Blown Away. That’s what I am after editing the “Capturing Action” assignment—just blown away with the quantity and quality of the photographs. This is the third assignment we’ve done with Microsoft’s support, and each one has surprised and delighted me, but none more so than “Capturing Action.” Editing down to the story images was difficult.
Just so things are transparent, let me describe my editing process: I edit these assignments blind. That means, I don’t look at who shot the images or where they are from. I don’t even look at caption information. Initially I take a first pass through the photos and make a decision based on whether or not the image makes a connection with me. It’s in or out—this is a fast process with not much thought involved. Does the image work for me? If it does, I keep it.
After choosing a relatively manageable number of pictures, I take another pass through and see which of those images makes sense for the assignment. We use a similar process with National Geographic stories, first selecting the successful images and then seeing what makes sense for the story.
Then I begin comparing images. As you might expect in an action-oriented assignment, there was a good bit of subject overlap (lots of surfing, for example). Which among the similar images are best? Which ones capture action better? This is where things get sticky. Often, good images get left by the wayside, beat out by ones with just a little better light. Out of the finals I build the assignment. I saw images that astounded me.
Motorcycle daredevils abounded, and the most astonishing was this cage of death image from India, called “The Stuntman’s Money." I've seen images like this but never knew that
spectators handed the drivers money as they flew around the cage. That bill in
hand makes this image so rich, it tells a story. In this motorcycle image the photographer went beyond just showing the stunt rider and included a member
of the audience, making an image about what it’s like to be astonished by
As I said, there were a lot of surfing images in the assignment, all of them good. But this one, “Surfing the Clouds,” rises to the surface. The long exposure, the pan, and the low angle make me want to ride that wave, feel what the person on the surfboard surely must be feeling.
If photographs were words, they would be poems, little slices lifted out of life and illuminated. Horses were a common theme in this assignment, and this image, “Out of My Way,” not only captures the power and grace of the horses, but it does so in wonderful light. The light elevates the image.
One of the things that I asked people to do in this assignment was to think of action in the sense of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment. Action is really just the right moment: the right moment to fire the shutter, the right moment to freeze, the right moment to immortalize. It can be the peak action of an epic struggle, as in “Samurai Crane,” or something from everyday life. Capturing images like that is a skill, and like most skills, the more we practice them the better we get. So don’t stop seeing action. Don’t stop hunting it just because the assignment is over; pull it into the way you see.
Photographer and filmmaker Stephen Alvarez produces stories of global exploration, adventure, and culture. Since 1995, Alvarez has worked with National Geographic magazine to create a number of stories that call on his caving expertise and lighting capabilities, including the discovery of an Incan mummy in Peru, the exploration of the ...