Part 2: Photo basics for capturing clay shooting

Having already looked at photography basics here, resident photographer Matt Smith concludes his guide for capturing the best moments of a clay shoot on camera…

Using Aperture Priority takes a lot of the work out of your hands, but still offers a degree of control. It allows you to set the aperture, deciding how much depth of field you want, and will automatically adjust the shutter speed for you.

Having looked at the basics of photography in the last issue, and equipment needed, this month we will be focusing on techniques more specific to clay shooters. Shooting is a sport based on a fixed position, which means competitors and photographers have plenty of time to set up and prepare. Usually this would mean standing behind or to the side of a shooter and using a long telephoto lens to capture the action. Trying a different discipline, changing shooting grounds or experimenting with equipment can present alternative opportunities for the type of image being shot.

Composition

The subject is in focus and the image exposed correctly, so what’s next? Probably the most fun part of photography is deciding on composition (the structure of the photograph). While there are no hard and fast rules for composing a shot, there are some common guidelines that most photographers follow to help balance an image. The most well-known of these is the rule of thirds. This involves dividing the image into nine equal parts, by imagining equally spaced lines on every third, vertically and horizontally.

Top tip: Try changing your metering to spot meter in order to expose for a specific area of the image.

Many cameras will lay a grid over the image to show this and make the process easier. The rule is then applied by aligning the subject along one of these lines, or the point where two lines cross. This creates more tension and narrative in the image, as opposed to positioning the subject directly in the centre. To engage the viewer even more, have the subject facing inwards towards the image rather than out of it. If you have multiple elements that are important, then you can try having each sitting on a different third.

While the rule of thirds is a good starting point, it isn’t a strict law to be followed in every shot, and some of the most intriguing images out there go directly against these principles. One example is the use of symmetry, where the object can be placed in the centre of the image and produce a well-balanced shot.

Another key tool in composition is the use of leading lines to draw the eye into a photo, towards the key subject or a vanishing point. A leading line creates a path for the eye to follow, usually starting at the bottom of the frame and working diagonally across to the opposite corner. Common examples of these are roads, fences, paths, rivers and buildings, which connect the foreground to the background and create a sense of depth.

Note the difference in the sky between using an ND filter (right) and not (left)

Landscape: You’ll need a Tripod, camera, grad-ND filter

Clay grounds are often located in some of England’s most idyllic countryside and can be the ideal setting for landscape photography. This branch of photography is largely influenced by the quality of light and therefore time of day. For the best results, take your photos around sunrise and sunset for beautiful golden hues and long, angled shadows. A major difficulty in photographing shooting grounds is the sky/land divide; whatever setting you’re using, the camera can only ever expose for one brightness at a time. If you expose for the ground, then the sky will become bleached and white, while exposing for the sky will cause the ground to become dark and black. One way to avoid this is by taking multiple exposures and compiling in photoshop afterwards (or trying HDR – high dynamic range), however a simple and cheaper option is the use of a grad-ND filter. Screw this onto the front end of your lens and it will add a dark gradient over your photo, effectively darkening the sky and rendering it a similar setting as the ground.

Take a few steps away from the action to capture the shooters in their environment

Another useful piece of equipment for landscape photography is a tripod. Because a small aperture (high F-number) is crucial for getting every inch of the photo into focus, the shutter speed will need to increase as a consequence. This isn’t a problem if your camera is set on a sturdy tripod, but if the camera is handheld then the photo immediately becomes shaky and blurry. An extra precaution is the use of a remote trigger, which will eliminate any camera shake from a clumsy trigger finger.

Action: You’ll need a Long lens (200mm), camera

If you’re planning on covering a shooting competition, you may be quite limited with your position and options. This is where a long lens comes in very handy. If you have a 200mm less or higher, you can get up close and personal with shooters. When buying a telephoto lens you should aim for one with the lowest aperture possible, since zooming in will decrease the amount of light entering the lens, and you must compensate somehow. Using a zoom lens will intensify low depth of fields and compress the image.

Longer lenses require serious investment, but will get you closer to the action, and add artistic blur to your photos.

If you’re taking images of friends and are in a safe environment, you may be at liberty to try different angles and utilise flashes or reflectors. Where you might use a grad-ND filter to darken the sky to expose for the ground in landscape photography, flashes and reflectors can be used to brighten the subject to expose for the sky in portraiture. Even when standing under a bright Sun, it’s good practice to use a reflector to get rid of ugly shadows, even if this means holding a piece of white card underneath their face. Similarly a flashgun can be used to add definition to a subject or freeze motion. Using TTL cables or radio controls means you can set up more complicated shoots and really strive for top photography. If you’re planning on using a flash, then it is worth checking with the ground owner, so that you don’t interrupt other people’s shooting or put them at risk.

Use a remote trigger to gain angles that would normally be impossible or unsafe. Set up your camera, then click away safely behind the shooter (be sure not to position it in the shooter’s sights or you may end up having to buy a new camera).

On the ground

One of the most important things to remember when photographing a shoot is to remain safe at all times. Whether attending as a spectator or in an official capacity, it’s very easy to become complacent while your eye’s pressed against the viewfinder, so a knowledge of where to stand and when to move is essential. Respecting other spectators and the shooters is key to maintaining a positive environment, and most shooters will be more likely to let you photograph them if you are friendly and display a competent knowledge of the subject.

Along with the arsenal of camera equipment to bring on a shoot, another factor to consider is bringing appropriate clothing for the climate. Clay shoots take place in all types of weather and can often drag on for many hours. What may start out as a warm, pleasant day can easily turn to a stinker, and there’s nothing quite so uncomfortable as standing around on a winter day in a soaking wet t-shirt and shorts.

British weather is unpredictable, so be sure to prepare for the worst

Studio

Unless you take photos as a profession, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have much experience of studio photography. Here at Clay Shooting we have a studio devoted to taking those close-up pictures we use in our reviews. For an amateur starting from scratch, studio photography can end up being quite a costly business, but for a one-off occasion, it is relatively cheap and easy to rent equipment or studio space for a day. The key pieces of equipment in a studio are the flashes, but there are also flash attachments (soft boxes, honeycombs, snoods), reflectors, clamps, backgrounds and diffusers to think about.

Studios are a luxury most people don’t have, but are necessary to show gear in their best light

Top Tips

1. Using Aperture Priority takes a lot of the work out of your hands, but still offers a degree of control. It allows you to set the aperture, deciding how much depth of field you want, and will automatically adjust the shutter speed for you.

2. Try changing your metering to spot meter in order to expose for a specific area of the image.

3. Use a remote trigger to gain angles that would normally be impossible or unsafe. Set up your camera, then click away safely behind the shooter (be sure not to position it in the shooter’s sights or you may end up having to buy a new camera).


Find out more!

Contact us at fieldsports@futurenet.com or check out Digital Camera magazine for more in-depth articles and tutorials.


This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Clay Shooting magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk

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Posted in Advice and tips, Coaching

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