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Action photography tips for fast moving subjects

In mid June this year, I traveled to Mongolia, staying with a Kazakh eagle hunter family for couple of days, photographing their daily lives. One of the highlights of the journey, is photographing the eagle hunters galloping at grassland and streams. Here are some tips for shooting fast action images of the above:

1. Composition: As 3 hunters and their horses are charging towards me, I’m using 24-70mm lens at wide side to capture them. My camera position is low, very close to the ground/water level, shooting up towards to the incoming horses and hunters. this technique makes the subjects appearing more dominant and powerful.

2. Focus mode: Auto Focus Continuous (AF-C) mode. Most mid-high end cameras will continuous track the subject in this mode.

3. Drive Mode: Continuous Hi. In order to maximize the chances of capturing one or more successful images of moving subjects(optimal gesture, expression, position, etc), it’s necessary to shoot sequences of images with high rate of capture. It depends on the limit of your camera. High end camera nowadays can shoot 20-30 frames/second, others can do 8-15 frames/second.

4. Focus Area: Wide with Auto Focus tracking. In my case, with Wide focus area selected, when I press the focus button, the camera automatically focused on the face of the hunter in the middle as he is in the center and closest to the camera, I hold the focus button for the duration of the shoot, the camera tracks him throughout the entire shooting sequence.

5. Face/eye detection: If your camera supports auto detection of human face/eye, great, turn it on. Combined with AF tracking or Wide focus area, it helps camera more reliably tracking the fast moving subject.

6. Aperture selection: It depends on the scene you are shooting. In my case, there are 3 hunters with one in the front and 2 in the back, I need to cover more depth of field to render them all sharp, hence, I chose aperture of 11. If you have only one subject, a larger aperture of 6.3 or wider will suffice.

7. Shutter speed: To freeze the fast moving subjects, a fast shutter speed is required. In my case, I set it to 1/800, fast enough to freeze the forward motion and water splashes. If you are tracking a fast moving subject with lateral movement, an even faster shutter speed may needed.

8. ISO: Either set it to Auto ISO or set it to a high number to accommodate the fast shutter speed and your aperture selection. In my case, I set it to ISO800, to compensate for 1/800s and F11, to achieve good exposure. On high ISO like 800, the image will have some noise, but it can be easily removed in post processing using software like Topaz Denoise AI.

9. The successful capture of the action scene of fast moving subject, requires all above settings working together. It takes practice to home in the skill/technique and get successful images.

Note: Although the function is the same or very similar, the camera terms(AF-C, AF Tracking, etc) mentioned above may vary with different camera manufacturers(Canon, Nikon, Fuji, etc), as mine is Sony.

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