Anticipate the action

Our local archery club has just moved to a new shooting ground and on Saturday they held open house.

I know very little about archery, but it sounded like a great photographic opportunity, so I packed my long lens and went along to see.

Fascinating. It is obviously a very 'mental' sport requiring a high degree of focus and concentration. Just like photography. They were offering introductory lessons, and I was tempted to try my hand at it. But ... I do enough already. I don't need one more thing on my plate. So I stuck with shooting through a lens.

I got all the images that I'd seen in my mind in advance - bowstrings being pulled back, views over archers' shoulders with the target in the distance, arrows in the bulls-eye - all good saleable stuff.

Then I set myself a challenge - to catch an arrow in flight. It wasn't easy, but in the end I did it ...


I used a telephoto lens to 'compress' the perspective and to get me close to the archer (we had to stand behind ropes for safety reasons). I set the lens to maximum aperture, partly to get the highest shutter speed possible, but also to minimise the depth of field. I wanted the background, and target to be sufficiently out of focus for the subject to stand out.

Believe it or not, I didn't use 'burst' mode, when my camera is on rapid-fire. It's capable of taking three pictures a second in that mode. So why not?

Because I think that would have reduced my chances of catching the crucial moment. Let's say that the instant when the arrow leaves the bow and is still in the field of view lasts for 1/100th of a second. I don't know if that's right or not, but it sounds pretty generous. Now, if I'm only taking 3 pictures in that second I only have a chance of 3 in 100 of capturing the moment I want. Not very good odds.

On top of that, when my camera has taken 3-4 pictures in burst mode it locks up for another few seconds whilst it writes the data to the memory card. That reduces the chances still further.

Instead, I watched how the archer shot . I saw that he had a rhythm: relax ... take a breath ... raise the bow above the target ... lower it ... fire. I tried to photograph in time with his rhythm, watching his small movements and anticipating the moment.

I got a lot of 'dud' shots, but I caught the arrow in flight three times, and another time when he'd released the bowstring but the arrow was half out of the bow.

When photographing, don't just look. See.

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