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Use Diagonals to Highlight Action

by Warren Rosenberg, MetroSports Magazine; New York Sports Photo Group

Sports photography is all about capturing action and emotion. If you’re looking to convey emotion, you’ll want to shoot tight by either using telephoto lenses or placing yourself as close to the action as possible. If you’re not able to get in close and tight, you can always try and crop down your image in post-processing to highlight facial expression. Look for those images that capture the emotions of intensity, concentration, fear, pain and joy.

Photo Credit: Warren Rosenberg

While the action that takes place on the field, court, track or ring is often dynamic and fast moving, your photographs will be nothing more than static images recording a moment in time. Capturing action in a static image that conveys action and motion usually requires having prominent diagonal features, be they full bodies, limbs, or sports equipment. When we view horizontal or vertical objects, our brain interprets them as stable relative to gravity. Think of yourself standing straight up or lying flat on the floor. When our your brain receives an image like this it assumes the person is standing or lying still, a determination that your prior experiences will confirm. An object seen at some diagonal angle other than straight horizontal or vertical is interpreted by the brain as either falling or moving. Imagine viewing a person leaning to one side at a 45 degree angle. Your experience tells you that people don't stand this way and, due to the constant pull of the earth's gravity, are most likely in the process of falling downward.

Photo Credit: Warren Rosenberg

A commonly used technique in cinematography which can be applied to sports photography is to use the "Dutch Tilt" to create diagonal lines across your photographs where none naturally exist. In the Dutch Tilt, the camera is tilted during image capture or the image is slightly rotated in post-processing to create diagonal lines in the final photograph. Notice the tilted horizon line in the photograph below that shows how the camera was tilted in order to have the racing go-cart appear on a diagonal in the final image.

Photo Credit: Warren Rosenberg

You'll notice that this same technique is also used in many logos of sports organizations, for example the Indy Car racing series below.

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