How to Photograph Sequences
Sequencing or photographing a sequence can be done for short time sequences or over longer spans and like many photographic techniques it requires a knowledge of your gear and a plan. With this technique the most important point is that the images should have a distinct order that can be followed by an audience, something like a 1,2,3 order.
Capturing sequences does not require any special equipment other than a camera. Just remember that sequences are taken in stages as the action progresses, like when baking a cake; first the set up and the ingredients are photographed, then the mixture while being prepared and mixed is captured, the moment that the concoction is placed in the oven would be next with the final image being the ready to eat cake.
For longer spans of time, the changes must be very noticeable or the images just become one continuous blur of repetition. A good example is to shoot the growing of a beard or the stages in a pregnancy. Keep in mind that any sequencing should be done in order; from start to finish. Otherwise it just turns into a simple documentary process or time lapse, which sequencing closely parodies.
This technique can be applied to many subjects so long as the images portray a step by step order; what comes first, what comes second, what comes third and so on. People are excellent subjects for this style. Your goal should be to capture changes in emotions and expressions as they occur. Concentrate on taking various consecutive images while a person arrives at a birthday party for example; their look of surprise, when they are greeted, open any gifts, blow off the candles, cut the cake and eat the cake. Children playing; while the meet friends, while they interact and when going home for the day.
A fun set of images is capturing a delicious dish and consequent images as the food "disappears" from the plate, or a dinner get together.
An excellent source of subjects for this technique are sporting events. Imagine capturing a sequence of shots when a quarterback trows a long pass to a receiver running at full stride which is captured and taken in for a score.
Pets also offer many opportunities for sequencing too. Like your pet running towards you or towards its master, while they greet their master and their interaction with him/her. You can also capture their interactions with other pets.
If you want to imagine what sequencing is pretend that you are capturing an action through a video camera. Sequencing is the same thing except that the images have a "lapse". The process should however, indicate a series of events in the order as they happen.
In nature there are also various subjects that can be portrayed this way; A sunrise or sunset as it develops with the inclusion on the surrounding area to capture the effects of the lighting changes upon it. Wildlife is also a good subject. For example a bird arriving at the nest, feeding its fledglings, looking around for predators and finally taking off in search of new prey to offer its young. For a spectacular sequence of images, try to locate a nest and the hatching sequence or the birth of a farm animal. If you live anywhere near a farmstead, ask the farm owner for accessibility, most will gladly accommodate you.
Some science and naturalist publications are always on the look out for sequential images of wildlife that showcase behaviors and habits. Be warned that if planning a wildlife photographic project you should not only be concerned about your safety, but the safety and well being of your subjects and some species are protected making photographing them difficult, especially for endangered or nesting subjects such as sea turtles and burrowing owls.
The holidays offer ample sources of images. Capturing the preparations involved in the setting of a Christmas tree, the holiday dinner and the Christmas morning excitement of gift opening. Weddings like many other special occasions, lends itself well for sequencing photography; the moment when the ring is placed on the bride's fingers, her look of joy and the "you may kiss the bride" moment.
Changes in weather patterns that are shot as sequences, such as the formation of thunderclouds, the pouring rain and the clearing afterward, should be done with patient since they are usually slow in developing.
This is more of a fun project to practice and hone you photographic skills than a money making scheme, unless they are of spectacular subjects and technically sound.
Be aware that if you want to try to make sequence photographs, you should first do some research into popular and current topics. Greetings cards and magazine articles can be a good source of inspiration.
Capture images that tell a story and do so with an specific medium in mind, such as for use in a greeting card motif, a nature study or for a specific social project like a homeless feeding campaign or a holiday toy drive.
The best sequence projects, if considering submitting your images to publishers, would definitely be those images that can clearly lead the audience from the first action to the second, to the third and so forth.
A good experiment to test if the images achieved their purpose is to present them to a few friends or family members out of order and ask them to arrange them in order. If they succeed in getting them in the correct sequence, then you have done a good job.
- BBC News - Elliott Erwitt on the art of photographic sequencing
The book Sequentially Yours collects a series of vignettes by legendary photographer Elliott Erwitt.
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© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez