I’d have to look it up in the rule books, but it’s potentially sacrilegious to visit Canada and NOT photograph the world-renowned Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Keeping this in mind as I prepared for my July 2012 visit to Alberta in support of the first Through Each Others Eyes Arizona-Alberta exchange, I naturally put photographing a Mountie in a flashy “Red Serge” uniform towards to the top of my shot list.
But it wasn’t just a portrait of these fine servicemen and women I was seeking. No, no, the photograph needed to tell an intriguing story about the RCMP. But what did that mean? Hmmmm….
After some pre-trip research, different ideas danced in my head until we arrived at the Calgary Stampede Stadium in July 2012. There, I had the honor of seeing my first RCMP Musical Ride during the 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, thanks to the efforts of our hosts and fellow photographers Peter Carroll, Royce Howland, and Kerry Smith.
To open this historic rodeo, thirty-plus RCMP members – each riding an elegant horse – flawlessly moved through an artistically choreographed series of formations and traditional movements within the dirt arena. With obviously much precision, skill, and teamwork, the galloping horses and straight-backed riders holding stately flags somehow didn’t get tangled!
As I clicked away with fast shutter speeds during the event, I couldn’t help but feel all my frames were too static. And there was absolutely nothing static about what I was experiencing!
Hastily, I visualized a new approach, one that would allow me to record the impressive formations but yet include a distinct sense of motion. Within seconds, I set my ISO to its slowest setting (ISO 50), spun my aperture dial to its smallest (f/36), and added a polarizing filter to the front of my 100-400mm lens to slow my shutter speed down as much as possible in the mid-day light. The result was 1/10th of a second, which in my opinion seemed a little too fast to capture the sense of movement I desired for the scene.
I tried holding the camera still during the slower exposure while allowing the riders to create red streaks and patterns. Didn’t like it. I tried panning – a technique where you move the camera from left to right (or vice versa) – to help freeze the riders while blurring the background. Didn’t like it. I was quickly running out of tricks…and time!
Then, towards the end of the performance, the troop gathered into the “Dome” formation, where all the riders form a circle and then lower their flags into the center. Keeping my settings the same, I focused on a single rider in the front with my lens zoomed all the way out, then physically pulled the lens back during the 1/10th of second exposure (referred to as a “zoom pull” or “lens pull.” You can also recreate this effect in Adobe Photoshop under Filter/Blur/Radial Blur).
Luckily, the combination of the slow shutter speed and zoom pull technique allowed me to capture more energy AND enough structure to provide much-needed context in this more abstract view of the RCMP Musical Ride. Though my visualizations evolved over time, I felt this perspective successfully told an intriguing story about the RCMP Musical Ride and decided to include this photograph as one of my 20 selected prints to display during the recent Through Each Others Eyes Exhibition at the Art Intersection Gallery in Gilbert, Arizona. (Exhibitions in Alberta, Canada coming your way in early 2013 – stay tuned for more details!)
Technical info: Canon 5DMII, 100-400mm lens at 285mm zoom-pulled, f/36 @ 1/10th of a second, polarizer, basic post-processing.