You can show movement in photos by using a combination of techniques and tools such as ND filters, slow shutter speed, light painting, the panning technique and many, many more. Some people like to use powders to create the illusion of a burst of power, but Dave Lehl’s props of choice were sparklers and smoke bombs.
Action shots of skateboarders are all about the moves, so it’s the photographer’s job to showcase those moves without showing… the movement. So, how does that work out?
I’ve heard of people using everything from flashlights to flour, and now sparklers. I think it’s a good choice because the little bits of light that scatter from the main light trail make it less precise, which matches the rugged feel of skateboarding.
Dave first thought of positioning the smoke bomb in between the flash and the skater. It seemed to work well, even if the smoke bombs generally lasted for only 30 seconds, so it was a small window to work with. Nevertheless, the smoke bombs created a more interesting atmosphere.
He then decided to strap some sparklers to the skateboard and have the skater do grinds. Using composite photography, he was able to achieve the effect he was looking for. For the first part of the photo, a long exposure was used to capture the sparklers’ light trails during the stunt. Then the skater performed the same stunt a second time, except David used different settings—f/5.6 at 1/1000s—to capture the motion in midair.
Sometimes when skaters grind, the friction of the metals scraping together causes sparks to fly. The effect David achieved is similar to that, but on a grander scale. These weren’t just a few straggler sparks. Think welding and light painting combined.
Compositing was done to prevent ghosting and to capture the subject in focus with a dark background behind him.
Click here to visit David’s blog. For a behind the scenes look, check out this video:
If you want to do add a bit of flare to your skateboarding/cycling/rollerblading/scootering shots, this technique might be worth a try!