BY LEFTY RAY CHAPA
A photo of a person shooting a shotgun into the sky looks pretty boring unless there is smoke and fire coming out of the barrel, or perhaps a shell caught in flight after it was ejected out of the shotgun. While not all shotguns emit smoke or fire on a regular basis, they do all eject the shell before another shot is fired. By following the next few steps, this action can be captured with a camera to make the shells more visible and the photo more interesting.
What you need
A semi-automatic shotgun is easier to capture as the shells are automatically ejected after firing, but a pump shotgun or an over-and-under shotgun will also work. You’ll also need a camera with a setting to allow a high rate of continuous shooting and shotgun shells of various colors. Safety equipment should include safety glasses and hearing protection for both the shooter and the photographer. Any size of shotgun will do, but a 12-gauge gun is pretty common and the 12-gauge shell is bigger than the other sizes like 28-gauge, .410 and 20-gauge.
Shutter speeds slower than 1/1000 are generally too slow to freeze a shell’s motion in the air. Some blurring will occur, which might be acceptable in some instances. Speeds above 1/1000 will tend to freeze the shell in motion so well, it is possible to identify its manufacturer.
If the camera has more than one continuous shooting speed, use the highest frames per second. With a 10 frames per second speed or higher, it may be possible to capture more than one frame with a shell flying through the air. The key is to anticipate when the shooter is going to fire and hit the shutter button before that point and just hold it down until the shell is out of view.
While one or two frames may capture a shell in the air for each string of photos taken, the others can be easily erased. To avoid confusion between different strings, take a photograph of something completely different between image groupings. This will help in the editing session afterwards.
An aperture selection of f8.0 is a good starting point, but it depends on the light sensitivity range of the camera, or ISO, and how much light is available.
Selecting a focus point varies, as it depends on what you want to key in on. In most cases, try focusing on the gun where the shell ejects. Most cameras are able to switch focusing spots from one end of the view screen to the other. If you want to feature the shooter, focus on his or her face.
There are three spots to shoot from. The first is behind the shooter. This is the easiest, as the shells come flying out perpendicular to the camera so it is possible to capture more than one frame with a shell in the air.
The second is behind, but slightly at an angle to the gun. In most cases this will be to the right side as most people are right-handed, but be aware if left-handed shooters are present and switch sides. This is probably the most interesting angle, as some portion of the shooter’s face will be visible.
The third position is perpendicular to the gun. This is the hardest as the shell is coming almost directly toward the camera. Good contrast with the background could also be difficult to achieve as the gun usually takes up most of the background. As a safety factor, never stand in front of the shooter.
If possible, vary the angle by standing higher than the shooter and angle down. Another way is to crouch down and shoot upwards.
While I am not a big fan of shooting level towards the shooter, it really depends on the background. It might be necessary to make adjustments on the fly to make the shell contrast against the background scene. This can be done by making minor movements up or down with the camera. Another way to make the shell stand out is to use different colored shells. Red and green colored shells are prevalent, but blue, gold, silver and other colors also exist.
Pump shotguns eject a shell manually by the shooter doing the work rather than the gun. Have the shooter hold their aiming position after shooting while ejecting the shell. If the shooter fires two shots in quick succession you might also capture some smoke.
Over-and-under shotguns only eject after they are broken open. If done quickly after shooting, you might also capture some smoke in your image. ♦
— Lefty Ray Chapa is a San Antonio-based freelance outdoor photographer and writer specializing in anything having to do with a fly rod or a shotgun. He is also the president of Texas Outdoor Writers Association.
BY LEFTY RAY CHAPA