Photo Insight – Cathal McNaughton – Diving Man

July 6, 2011

It?s not everyday that you see a man flying through the sky. Cathal McNaughton explains how he created his humorous image by skilfully juxtaposing a diving man and two people fishing

Award-winning Cathal McNaughton has more than ten years? experience covering conflicts and breaking news for national newspapers and international press agencies. He shares his best press photographs and reveals how he captures a subject in ways that others haven?t seen

I?m always on the lookout for interesting or humorous ways to illustrate a story, as was the case with my image of a man sunbathing in a graveyard (see Photo insight, AP 5 March). I took this image about a mile from my house at Red Bay Pier in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

It was a warm, sunny day and I was out and about trying to capture images that depicted the lovely weather. On this occasion, as I was driving along I spotted a young man jumping from a wall on the pier into the sea. There were also two people fishing a little way apart from each other. I instantly knew there was a picture to be had, but I just had to work out the best way of framing the shot to make the young man look as though he was falling out of the sky. All the elements were there, but it was up to me to decide how they would fit together to create a compelling composition.

This was critical and there was very little room for error. Consequently, the shot took a bit of planning. Sometimes, the more you can plan your shots, the better they will turn out. This was definitely one of those times. If I had randomly fired off a few shots each time the man jumped, the likelihood of capturing any successful images would have been pretty slim. You have to be prepared to put in the effort if you care enough about the picture you are taking.

Working handheld, I used my Canon EOS-1D Mark III camera with a 70-200mm lens. Behind the pier was a high wall along which the man would run before jumping. As I was framing my shot, I moved the camera so the edge of the wall was out of the picture.

I set the camera in position and waited for the man to enter the frame. As I was looking through the viewfinder I could only see the people fishing, so I had to judge where the man was going to appear. When I sensed he was about to jump, I fired a continuous burst of images and hoped he was going to be in the right position in the frame. I fired the shutter as soon as his foot left the edge of the wall and continued to shoot as he moved through the frame. It was actually quite a tricky image to capture as the man was moving too fast to focus on him. Consequently, I prefocused on the spot where I thought he would appear.

After he had landed in the water, it took him four or five minutes to swim around and make his way back along the wall. This gave me time to assess the pictures and see if I had captured the shot I wanted.

I needed a reasonable depth of field so I could show all the people clearly, and this would have affected my choice of shutter speed. I imagine I would have used a shutter speed of at least 1/1000sec. I had to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action as the man was moving so fast. I also had to choose the right focal length to compress all three people into the frame. I think the focal length would have been around 200mm. A long focal length was necessary to pull the people who were fishing together, and also to pull the person diving into the same space (he was a little distance away from the other two). This created the impression that he was directly overhead. It looks as though the man is going to land on top of the others!

When you know the picture is there, it can be difficult to pull yourself away until you have captured the shot. It can be frustrating if you don?t get the picture ? if you miss your chance or misjudge the composition, for example. These can be some of the most frustrating times as a photographer. Fortunately, though, my preplanning paid off and this time I got the shot I wanted.

Cathal McNaughton was talking to Gemma Padley

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