be ever vigilante as a ?moment can occur at any time and there is nothing worse than missing that one special shot that can make a movie (and even some dollars if you are REALLY lucky). This means as well as keeping your eyes (and ears) open, you need to make sure you can change batteries and tapes as fast as possible. I have a small clip case on my belt to carry spares so that I dont have to continually return to the main camera case (one of the $9.95 digital cameras carry cases from Targa fits this bill nicely).
And dont forget crowd reaction shots. These might vary from gasps at near escapes, cheers or boos, or even the solemnity of standing for the national anthem again it all goes together to make the entire story of the day or event.
Finish the Event
Finally is the finish; the waving of the chequered flag, the final shot clock timing out, the referees last whistle. Many of these types of shots can be fudged; a number of times I have asked the flag marshal to wave the chequered flag for me in a posed shot that I have spliced in later. Or any close up of shot of a referee / umpire blowing his whistle can also substitute at a pinch. The important thing is that it brings the viewer into a sense of closure of the main event so to speak.
Once all the footage is ?in the can, then it is time to consider the editing process but as they say in the biz, that is a TBC (to be continued)?
(Photographs courtesy Ross Gibb Photography, Melbourne Australia)
David is the owner and publisher of Australian Videocamera. He has a background in media dating back to 1979 when he first got involved with photojournalism in motorsport, and went from there into technology via a 5 year stint with Tandy Computers.
Moving back to WA, David wrote scripts for Computer Television for video training for the just released Windows and Office 95 among others, and was then lured to Sydney to create web sites for the newly commercial Internet in 1995, building hundreds of sites under contract to OzEmail including Coates Hire, Hertz Queensland, John Williamson, the NSW Board of Studies and many, many more.
David can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
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