Focus for action photography

Goldcoin79

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Hi, I would just like some input on how people go about there focus for action photography. I went to a county show at the weekend which gave me plenty of time to practice this sort of photography. I took photo's of the birds of pray show trying to get some good mid flight photo's and also of the motor bike stunt show where I got some photo's of the bike's in mid air after they gone off a jump.

I have a Nikon D5100 and used it on shutter speed priority at 1/1000, the focus was on continuous focus set to dynamic and I selected the middle focus point. I followed the bird or bike in flight with the centre focus point and tried to keep it close to the focus point and held the shutter button down on continuous burst.

I was happy with most of the shots even though a few were slightly out of focus but most were good. As I am new to this sort of photography I would be interested in how other people do it or any advice they can offer.
 

KmH

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Continuous focus invokes shutter priority focusing.
That means the shutter will release even if focus has not been achieved.

AF-C/Dynamic is indeed the best mode for shooting bursts of action sports, but some % of your shots will be OOF.

When shooting action sports I used Aperture priority so the camera could set a shutter speed even faster than 1/1000. I was more concerned with maintaining a consistent DoF so that backgrounds were blurred.
However, the photographer has to keep an eye in the viewfinder on the shutter speed the camera is using to make sure it stays fast enough for the action.
 

orb9220

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+1 KmH covers what most do when shooting sports.
Also takes quite a bit of practice and learning to anticipate action.
And biggest hurdle is camera vs. lighting.

A lot more struggling with entry camera like the D5100 with a variable kit lens.
Then a more capable prosumer or pro faster camera & lenses .
You're generally fine in good weather & light.
But indoor or cloudy & lower light situations will be problematic.
.
 

CouncilmanDoug

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for most action I do I have the shot envisioned, and pre focus on where they're gonna be
 

Derrel

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AF for action photography depends on several factors:The contrast and size of the targets, the camera and its AF module, the lens , the shooter, and the type of action or sport is the fourth leg.

Big targets, like horses or stock cars are...big targets...stock cars have tons of sponsor decals on them and are high-contrast targets that are easy for AF systems to get a lock on. Football jerseys have a nice number on front and back, and lots of color and contrast. Sometimes runners have very plain jerseys of single color, and those can be harder for the AF system to achieve a lock-on. I remember one track meet where center point AF with dark green jerseys, no numbers, no logo, no school name, gave my D1h and 300mm f/4 AF-S fits...the uniforms were deep, dark emerald green, and were almost impossible for a single AF point to focus on when the subjects were on the shaded side of the track. That was the day I decided to learn about multi-area AF systems.

Sometimes you'll want to pre-focus on a spot. High jump is a good example...you shoot as the athlete clears, or hits, the bar. It's pretty much single-frame shooting, one frame per attempt. You either get it, or miss it.

I have read in most reviews that Nikon's 55-300 is much slower in autofocusing than their 70-300VR. Some lenses focus faster than others, especially in poorer light. When the light gets low, some outfits might very well have trouble getting AF locked and dead-on, so pre-focusing and waiting for the action to move to a spot is an option, especially in events where the action is easily predictable or repeats. If your D5100 got most shots in focus, but "a few" out of focus, you're probably on at least a decent path.
 

gconnoyer

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I use AF on spot focus. I'm sure the 51pt Dynamic focus works great, but I'd kick myself in the ass if I missed something awesome because I let the camera try and do the work.
 

Derrel

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What actually works great is using 9 or 11 of the 51 AF points. Something that gives the camera some data to compare, and to actually lock-on and to predict and to track moving targets. Using ALL of the 51 AF points is not the concept most people use; the idea is that when a smallish group of AF points are activated, and the user uses the 4-way controller to place the group over the desired subject matter, the computer in the camera reads the distance, and the RGB color makeup, and the reflectivity of said subject, and then can track it anywhere it moves across the frame. But, this only works if a person understands how to use it, and actually tries to use it. This is the way the older, pro Nikons work, like the D3 series and the D300. The D800 has been dumbed down quite a bit, and relies less on the user to pick an AF point, and relies more on automation and computer analysis to pick the AF points.

On the cameras with say, 11 AF points, the groups will be smaller in number. On the D2x for example, the best group was 4 AF brackets, but then that camera had maybe the best AF system ever devised, and had four AF modes on the back, and the AF-S and AF-C switch on the front; that was whittled down in the D3 series, and the D800 series it's been reduced even farther yet again.

If you want to really use Autofocus, you need to learn EXACTLY how your camera's system has been engineered, and when to use what.
 

vintagesnaps

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For sports I focus on an object (post, edge of the net, lines, wall, etc.) where I anticipate the action/play will move to next. Then when the action moves into my viewfinder I adjust focus as needed. I focus manually but that seem to be the exception; shooting hockey it just took a lot of practice to learn how to do it.
 

