The Need For Speed
Must-know techniques for capturing fast-paced action
My guess is that most of you won't be in a situation where you'll be photographing a subject speeding toward or past you at 220 mph, but that's exactly the challenge for Barry Zeek, who specializes in capturing lightning-fast motor-sports action. You may, however, find yourself photographing fast-moving subjects such as darting birds, dashing animals and running athletes or skiers, high divers, snowboarders, skateboarders and wakeboarders flying through the air. Shooting action can be tricky, but with these tips, there's a much better chance that you'll come home with successful images.
Anticipate the Action
Knowing where the action will occur, and finding a shooting position from which to capture that action, is the first step toward getting stellar action shots. Arrive early on the scene and ask the event organizers where the main action will take place.
If you see other photographers, ask them about great places from which to shoot. Knowing about the subject—how fast it moves, in what direction it moves and so on—helps you get good shots. Research your subject, and you'll cut down on the number of surprises you'll encounter on site.
Keep Both Eyes Open
Shooting with both eyes open—with one focused through the viewfinder on the subject and the other viewing what's happening around the scene in the viewfinder—will help you see where the subject is going, as well as what subjects may come into the scene. Shooting with both eyes open takes some practice, for sure, but once you get it down, you'll never go back to one-eyed shooting again.
Carefully Select Your Shutter Speed & Aperture
To freeze fast-moving subjects, you need to shoot at a fast shutter speed—at least 1⁄500 sec., but sometimes, as is the case with motor sports, as fast as 1⁄2000 sec.
To ensure a good exposure, set your camera to automatic exposure bracketing, perhaps by one stop over and one stop under the recommended setting.
When choosing the aperture, you usually want the entire subject in focus. Choose an aperture that offers enough depth of field to accomplish that goal, and keep in mind that, as the focal length of the lens increases, the depth of field at the set aperture decreases. As a starting point, use an aperture of ƒ/8 (most lenses are sharpest at ƒ/8 or near their median aperture setting).
Use your camera's LCD monitor to check your depth of field and shutter-speed choice. If you're not sure about your settings, it's better to choose a faster shutter speed and smaller aperture than you think is needed.
Consider Your ISO
To maintain a fast shutter speed and an aperture that will give you the desired depth of field, you may have to boost your ISO setting, even in bright light, especially if you're using a telephoto zoom lens with an aperture of ƒ/4 or smaller.
Also keep in mind that, as the price of a digital SLR increases, the noise in the files typically decreases. That's one reason why serious sports shooters use top-of-the-line cameras.
Barry and I both use Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III cameras for our photographs, which produce very little noise, even at ISO 1000.