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Capturing Motion by Stephen Dalton

Obregon Obregon

Is from: Southold, US
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Obregon Moderator Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.  Charter Member
Sun 02-Jan-22 10:25 AM
Capturing Motion: My Life In High-Speed Nature Photography by Stephen Dalton

I first encountered a book of Stephen Dalton’s flight photographs seventeen years ago. My only complaint was that the book included pages on manned flight that could have been used for pictures of other animals. This time I have no objections.

This book is primarily a retrospective portfolio of pictures of animals in motion and mostly in flight: insects, arachnids, birds, reptiles and mammals. The book is arranged in chronological order, beginning with photos taken with a Lecaflex SL in 1971 and ending with pictures from a Sony a7RII in 2018. Most of the images are astounding and all of them beautiful. Along with the pictures, Dalton tells the story behind each image, including developing equipment to capture these images, as well as his own photographic life.

Photographers looking for tips will soon realize that, while the shift from film and older equipment has made capturing these images easier, there is still nothing easy about the process. In most pictures the animals were moving too fast to be followed with a swinging camera if a sharp image was the goal. Instead Dalton had to develop sensors to trip the camera as the critters passed by, lighting that would be bright and of short enough duration to freeze the fast moving animals, and devices to direct the animals to a place where they would be in focus. The artistry was in planning the environment and lighting so that the animals would be photographed as Dalton envisioned.

All of these pictures look like they were taken in the field, but the author explains why that was impossible. Instead, he describes setting up environments in his home for the pictures. (I occasionally pitied the family with a huge tank of water in their living room to provide a realistic setting.) Although this is not an instructional manual, photographers who are strongly motivated, with a bent toward constructing specialized equipment will get leads, if not instructions.

The pictures of these animals are all breathtaking, but my favorite was of a 3 foot tall Giant Sailfin Dragon Lizard striding along the surface of water, leaving a trail of splashes behind him. As an aside, the photographer notes that this was taken in a pool created in his studio.

The author occasionally laments that the photographs in this generously-sized book were not large enough to show all the detail captured. He need not have expressed regrets. Just seeing these animals in a way we would never be able to follow with our human eyes, would already be enough. The composition of these shoots moves us to an aesthetic experience.