Author: Joseph R. Meehan
Publisher: Lark Books
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
A movie can capture time and motion; that’s why it’s called a movie. But a still photograph, taken in a single instant, freezes time and can’t capture motion. Or can it? That’s the question that Joseph Meehan answers in the affirmative in Capturing Time & Motion: The Dynamic Language of Digital Photography (A Lark Photography Book).
The book is divided into six chapters including the language of time and motion, composition, optimizing camera functions, fast action photography, slow shutter speeds and photographing sports. Essentially the author suggests there are two types of shots that can be used to capture time and motion: fast shutter speed images that, through a series of cues, convey the motion (those are my words, not the author’s) and slow shutter speed images that allow a blur to convey the motion.
It seems to me that in both cases the idea of motion is conveyed by the viewer’s mind more than the image itself. In fast shutter speed pictures, we know what the activity is and we read into the image what will come next, creating the idea of motion. Slow shutter speeds work because, while human vision doesn’t actually capture, or at least distinguish, blurs in real life (with a few exceptions, like a hummingbird’s wings), we’ve come to understand that blurs mean motion. Meehan doesn’t spend much time examining the mind’s role in the process, and in the case of fast shutter speeds I would have liked to have seen more of a discussion of the cues we receive and how the photographer can incorporate them into realizing his vision. He does suggest that leaving space in front of the action on the image field will convey that the action will move into the field, but he ignores the cues presented by gravity, as when a runner leans forward at an angle that can only be sustained by motion. I would have liked to see more of this type of discussion.
The discussion of camera functions that should be set to capture motion and time is interesting and occasionally useful but some of the settings discussed seem more appropriate to a general discussion of photography rather than an in-depth exploration of the subject of time and motion. For example, space is devoted to setting white balance which is important to digital photography generally, but Meehan did not show how it could have some special application to the book subject.
Similarly, the discussion of photographing sports provided a great deal of useful information, like where to stand for the best pictures of particular sports, but didn’t add much to the time and motion discussion.
I was interested in Meehan’s approach since most manuals that deal with this subject usually cover it in several pages in a larger book, which has always seemed to me sufficient. In this book a great deal of the content is about specific photographic subjects, to which the general rules are applied. Moreover, the pages of photographs by Meehan and his colleagues could provide inspiration to other photographers trying to make a single image describe a continuing event.