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Thursday, 06 April 2017


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Let us not forget "One Shot" Teenie Harris as well:


Even in the film days, I thought people were over using the motor drive, and now, it's insane. I've been to press conferences where someone is talking into a mic, and that's the only thing going on, and the still photo journalists are taking 20 shots at a time...bzzz. Who's editing that crap? And who needs to do that? Are you so worried about your skill set that you wouldn't be able to catch someone running onto the podium from 15 feet away?

"Even if you're triggering 30 FPS, you still need to know exactly when to do it."

Sorry, but that is complete nonsense !.

With that statement held to be true, one could go on to argue that all film and video footage (using 24 - 30 fps) has failed to show decisive moments while recording any sporting event !.

Yes a decisive moment can happen between the 1/30th of a second interval ... but it would be very, very, few where it would make a noticeable difference.

Timing a single shot to hit the same 'marker' is in a different league. If it were not so ... there would be no need or requirement for 30 fps !.



Another amazing "decisive moment" photo was taken in 1960 by Yasushi Nagao. He had only one exposure left and had the wherewithal to wait until the assassin tried a second time to strike Asanuma. Others had out-of-focus photos or photos with the podium blocking the men.



The 4k photo mode on my Panasonic records the burst starting from a bit *before* the shutter is pressed (using the half-press to start a rolling fill of the buffer). So I guess that could be called "pre-spray and pray?"

A wonderful post. It's a time when timing WAS everything.
As a boy at Yankee stadium I still remember Photographers wielding "Big Berthas" Graflex 4x5 &5x7 'SLR's' with 20" to 40" FL Lenses attached.
None better than the great Ernie Sisto
And here (don't miss the ultra sophisticated gimbal mount on the NY Daily Mirror camera https://kodakery.com/2013/06/28/big-bertha-and-don-newcombe/

Excellent observations. Don't know how they did it using those old Graflex cameras at ringside...incredible.

There's always a cost (of some sort) to each click of the shutter. Back when I was shooting Kodachrome or Provia, the cost was about 75¢ and the time required to sort those little gem-like slides on a light-table, catalogue them, and store them so I could (hopefully!) find them again when needed.
Nowadays digital capture makes the immediate cost of each frame trivial. But there's a significant opportunity cost for the time and effort required to transfer, evaluate, sort and save or delete the countless frames one can capture at 8, or 12, or (God help us) 30 FPS. I find it more than a little depressing to slog through hundreds of casually shot images in the faint hope of finding a few good ones.
Of course, that's just me. Even with digital capture, I still find myself very deliberately and carefully setting up each frame, almost always using a tripod. I prefer spending my time in the field getting a handful of really promising exposures over machine-gunning the subject and sifting though a thousand frames after the fact. The GH-5 would be totally lost on me.
Which is not to say I don't have a lot to learn from someone like Charlie Hoff. The more we study and learn about the subject, the greater the likelihood that we will know exactly when to hit the shutter release.

When I was a teenager, just starting to take photos I was the sports photographer for the school newspaper. It is great training for getting your timing right; sports is 99% getting the shot at the right time. I still sometimes will take photos of people doing sports, just to keep the reflexes sharp, or as sharp as I can get them at my advancing age.

Listening to a boxing commentator talking rapid fire about what the boxers are doing, reminds me that I can't even see half the punches, never mind be able to anticipate and photograph them.

And maybe that is the trick of it - know your subject.

Forgive the pedantry, but I'm guessing that Charlie Hoff probably used a 4x5 Speed Graphic which is a large format camera, but not a view camera.

A “view” camera? Wouldn’t it be much more likely that Hoff used a Speed Graphic (1912–1973)? Or perhaps a Graflex Reflex, first made in 1898? Adding a Grafmatic film holder would have facilitated six shots in fairly rapid succession—though not as fast as a GH5 can do now!

An interesting story!


I don't know because the book is in storage in the barn and I can't locate it easily. My memory is that he was actually using some sort of aerial camera, not a press camera, and that it was larger than 4x5. But I don't know and I can't look it up. Sorry. --Mike]

I wasn't using a view camera, but a Pentax 6x7 in a helicopter taking a B2 bomber making a pass by the St. Louis Arch during an air show in 1985.
My fellow photographer had a Canon with a motor drive. He got 5 shots but none with the bomber mid arch. I with my single shot got the bomber in the middle. Lucky timing, but amusing too.
Now of course I would use the new Panasonic GH5 shooting "6K" at 35 frames a second suspended below a drone.

A better photo of the Hindenburg, by Charlie Hoff.

I think your recent posts comprise a very good essay about the implications of rapid-fire cameras in relation to the "decisive moment".

One other thought is that in many great spontaneous photographs, outside of action/sports, there is actually a very brief pause in which the shot could be taken. While still a decisive "moment", there is in fact just a little time for the shutter to be tripped... maybe more of a decisive opportunity.

Indeed, Hoff used a type of Graflex known as a "Big Bertha". They were huge. It was basically a Graflex with a 100+ lb telephoto lens mounted on the front. A kind of Flintstone sports camera. You can see one at Gizmodo. As you might guess, there are still some guys out there playing with these relics.

I remember an article about Neal Leifer, the great sports photographer. In it he told about finally getting the big motor drive for his Nikon F. The first use was photographing Dorothy Hamill in her prime. He set up as she went into a spin and let the drive loose. When he got the slides back he found that every shot in the sequence was of her back. Lesson learned. Know your subject and practice.

Nice catch on this one! Can't imagine what it was like doing boxing with a large format camera.

Not to toot my horn, no, I don't do that, but a few years ago I used the Texas Leica to do MF pro boxing series. Hard to do indeed, and I had a dozen shots in each roll. If I recall correctly, I used 400 speed film, certainly no lights other than ring, and some very funny looks from my press colleagues. It helped that I had done a bunch of boxing in the Detroit area for several years for local promoters, so I knew my way around. The series is here, http://www.distreetly.net/before-there-were-cages/ . Hats off to you for bringing back a look at a classic, now out of fashion sport.


The reason for Mr. Hoff's success - could that 'simply' be him being an expert with regards to boxing? I deduce that from your article stating that he was able to predict peak action from watching the boxer's legs. I don't photograph sports myself, but I could imagine that intimate familiarity with the sport to photograph is far more important than camera framerates (of course, this does not apply to shutter lag).

Best, Thomas

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