Advanced Action Sequence Photography Techniques in Low Light

It’s one of the paradoxes of photography. The shots that most convey a sense of movement—the ones that seem to freeze a split second in time while still creating an aura of motion—are some of the most time-consuming to set up and capture. Imagine, then, the amount of effort that went into photographer Max Riché‘s stitched up composite of trials biker Petr Kraus performing his stunts on an urban rooftop. The finished product does more than capture Kraus working his two-wheeled magic; it depicts his evolution from amateur to professional and evokes that famous Darwinian image of a hunched over ape gradually standing upright over several generations of natural selection:

Riché’s preparation for this shot was meticulous. You can see that every element of the image was carefully thought out, starting with a storyboarded mock-up of what the finished product would look like. To show Kraus’s progression from unpolished street rider to elite champion athlete, Riché went through several steps:

  • First, he captured the image’s overall scene, by shooting a still-life of the rooftop and skyline in the background at dusk.
  • Next, Riché erected a neutral backdrop to capture Kraus’ riding without any background interference. The black velvet cloth won’t bounce any light back and will make it easy to isolate Kraus and his bike in post-production.
  • Riché’s plan was to use a slower shutter speed to create a motion trail behind Kraus. The black background facilitates isolating these trails of light, as well.
  • The lighting was also carefully planned out; a combination of continuous lighting with strobes help to create the ethereal effect of Kraus’s riding. The always-on lights help to create the blurred motion trails behind him while firing the strobe at the end of a long shutter release freezes the action sharply.

action photography strobe light
action sequence photo

  • Each instance of Kraus in the final product was the result of dozens, if not hundreds, of total shots taken to get him at just the right time, in exactly the right position, to make the sequence work.
  • Using all the separately captured parts, Riché built the final image in post-production, copying and stitching each individual shot of Kraus mid-ride in sequential order.

If it seems like a lot of work for one final shot, it is. Though I’d argue it was worth it. As a commercial photographer, Riché can only benefit from his self-described perfectionism. And we can, too. Seeing how he put this together should inspire some creative spins on the technique from those of us who enjoy experimenting with our cameras.

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