Sunday, February 05, 2006

How To Film IPSC Matches

I've recently been getting a lot of hits from Google searches about "How To Film IPSC Matches".

SWMBO and I have been doing a lot of that over the past several years, and those of you who have seen the results are probably painfully aware that our "on-the-job training" hasn't always produced pictures of the highest quality or greatest interest.

Still, we have evolved some guidelines that we hope to apply in future photography, and they may help you when you're shooting pictures while other people are shooting action-pistol stages.

The principles group themselves into five natural categories:

(1) Remember who wants to see the pictures, and why:
  • People don't want to see YOUR friends; they want to see THEIR friends, or people they know
  • Most important, they want to see themselves
  • Photograph everybody, whether they are big-names or not, but be sure to photograph people who can be expected to perform well
  • People want to see match winners, or stage winners, or the competitors who are most likely to provide a challenge to these people
  • Sometimes, photos are used as training aids. It's a good idea to look for people who demonstrate the best approach to a given shooting problem; it's also frequently useful to photograph people who make mistakes, so they (and others) can learn from their mistakes
  • Mistakes are often in the small things. Be sure to get the "small things" ... see below

(2) General rules for good action photograph:
  • Put PEOPLE in your pictures! A photograph that just shows the targets, or the stage, is without interest. Remember, you're there to photograph PEOPLE. While it's often a good idea to take photos of stages to show their design, or props, it's boring.
  • Try to film with the light source behind you.
  • NEVER try to take photographs when you're looking into the sun. It won't turn out well.
  • Be unobtrusive in your photography. Don't try to position yourself in a good place if it may interfere with the shooter or the Range Officer. Above all, don't be a nuisance, don't be a source of concern to the RO who may think you're in danger of being run over by the competitor.
  • Ideally, the competitor should be unaware that you are filming, although it is a VERY good idea to get permission of the competitor before you publish photographs.
  • Make sure you have a high-quality photograph; use a high-density digital camera, or a film with a speed appropriate to both action AND high quality. This is often a difficult balance to achieve, but while grainy pictures are often disappointing, blurry photographs are usually unusable. Film is a poor second choice, because you need to ....
  • Shoot a LOT of pictures. You never know what is going to be important until you look at the results. You can feel good about throwing away a hundred pictures if the 101st is a keeper.
  • Compose your photos so you have both the competitor and the target, or at least components of the stage, in the frame. When you have to make a choice, film the people!
  • Use other elements of the stage ... the RO, props, trees, shadows ... to frame your primary subject.
  • The best photographs illustrate a point. This is good, this is bad, this is exciting, this is colorful, this is fast ... the point isn't as important as making it visibly obvious.

Going back to the first rule, why should you include people in your photograph? Here are two pictures of an object ... a stage prop which includes a target array (two plates in the Tiger's 'eyes', and Pepper Poppers bordered by white-and-green penalty targets in the base):

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usFree Image Hosting at

Which of the two pictures is more interesting? Which gives you more information about the prop ... size, and the effect on the competitor?

Clearly, the photo on the right shows how big the prop is; and the dubious expression of the person in the photograph helps to establish that this is an intimidating target array. (The Pepper Poppers do not show up in the small-size version of this picture, so ALWAYS make a full-size version available so your audience can see the important details. This is a point that you should consider when you're publishing photographs.)

(3) Special guidelines for shooting still photographs:

  • Take more pictures!
  • Try to imply action with your timing; look for photos which show the slide cycling, the gun in recoil, brass flying through the air, a steel target falling down ... anything that implies motion or action.
  • Shooters in motion are more interesting than shooters standing steel. Capture the shot that shows a shooter moving, with the body leaning at an acute angle, or one or both feet off the ground.
  • Look for shadows that provide a more dramatic effect.
  • Look for contrasts; put a shooter against a dark background, so the shooter and the gun (and brass!) show up better. Avoid action shots against a complicated, mottled background that may camouflage detail.
To illustrate that last remark, here are two consecutive photos of the same competitor on the same stage:

Free Image Hosting at Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usIn the photo on the left, you see the face of the shooter, the gun, brass flying through the air (see the full-size version of the picture), and a good portion of the stage including targets. The shooter contrasts with the berm, as does the brass, so both show up well.

The photo on the rightshows little of the shooter, or the stage, and you get no impression of ACTION. The shooter is out of focus and blends in withe the RO and the background.

(4) Special guidelines for shooting videos:;
  • ALWAYS edit your videos. Get rid of footage that doesn't enhance the performance you're trying to depict. Ideally, the film starts at the Beep of the Range Officer's clock and ends with the last shot.
  • Sometimes, the most interesting part of the video is what happens before competitor starts or after the competitor stops shooting at targets. Let the camera run extra time, just so you don't miss the best part of the stage. You can always cut it, but if you haven't filmed it you don't have the option.
  • Try to film EVERYBODY! The most interesting things (when somebody falls, when they bobble a reload, when a steel target is hit fairly but doesn't fall) never happened if you don't film it.

(5) Special technical guidelines, to make your photos and videos more readily available to your audience:
  • Film is good, digital is better. Get a digital camera, of at least 3 megapixels density. Five megapixels density is better yet. You can crop still photos, you can convert your MPG to WMV format and reduce density, but if you don't CAPTURE the detail you can't PUBLISH the detail. Note: Ten Megapixels density will probably be more than you can use. See below.
  • Get extra data chips for your camera, and be prepared to swap them out when they get full. A 1GB chip will hold MOST of a full day's shooting, if you're not filming every moment of every competitor's performance. Get two of them, and always delete files from previous sessions before you start the next one.
  • Get at least one extra battery; preferably two of them. Always recharge your batteries the night before a match. Expect to run out of battery power (or memory space) at the most important/exciting moment in the match. Keep your replacement memory and batteries on your person, NOT in your camera bag.
  • To save battery power, it's often better to keep the camera 'on' between photos if you expect to use it within five minutes or so.
  • Use your zoom feature to center on your subject. Whether you use a tight zoom to fill the frame with images of the competitor, or open it up to capture both the competitor and the stage (or targets), pick a setting before you start filming and keep it there. It's distracting to have the camera zooming in and out during a competitor's run.
  • The last rule is a guideline; sometimes it's permissible to zoom in or out, but you need to be very good at it to prevent losing the most important part of the film while you're searching to re-acquire your 'target'.
  • Whether you plan to post your film on the Internet, or send it by email, it is discouraging to your audience when they have to wait for several minutes for the film to download. You may find it preferable to convert your MPG files to WMV files of 50% or lower density, just to get the movie to their screen. If you can present a higher-density version as an alternative, that's fine; if their interest is captured by the low-density version, they MAY choose to download another version. But probably not, unless it is "their" performance they will be viewing.
Note that you can use the "Windows Movie Maker" software (available as part of your standard software package on new Personal Computers with the XP operating system) to edit and downsize your videos.

Good shooting, and good luck.

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