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Monday, June 30, 2008

The Need For Speed

Must-know techniques for capturing fast-paced action


need for speedTo Zoom or Not to Zoom
Barry and I also both use Canon lenses. Barry uses the EF 500mm ƒ/4L IS USM and the EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM zoom. I use the EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS USM and EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS USM zooms. Barry needs the longer focal length that the 500mm offers and likes the higher shutter speeds that the ƒ/2.8 lens offers. For most of your speed shooting, I think you'd do fine with a 100-400mm zoom, which is substantially less expensive than a 500mm lens.

If you need the extra focal length, use a 1.4x teleconverter. I like the 70-200mm ƒ/4 zoom because it's lighter than the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lens. If I need a faster shutter speed, I'll boost the ISO. Barry mounts his 500mm lens on a monopod for steady shooting, which is a good idea because long lenses exaggerate camera shake. He recommends a monopod over a tripod because a monopod offers more mobility.

Set Your Frame Rate
Action photography requires setting the frame rate on your camera to rapid continuous capture. Another reason why pros choose high-end digital SLR cameras is because they typically offer a faster frames-per-second (fps) rate than entry-level models.


need for speedSports-action is one of the more demanding subjects in terms of camera performance. Features like auto-exposure bracketing, a fast frames-per-second burst rate and lenses with high-speed autofocus can help make the difference in getting the shot.


Keep in mind that RAW files take longer to write to a memory card than JPEG files. If you're shooting an action sequence of many frames with your image quality set to RAW, your camera can temporarily lock up during the writing process, and you could miss a shot. For that reason, some action shooters prefer to shoot high-quality JPEG files.

Use High-speed/High-Capacity Memory Cards
High-speed shooters use 4 GB and 8 GB cards so they don't miss a shot due to the need for a card change during the action. They also use write-accelerated cards for faster camera-to-card writing speed.

If you're shooting an action sequence of many frames with your image quality set to RAW, your camera can temporarily lock up...some action shooters prefer to shoot high-quality JGEG files.
See the Light
Even with all the latest and greatest camera gear, you still need to "see the light" to get a great shot. Seeing the light involves considering the contrast (highlight/shadow range) in the scene, and observing the direction, quality and color of the light. Barry and I always expose the brightest parts of a scene to ensure our highlights aren't overexposed and washed out in our frames.

Have Fun!
Sure, keep all this tech talk in mind, but don't forget why you took up photography as a hobby: to have fun and to feel creative. On site, have fun! The more fun you have and the more you live in the moment, the better your pictures will be.

So, the next time you have the need to capture speed, keep these tips in mind. Also be mindful of the other photographers around you. You don't want to be so focused on getting your shots, that you ruin their pictures by getting in their way.

Rick Sammon is a columnist and regular contributor to PCPhoto. See more of his work at www.ricksammon.com. For more of Barry Zeek's high-speed motor-sports photography, visit www.barryzeek.com.


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