Something I didn’t know

January 10, 2007

Here’s something I didn’t know: do you remember the way all the old cartoons indicated speed? There were the motion lines, of course, denoting motion blur, but remember things like the tires on a car sort of leaning forward as the car went faster?

I always accepted that as just a standard iconographic indication of speed, without really thinking about where it came from. It turns out, though, that there’s a real reason for it.

See, one of the most common documentary/reportage camera brands was the Graflex, and they had a unique shutter configuration. When a picture was taken, rather than the shutter opening in an iris, or going from side-to-side like a curtain, the Graflex shutter went up and down. Which means that if the motion in the picture was going significantly faster than the shutter speed, the top of the picture would be exposed well after the bottom. So, for example, if you were taking a picture of a car in motion, the tires would appear to be leaning forward, stretching to go faster.



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