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Capturing Action

This assignment ran from Jan 23 to Feb 13, 2016.

It’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, a season that makes me think of being inside, staying warm with cozy fires and hot chocolate. But winter makes me think of other things, too: snow, skiing, snowboarding, skating, and cold weather sports of all kinds. So for this assignment, I want all of us up and out to shoot some action.

Action can be all sorts of things. Sports come to mind, of course, but I want us to think about action in the sense of a “decisive moment.” One moment, one instance, one frame that pulls everything together. Yes, I want to see some of you get out and shoot skiing, but also keep in mind Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic decisive moment images. Think about the man jumping across the puddle or the bicycle and stairs.

You can capture your action shots using high shutter speeds to “freeze” the moment, but we can also pan the camera with a moving subject. Sometimes the blur of panning gives a better sense of energy than a frozen image. In all your shooting, shoot a lot! Action can be difficult to capture and I find it best to set my camera on the highest continuous setting it has and shoot photo burst. I can then pick the right frame later.

This assignment is wide open in terms of subject matter; anything is up for grabs. Action is the perfect moment in everyday life. So dress warm, head out, and put life’s energy into your images. Channel your inner Henri. Lets see some action!

In return for the Sponsor's support of this Assignment, National Geographic may provide images from the Assignment to the Sponsor for its use on its website, social media platforms, and other outlets to promote and publicize the Assignment.

Curated by:

Stephen Alvarez
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
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Published Feb 25, 2016.
Thank you for your contributions!

Edit Your View

Posted feb 9, 2016

I’m loving all of the photos coming in for “Capturing Action.” I especially love that many of you are waiting to submit all three photos to see what you get over the course of the assignment. Editing is often the hardest part of an assignment. Stepping back and looking at all of your top frames together really helps to compare and, in the end, select the best shot to submit.

Don’t be afraid to ask friends or strangers what they think. So much of the photographer’s ego and emotion is tied up in getting the shot. Just because you spent ten hours hanging upside down to get that one photograph does not necessarily mean it’s a great image. It can be hard to separate our experiences, and that’s when having another set of eyes is essential.

I’m also excited to see that many of you are playing with perspective. By using levels beyond just eye level, you create layers in your frame, and you often create more drama and tension. Get high, get low, tilt your camera, get on your back and stomach. And pay attention to your edges! 

The assignment closes on February 13, 2016, at noon EST. Good luck!

Action Is All Around Us

Posted feb 4, 2016

When I was just starting out, a fellow photographer told me, “Film is expensive, but time is cheap.” We had been practicing street photography, and I was learning the value of waiting. He didn’t want me wasting my film without really seeing what I was photographing. I lined up the shot, framed the best composition possible, and then waited for that one person to walk through to get that perfect expression or glance, and fingers crossed they’d be wearing red.

Now in the age of digital, taking a photo doesn’t cost anything, and these days it seems that our time is more precious than ever. I am still learning that patience is a virtue. So I urge you to slow down and wait. Something will happen, and you’ll want to be ready. As slow as it feels to wait, action happens fast. When you starting shooting, don’t look down at your viewer to see what you have. When your head is down, you may be missing the jackpot of all shots. You either got it or you didn’t; looking at the photo after you’ve taken it won’t change that.

With practice, capturing action will become instinctive. You don’t need to be at the Olympics or on a safari. Action is all around us. Don’t be afraid to make your own action. Capture the people, animals, or objects around you with your DSLR or smartphone. The best camera is the one you have in your hand.

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

National Geographic Photographer
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 world’s deepest cave near the Black Sea, a jungle expedition through Central America’s longest cave, the whitewater world of New Britain’s caves, and an exploration of the world below Paris. Stephen’s images have won numerous awards, from markets including Pictures of the Year International and Communications Arts, and his work has been shown at Visa pour L’Image in Perpignan, France. His collaboration with NPR on underground Paris won a 2012 White House News Photographers Association award.