Daily Photo – Rinse Cycle

The Daily Photo series focuses on the two or three key creative choices, in terms of composition and processing, that go into creating an image.  Specific technical details about the shot have been left out — you won’t hear me talking about tone curve adjustments and whatnot unless it was a key component of the end result.

A runner is doused by one of the street showers during the Nike Human Race last fall.


  • Shutter:  1/2500
  • Aperture:  f/2.8
  • ISO:  800
  • Camera:  Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III
  • Lens:  Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

Composition and Processing

  • I took quite a number of shots of runners as the ran under this street shower, but from most angles the water was hard to see against the light to medium tones of each subject.  I ultimately decided to shoot in the general direction of the sun;  at that angle the water lit up nicely and stood out against most of the other elements in the scene.  The shower became a broad pattern of drops, disrupted by each runner that entered.  At that point, it was just a matter of timing.
  • Moving water is one of those things where shutter speed is critical.  It’s not just a matter of being fast enough to freeze it– there’s a huge range of possible interpretations depending on what you’re trying to convey.  My normal preference would be to shoot just slow enough for the drops to streak, since that gives the impression of motion and direction.  In this particular instance though, I also had to contend with a separately moving entity:  the runner.  I’ve mentioned it before, but as a general rule I try to shoot most sports above 1/2000 to insure a sharp image, with some latitude based on distance from the subject (or rather, how much of the image they’re occupying).  I was fairly close to the subject here, so I erred on the high side, freezing the water in place.  I did consider shooting the runner while tracking him (blurred background would have been nice to suggest motion, but then the water would have been streaked in one direction and blurred again in another — incorrect — direction).
  • The only other interesting challenge to this shot was how to focus.  Auto focus would frequently pick up the water instead of the subject.  Not necessarily a bad thing unless you’re shooting wide open (which I was, due to the the low light and shutter requirements).  The alternative is to manually preset the focus to a specific distance and just take the shots there, although that’s also a challenge to get right at f/2.8.  There’s no right answer, and I ended up trying both.


February 27 2009 08:40 pm | Photography

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