Like photography itself, competing in the 110-meter high hurdles is about speed, power and timing. To run a successful race, a competitor has to jump over each hurdle as smoothly and with as little clearance as possible, and take the same four steps in precisely the same places between jumps. This image is about precision, athletic as well as photographic.
To “deconstruct” the skill of a premier hurdler, I photographed Allen Johnson, the Olympic Gold medal winner, at Baker Field, Columbia University, which is located at the Northern tip of Manhattan. I froze my camera on a tripod, lined it up, exactly, with a single hurdle and set it to shoot 10 frames per second. Then, in order show Johnson’s entire leap over one hurdle, I asked him run and jump at competition speed. Because he flew across my camera’s framing so quickly I was able to capture only two or three images with each run/hurdle; so I asked him to repeat it about a dozen times.
When I had a sufficient number of images, I was able to compose nine into a collage representing an entire, single leap over one hurdle.
The “trick” was getting his take-off foot as well as landing foot in the identical spot on the track with each run. I put four hurdles on the track (out of the usual 10) at the standard 30’ from each other; the central one (photographed), two to the right off camera (approach), and one to the left (finish) also off camera. With these in place and Johnson running at high-speed (step, step, step, step-JUMP!) his foot placement was perfect every time and choosing specific frames to compose this image was rather straightforward. (I made sure to include the correct corresponding shadows as well.)
The composite image reveals the almost liquid smoothness of a champion hurdler’s “day at the office.”
I have used this technique I call “movement collage” for many other forms of motion to study sports and dance. Here are two examples I’ve used to study the movement of boxers.
Sechew Powell, Middleweight boxer
Tim Bradley, Welterweight boxer