Did Dean Mouhtaropoulos “Try” to Get the Shot? (Or Did He Nail This Image of Adam Rippon)

Did Dean Mouhtaropoulos “Try” to Get the Shot? (Or Did He Nail This Image of Adam Rippon)

Vanity Fair contributor Joanna Robinson raised the ire of photographers with this tweet regarding an image taken of figure skater Adam Rippon by Getty Images photographer Dean Mouhtaropoulos:

Robinson later clarified her position as a misinterpretation, but putting the nuance of language aside, how successful is this image?

“Dragging the shutter” (aka using a slow shutter speed) has a number of applications. In flash photography, it can be used to create light streaks.

Nikon Ambassador Andrew Hancock combined ambient and strobe with a long shutter to create this impressive photo of Alex Caruso taking it to the hoop:

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After another @acfresh21 highlight reel dunk, I am left thinking several things. . 1. The man needs to be in the NBA All Star dunk contest. 2. This #Lakers team could be bonkers in the near future. 3. White men can’t jump, but men is plural so Alex is the only one of us that can jump. . Now I leave you with one of my favorite frames I have taken with Alex. Back in 2014-2015 I worked on a slow shutter portrait series for the @12thman and this shot of a no assist alley oop off the backboard was one of my favorites! #nophotoshop #incamera #hihaters @profotousa @nikonusa #nikonambassador #slam @slamonline #hops #whitemencanjump #lakernation #gigem #sec @reedrowdies #dunk #portrait #actionportrait #slowshutter #mondaymotivation #adphotographer #artdirector #creativedirector #creative — Shout out to the sports photo godfather John Zimmerman who pioneered this and so much more. No other was able to push boundaries like him.

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Even without flash to freeze a final moment (assuming one is using rear-curtain sync), the long exposure can be used to convey motion or speed as in Kai Pfaffenbach’s image of Usain Bolt from the 2016 Summer Olympics.

200mm, f/4.0, 1/49s

The key to this style of imagery is a combination of a few factors:

  • A key element (like a face) needs to be “frozen”
  • Motion is often best conveyed when it’s happening parallel to the plane of the sensor
  • The shutter duration has to be in the “goldilock’s zone” – too much blur can render a frame as too abstract. Too little blur and the image doesn’t work at all.

Which takes us back to Mouhtaropoulos. He’s no stranger to sports photography, and he’s had a lot of experience with dragging the shutter. These speed skating images follow the “rules” more conventionally:

And here is the move in real-time:

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Rippon isn’t actually rotating quickly. I’m estimating that he’s doing about 85 revolutions per minute, so the shutter speed could have been in the 1/60s range to capture this image.

So was Mouhtaropoulos successful in what he was trying to capture? This is what makes the image successful to me:

  • Mouhtaropoulos was at a high enough vantage point to isolate Rippon against the white ice (clean background)
  • He recognized a movement that would lend itself to a slow shutter
  • He didn’t over blur the image (i.e. the image doesn’t even capture only a small part of the full rotation)
  • He’s helped by the costume (i.e. black tights with a sparkly top)

Is it a gold medal-worthy image? Insofar as sports photography goes, it’s about context. Had this been apart of a gold medal-winning routine that propelled Rippon into first place, then I would say yes. But that doesn’t invalidate the successful execution of an image that Mouhtaropoulos most definitely saw in his head before pressing the shutter.

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Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

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