As with many other watershed inventions in our history, we owe the development of the capacity to “freeze time” to a case, or actually, more precisely, to a fancy bet.
At the origins, photography was a lengthy affair. The plates and lenses were so slow, that usually exposures running into minutes were necessary, in order to obtain a useful image.
In 1872 an American railroad magnate and horse racing fan Leland Stanford, made a $25.000 bet against Dr. John D. Isaac, that there was a moment, when a horse in full gallop would have all four hooves lifted above the ground, and was advancing in mid air by the sheer force of momentum. The problem was, that unaided human eye was unable to establish if this claim was true, due to inability to observe horse’s motion accurately enough.
Stanford has empowered a known San Francisco photographer, a certain Eadweard Muybridge, to invent a way to prove his point by means of a series of photographic images. Five years later, Muybridge has accomplished the task, and has subsequently combined the images on a spinning disc called Zoopraxiscope, to create the illusion of movement.
The bet has never been played out, however it could be seen, that indeed Stanford was right. As a side effect of this rich man’s caprice, photographers learned, they could “stop the time” , and the basis for the motion pictures industry has been established. Where does this leave us? Freezing of time in a single photographic frame is a self evident fact to anyone shooting pictures with a shutter speed high enough. However, somehow the perception of this “freezing” gets enhanced, when we portray things, that are typically seen in swift motion. What can be more dynamic than birds in flight? Catching birds suspended in mid air, is one of the favourite pastimes of coastal photographers.
There is something fascinating in observing fluid gestures suddenly made still and sculpture like. On the other hand, a tiny amount of blur usually enhances the sensation of movement.
Birds can animate an otherwise static landscape, and add some dynamic and sense of rhythm and proportion. It usually takes some patience and many failed frames to get a worthwhile result.