TheLost

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I use AF on spot focus. I'm sure the 51pt Dynamic focus works great, but I'd kick myself in the ass if I missed something awesome because I let the camera try and do the work.

You'll actually miss more using a single focus point then using Dynamic :)

Dynamic focus (9,21,39.. etc) works just like single focus... except the camera watches your target (single focus selector) and adjusts if it needs to. For example, your following a basketball player and take a picture right as he jumps. The camera is faster then you are when it comes to readjusting focus :)

I'm a huge fan of AF-ON when shooting action (also called back button focusing).
 

KmH

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Not all Nikon auto focus modules are equal.

The D5100 has Nikon's Multi-CAM 1000, 11 point, 1 cross-type, auto focus module. Dynamic tracking with this AF module is iffy because only the center AF point is a cross-type AF point.

The newer entry-level Nikon's (D5200, D600) have the Multi-CAM 4800DX 39 point, 9 cross-type, auto focus module.

The D7100 has Nikon's best - Advanced Multi-CAM 3500DX, 51 point, 15 cross-type, auto focus module.
 

12sndsgood

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Continuous focus invokes shutter priority focusing.
That means the shutter will release even if focus has not been achieved.

AF-C/Dynamic is indeed the best mode for shooting bursts of action sports, but some % of your shots will be OOF.

When shooting action sports I used Aperture priority so the camera could set a shutter speed even faster than 1/1000. I was more concerned with maintaining a consistent DoF so that backgrounds were blurred.
However, the photographer has to keep an eye in the viewfinder on the shutter speed the camera is using to make sure it stays fast enough for the action.


and to add in some counter remarks for me I will sometimes use Shutter priority because shooting drifting action I want a slow shuter speed so the wheels are blurred and when im panning the background is blurred as well but the car is sharp. I might do the same for some motorcycle shots. but for coming around a corner or directly at me i'd want a faster shuterspeed and shallower DOF perhaps. so how your shooting really is going to just vary depending on your subject and what look you are going for. you can get several diffrent looks from the same exact shot
 

TheLost

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I used the CAM900 with its whopping 5 point AF system for YEARS on my D70 :)

The trick is to practice.. learn what your shooting... and more practice
 

Derrel

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I used the CAM900 with its whopping 5 point AF system for YEARS on my D70 :)

The trick is to practice.. learn what your shooting... and more practice

I have used the D70 a few times for sports; high school soccer and a little track and field. When paired with the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 AF-S Mark II, it could achieve pretty good initial acquisition on simple targets, like " a soccer player", or "a runner". Initial focus acquisition is sometimes all that is needed.

Tracking a rapidly-moving object is a different thing than initial focus acquisition. After I moved to the D2x, with the wide-area AF sensor coverage of the CAM2000 11-area AF system, with 9 cross-type sensors, once I learned how to use Group Dynamic AF, I was able to achieve AMZING autofocus on a really tough subject: pole vaulters. They run down the runway, pole extended, then they plant the pole, and then they move up, and come closer, on an upward and somewhat diagonal trajectory. The D2x using Group DYnamic AF< with 4 sensors active could NAIL entire sequences of each pass and jump and landing, consistently. In other words, the "target" leaves the center area, and moves to the top of the frame, FAST, and erratically.

Same with long jump, where the athlete runs down a similar runway, then leaps high into the air, and then lands. From a crouching shooting position, the jump part has the athlete high up in the air, and the center area of the frame is 30 meters behind the desired AF point. Group Dynamic AF to the rescue. Again, this is a camera with 11 AF points, but 9 are super-sensitive, cross-type. The D2x had absolutely superb AF tracking for track and field or soccer when used with an f/2.8 70-200mm or 300mm AF-S Nikon lens.

Here is a photo from the very FIRST time I tried the D70 for sports work:
50732158.jpg
and here is my caption from my October, 2005 pBase posting of this shot: The ball is shown deformed by its impact with the leaping player's head. I got this shot with the D70,in-focus. The 300mm f/2.8 AFS-II autofocuses very,very fast,and well. It focuses fast on the lowly Nikon D70. The combination of long focal length and wide aperture helps the AF system detect "in" and "out" quite easily,since depth of field is least at higher magnification,and at wider apertures. This is a one-shot AF acquisition and timing--the D70 is SLOW for action work and you usually get only ONE shot per shot opportunity with the D70,so you've gotta' make 'em count. With this 300mm f/2.8 model, you can count on the lens's AF system's total design and performance to get the autofocus right more than on almost any Nikon lens I've ever used.
 

Vtec44

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AF-C, single focus point, manual mode, back focus button, burst of 3 or 4, and pan!! That's how I shoot mine :D


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