Photographer Pelle Cass conveys sports events in single images

One sporting event, one image. Pelle Cass’ time-lapse images of college sports allow viewers to see all the action in one still photograph. Here’s what we learned from Cass about his “Crowded Fields” series.

How it began: Cass’ time-lapse street photography began to feel a bit too static, and he craved more action. That’s when it occurred to him that college sporting events could be the subject matter he was looking for. There’s plenty of action to photograph but without the restrictions of pro sports: “I realized I could just plop my camera down wherever I wanted and nobody would care.”  

The photography: Cass spends about two hours at each sporting event capturing as many as 4,000 shots. He mounts his camera on a tripod and uses a short cable release to capture images. Instead of firing off shots at a specific time interval, he snaps when something interesting is happening. “It takes some concentration when people are really far away to watch for an interesting movement,” he says. His goal is to capture action in every part of the frame over the course of two hours. 

Post-production: In Photoshop, Cass opens each image to search for interesting movement, facial expressions, balls in play. He typically selects 300 to 1,200 layers to make one image. He never changes the location of an athlete in the frame, which means some of the figures occupy the same space. “That’s where it’s time-consuming,” he says, making sure it looks natural where one athlete’s elbow overlaps another’s jersey, for example. It takes him one to two weeks to make one time-lapse image.

The challenges: When the bleachers jiggle and the camera loses focus. The tedium of standing in the heat or the sun concentrating for so long is also taxing.

The outcome: The images are meant to convey the human body in motion, the eeriness of time, and pleasurable chaos, he says. Though the final images comprise hundreds of shots, Cass believes this is a more truthful representation of human perception, noting that moments jumble together in one’s memory. 

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.