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Digital Photography
Opinions, Observations,
Articles, Insights, and Tutorials

Sports & Action Photography

Think about the challenges you'll be facing, then set up your equipment
in advance... because great shots take more than just "plain luck".

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A Day at the Races

The Challenges:

  • High-speed motorcycle road racing.
  • Subjects traveling up to 150 mph +, weaving & twisting through turns & blasting down straightaways.
  • Mixed clouds & bright sun (50/50), constantly changing the lighting conditions.

The Equipment:

  • Canon EOS D30 digital camera.
  • Canon 100-400mm IS (Image Stabilized) zoom lens with hood.

The Plan:

  • Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority @ f8. Chosen to achieve a reasonable depth of field without sacrificing shutter speed. (Side note - most lens tests show that f8 through f11 produce the best quality pictures.)

  • Sensitivity: ISO 400. While pre-testing shutter speeds at the track on race day under bright or cloudy conditions at the selected f8 aperture, an ISO 400 setting produced a range of between 1/800th and 1/2000th of a second. (I figured that should be a fast enough range of speeds to stop the action.)

    ISO 200 slowed the shutter speeds by half those amounts, ISO 100 slowed them to one-fourth... much too slow for action photography. And ISO 800 or 1600 would degrade the image quality too much. So I committed myself to ISO 400 for the day.

  • Focus Mode: AI Servo. Selected to have the camera continuously focus while tracking the subject, regardless of the ever-changing distances. Half-press the shutter button to engage continuous focusing, line up on the subject, keep it in the "cross hairs", and fire away.

  • Lens Image Stabilization Setting # 2 (engineered specifically for horizontal panning). I knew I'd need all the steadiness I could get while panning & following the motorcycles through the viewfinder as they screamed by me.

  • Lens hood. Moving the camera around at different angles in the bright sun, I didn't want to worry about lens flare problems.

  • Shooting Mode: Continuous. (Burst Mode.) The "hold the trigger down and fire away" if desired mode. (You can still snap one at a time in this mode if you want to.)

The Results:

By planning and setting up the camera in advance, I was able to simply "shoot" without having to worry about on-the-fly adjustments. Out of 145 shots taken during a two hour period, I got over 100 good, clean, well-exposed, sharply focused pictures. From there, I got a couple of dozen "keepers", with the kind of action, framing, and composition I was really looking for.

Action! Blasting down the straightaway at over 150 mph.

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Here's another photographer shooting some hot closeup action with his Nikon D1.

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