Sequence photography allows photographers to convey movement in a way that simply isn’t possible in a single shot. The technique involves shooting a series of rapid-fire photos that capture a subject in successive motions. Each photo is then stitched together to display the subject in various positions throughout the frame.
Photographers have long wrestled with infusing an element of movement into static images, harnessing techniques such as motion blur, panning blur, and so on, but sequence photography offers a whole new perspective.
The viewer is able to study the rapid progression of movement as it happens. But, unlike video, the movements are frozen, frame by frame.
The technique lends itself perfectly to dynamic action shots—think of an airborne snowboarder launching off a super pipe, a horse ascending over a fence on a showjumping course, or a tennis player bouncing a tennis ball before power-serving their way to victory.
And, there are countless ways to incorporate sequence photography into your portfolio—it’s just a question of knowing how.
Here’s what you’ll need: A camera, a tripod, and photo editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop. A wide-angle lens will come in handy to expand the space between each movement in the sequence (more on that later).
It’s important to note, while most cameras will allow you to capture fast-moving subjects, some cameras are better suited for the job. Sure, you might be able to get the odd great shot, but chances are, you won’t capture a sequence of compelling and sharp action shots unless you’re shooting with a camera that can capture a high frame-rate.
Professionals generally consider DSLRs as the best camera for continuous shooting. They have raised the bar for what’s possible in sequence photography, often outperforming other cameras, especially in terms of the camera’s buffering capacity.
The buffer size determines how many images you can take before the camera runs out of room and must pause an image capture to let the camera catch up. And, in a professional DSLR, the buffer memory is quite generous.
However, these days mirrorless cameras are pushing the envelope as far as what’s possible in continuous shooting mode. In fact, most cameras with the highest frames per second (fps) are mirrorless.
But, as technology advances, we’re even seeing impressive continuous shooting options for smartphones. While DSLRs can shoot between 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24fps, the latest iPhone13 Pro makes it possible to shoot ten photos per second in burst mode, and many other phone manufacturers aren’t far behind.
So, while a DSLR is your safest bet, the type of camera you should choose depends on your needs. If you’re a photography enthusiast, an advanced smartphone might meet your requirements. If you’d prefer a faster fps but don’t want the burden of a heavy kit, a mirrorless camera could be everything you’re looking for.
Settings: When using a DSLR, it’s best to shoot in manual mode to ensure the exposure is consistent across all of your images. One of the most important settings to consider is shutter speed. A fast shutter speed is absolutely essential when shooting sequence photography to freeze your subject’s action and movement.
Therefore, a fast shutter speed ranging from 1/500 to 1/800 is essential for capturing fast movements behind the lens.
Alternatively, opt for the most convenient option by taking advantage of the camera’s continuous shooting mode or burst mode (if it has one), which presets all of your settings to capture a series of photos in rapid succession.
Setting up the Shot
Sequence photography is much like telling a short story. And, as is the case with all good storylines, there has to be a beginning, middle, and an end.
It is, therefore, important to pick a frame that’s wide enough to capture the entire movement. Find an angle that will give you a clear view of the different frames without looking too cluttered.
This is where a wide-angle lens will come in handy, as it makes objects appear further apart, reducing the risk of overlapping frames.
Once you have determined the best angle, mount your camera on a tripod to ensure you capture the same framing, composition, and exposure throughout. A tripod also stabilizes your camera, which saves you extra cleanup in Photoshop later on.
With a little know-how, it’s possible to create an action-packed sequence shot. There are several photo editing software options out there, but Photoshop is a good place to start.
From here, we’ll pass the mic to YouTuber Brendan Williams, who guides viewers every step of the way to creating their own sequence shot in just over ten minutes.
If you’d rather create a time-lapse video, check out this guide by Jason Boone on how he set up his gear to shoot a plant’s growth cycle.
With tips on settings, materials, and location, Boone covers all of the basics you need to begin. He even helps you through the math homework you need to finish before you start capturing images.
Cover image via Lemonakis Antonis.