View Full Version : Tricks for photographing aikido?

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12-29-2005, 06:08 PM
I got a new digital camera for Christmas, and I'm wondering if anyone has advice for taking good still photos of aikido in action. The ones we've taken of the kids' seminars...occasionally come out okay, but it seems to require a lucky accident.

I've seen a lot of photos of "Look, a black and white blob is throwing a white blur!" I've also seen some very good photos, but as a beginner I have no idea what makes the difference.

Mary Kaye

Alex Coll
12-29-2005, 07:41 PM
What type of camera? Are you using a tripod? That tends to help a lot. You should also set it to a fast shutter speed to eliminate the blur, but sometimes a little blur adds a cool effect. Most digital cameras have a sports setting for pictures of moving objects, I'd recomend trying that first. Try taking test shots and tinkering with the settings until you find what's right. Post you're pictures, I'd love to see them.

12-29-2005, 11:14 PM
Hi Mary,

The best thing would be to learn a bit about photography itself in its entirety so that you understand concepts such as shutter speed, aperture, focal distance, ISO settings, composition, and such. One book I can recommend is Bryan Peterson's "Understanding Exposure." It really isn't as difficult as you first expect. There are a lot of good websites out there that can explain photography basics, too. Getting to the point that using manual controls seems OK to you is a step in the right direction.

As far as photography specific to aikido goes, one thing that helped me in using a non-SLR digital camera was to get a feel for the shutter lag of the camera. One trick is to do a "half press" on the shutter release button so that the camera focuses (but does not "take" the picture); after that happens, the time to actually "take" the picture is very much minimized. This will help in getting the timing of the picture "just right."

These days, I'm using a digital SLR when I take pictures, so things are a bit more controllable. I usually use a manual setting of about 1/160 or 1/250 second at ISO 800 or above in the dojo while using a 28-75mm f/2.8 lens. I've gotten pretty good at taking "perfect breakfall position" pictures, so I've started trying to get more "interesting" pictures. It's been an interesting, creative process for me so far...

Hope that helps.

-- Jun

12-29-2005, 11:51 PM
Good advice Jun.

Once you've read all the books...............shoot shoot shoot !

I shot almost 600 pictures at our summer seminar ( shooting over 4 days/16 hours on the mat, where I actually had time to practice too!) . Then I edited them to +-250 for the participants CD and then edited and photo-shopped again with an iMac down to about 20 good ones !!!

I once heard some advice from a National Geographic photog on how to get a great shot ( in the old days of 35mm) and it was f5.6 and "being there".

With a digital "be there" then "shoot and shop".(as in photo-shop)

Have fun .......................... but still get out on the mat to practice.

Andrew Barron
Calgary Aikikai

12-30-2005, 06:45 AM
Plenty of light, fast shutter speed for crisp shots and slower shutter speeds to show movement (obviously not a real shutter in a digital but the concept is the same), and continuous shots are nice too - you can actually capture different moments within a singular technique.

12-30-2005, 07:14 AM
Hi Mary,
I've found that a great effect with a digital non-SLR or SLR is to use the "motor" function wherein the camera takes continuous shots (some cameras allow you to specify the number of shots in a row).

This can be very effective and can get around a significant portion of the shutter lag effect, but it is very dependent on the quality of your batteries (high capacity, rapid refreshing batteries work best) and the speed of your storage in the camera (internal memory is very quick, but there is a huge difference in write-times in the many different storage cards). Generally speaking, the better the batteries and the faster the storage card, the better chance you have of getting a great action shot.

As a few people have mentioned, a tripod is always handy for set shots, but don't be afraid to get on the mat (literally lying down) or get up on a chair, or get into a yoga-like position to get a variety of shots ;)

12-30-2005, 12:48 PM
Good advice all 'round. In my opinion, Aikido screams to be photographed in black & white. Work in natural light as much as possible - if you have good windows in the dojo, ask the instructor if they would mind conducting class without the lights on. Set your your ISO (or equivalent for digital) to around 1600 or 3200. Work with a variety of lenses - a zoom is handy, but I've found the most interesting shots come from a wide-angle lens, requiring you to get very close to your subjects. As far as shutter speed goes, with a steady hand you should be able to go as slow as 1/30th with a short lens and 1/120th zoomed in as much as 200mm. Of course, that all depends on what you're looking for in depth-of-field and movement-blur. Definitely use a tripod for slower speeds, but that will limit your mobility and opportunities for interesting perspective. Check my gallery for a VERY small sample: http://home.comcast.net/~ddhammer/photos/aikido/index.htm

12-30-2005, 07:39 PM
You might try getting a copy of the book "Aikido: Essential Guide to Mastering the Art" by Bruce Allemann. It's got some beautiful photography, some of which is in an artsy, time-lapse style. I'm sure the publisher or the author would be happy to tell you how they were composed. All it takes is an e-mail.

And the advice to "practice, practice, practice" is right on. The great thing about digital photography is that you preview, and then just purge all the "mistakes", instead of spending yourself silly on film and developing. The bad thing is that some of the neater "effects" can't really be done with digital. But it's getting better all the time.

Karen Wolek
12-30-2005, 10:06 PM
Yes, lots of practice.

I was very frustrated in the beginning, because of the time lag the digital has. I was used to my SLR....what I saw when I hit the button was what I got. Not so with the digital. In the beginning, all my aikido shots with the dig cam were of uke getting up off the freakin mat! <grin>

Then I learned about holding the button down just a little, then pushing it down all the way when I saw my shot.

Play with it. I haven't played with mine too much, because I really like my regular old SLR (a digital SLR is in my dreams, LOL) for aikido shots.

And according to my sensei you should "read the manual." Silly. Heh. ;)

6th Kyu For Life
12-31-2005, 02:46 AM
My photo teacher said "The four most important things are E-D-I-T." Most people assume that editing means taking it into photoshop, goofing around with colors, cropping, contrast, etc. This is kind of more "fine-editing." instead, think of all the pictures you take and then editing those. Take a lot and then whittle down to find the best. On average, I would take 3-4 pictures from a roll of 36 in a first edit, and out of those 4 only 1 would go on to be in a final portfolio. On a more practical level, consider that 9/10 pictures you take probably won't merit a second look (but don't delete them immidiately-look at them later to decide). The secret to taking good pictures is taking a lot of pictures. Good Luck!

Tom Newhall