|5 Brick Break|
When photographing martial arts one of the trickiest things to master is getting good pictures of breaking. Here are a couple of pointers that will help. First, timing is paramount and for this reason mastering focus lock is very important. And second it is important to have a fast exposure setting, a fast lens can really help with this and so can the use of flash.
Lets take a moment and look at timing. Timing is having the camera expose at the instant it is needed. If the camera fires to soon the shot will be missed, either the break wont have happened yet or it wont have completed, only part of the bricks or boards will have broken giving the appearance that the break failed. If its to late the person will be standing over a pile of rubble and there will be a cloud of dust, the shot will have been lost. Using focus lock can help alleviate timing issues - especially late exposures.
When you fire a camera with autofocus you have probably noticed a slight delay from when you decide to take the picture to when the shutter releases. This is because the camera needs a moment to focus. There are a couple of work arounds. On some cameras it is possible to switch to manual focus. However I find focus lock to be the better option. Focus lock occurs in all autofocus pictures, and it is what causes the slight delay in the shutter, causing the shoot to be lost. When the shutter release is depressed the camera focuses on the selected focal point, once focus is achieved the shutter actuates. By depressing the shutter halfway you tell the camera to focus but not fire, once the camera achieves focus it then holds that setting, that is the focus is locked as long as the shutter is held halfway. As I mentioned the camera always does this with autofocus it is just we don’t notice it because we don’t hold it there, in most cases we just fire the camera. With a bit of practice you will find yourself using this technic a lot as you quickly focus the camera, compose the shot, and then release the shutter - and in action photography it will allow you to have the camera ready for the exact moment the action happens.
Fast exposure settings - this should be obvious with a slow exposure you are just going to have a big blur, but how do you get them. The easiest solution is the addition of flash. The addition of more light allows a faster shutter. And in most cases, with the addition of flash, the camera can be set so the ambient light does not effect exposure allowing the burn time of the flash to be the effective shutter speed. In most cases this will give effective shutter speeds around 1/500th to 1/1000th of a second allowing for tack sharp images. A fast lens is also an option to help get faster exposures. Fast lenses have low f/stops 2.8 or below with 1.4 and 1.2 being considered fast. The draw back to this is the shallow depth of field will make proper focusing all the more important. Fast lenses tend to be expensive and with the exception of shooting in sunlight it is unlikely to get shutter speeds as high as 1/250th which is still a bit slow for shooting action. These drawbacks make the addition of flash the best option for action shots.
One last thing, I would avoid spray and pray shooting - that is the use of high frame rates. Most cameras just don’t shoot fast enough and the action will get lost between frames. The Canon 7D can shoot a respectable 7.3 fps some new cameras even manage 10fps making it more likely that an acceptable image will be captured, however your strobe will never keep up, greatly limiting shutter speeds. Also breaking happens so fast it is very likely you will have an image before impact, one after, and still have missed the moment of impact. It is better to invest a little bit of time learning the skills to shoot action. This can be applied to any action, someone breaking bricks or someone pitching a baseball. Learn the timing to get the ball just as it rolls off of the pitchers fingers and you will have the skills to get a break just as the last block crumbles. Just remember there is some travel time between the first brick breaking and the tenth. The timing for a single brick is slightly different from that of a stack.
So as a quick recap. Using focus lock will allow you to compose the image and release the shutter just as it is need. Without focus lock the shot will be too late as you wait for the camera to focus or to soon as you press the shutter early trying to anticipate the moment. Adding flash will allow very fast effective shutter speeds allowing tack sharp images. Mastering these two things will allow you to capture some phenomenal moments, moments that would otherwise be “lost like tears in rain”.