Tuesday, 7 February 2006

Moving Targets

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One of the good things about being in Atlanta at the moment is that I am working and going out with people who are as passionate about photography as I am and from whom I can learn. So the past few days have been quite busy, as I took 800 shots. Yes, eight hundred. There is a lot of garbage in all this but it is garbage I can learn from and that I can delete by pressing a button. This is the beauty of digital photography: you can keep shooting as long as you have room on the media card, it doesn’t cost you anything and you can throw away the bad stuff afterwards.

But still: 800! Why? Because I was shooting moving targets. The best way to explain is to go over the week-end’s activities:

Friday evening: we went to a basketball game at Wesleyan high school. We were cheering the home team. I learnt quite a few things:

  • Basketball is a very fast game. I didn’t realise how fast until I saw it and tried to photograph it. It is impossible to get a good action shot by just waiting for it because whatever is interesting is usually finished before you have the time to even think about pressing the shutter release. The only way is to shoot continually while following whoever is in possession of the ball. Out of a burst of 10 pictures, one might be good and the rest can be deleted. There is a lot of garbage but you would not be able to take that good one if you weren’t taking the other 9 bad ones.
  • The better you understand the game, the better you will be able to predict where the action happens.
  • When shooting with a Canon EOS 5D in continuous shooting mode, with AI Servo focusing, keep your subject in the centre of the frame so that the centre focusing point is used. This is the most sensitive focusing point and will be the one favoured by the camera in AI Servo, because it has no time to really use the other ones. It might mean the composition of the shot is boring but you can always crop later and anyway you have no way to think about composition when shooting basketball.
  • When using the panning technique with an image stabilised lens, don’t forget to switch the lens to one way stabilisation so that it doesn’t try to counter the panning movement.

Saturday: we went to Callaway Gardens, where we saw a bird of prey show and the exotic butterfly greenhouse. There I learnt:

  • When shooting big birds, make sure you have your camera on a high ISO setting, even if you are immobile and even have a tripod. You need a very high shutter speed, not because of your own movement but because of the bird’s movement: an eagle can flap its wings and accelerate much faster than you think so if you want to freeze the bird’s movement, you camera has to be even faster.
  • When shooting butterflies, a long telephoto lens can do as good a job as a macro lens. A macro lens is great to enable you go get very close to your subject and photograph small insects. However, butterflies are extremely fast and will disappear before you can focus on them. A good telephoto lens with fast focusing will enable you to take the shot from further away so that you don’t frighten the butterfly or you can take the picture before it flies off.
  • Don’t even think of trying to follow a flying butterfly with your camera and take continuous pictures, the same way you’d do with a basketball player. Butterflies are much less predictable and much faster, even though you might think the opposite when at a basketball game.

Monday evening: we went to another basketball game at Norcross high school. We were cheering the visiting team. I learnt:

  • There exists a game faster than basketball: basketball played by a winning team that are getting increasingly nervous at seeing their opponents come back on the score board and are trying to score as many points as possible in the shortest amount of time to rebuild their safety margin.
  • If you are shooting using the panning technique with an image stabilised lens, do switch it to one way stabilisation. Really, I mean it.
  • When using AI Servo focusing, start with a full battery or have a spare one. AI Servo does consume a lot of battery power as the camera is constantly re-focusing.

I’ve had a lot of fun during this week-end and have learnt a lot about taking pictures of fast moving targets like sports or animals. I think it has made me a better photographer but there is certainly room for improvement.

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