Action Photos in Canon, what Camera settings and which of these lenses?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by h_._jm, Sep 18, 2011.

  1. Hi all,
    My question sort of fits either sport photography forum or Canon forums, but since it's about camera settings and lenses too I decided to post it here.
    I did basic posed (non-candid) action photos of getting the subject to jump straight up or run a distance towards the camera and then Jump. This is my interest now I wanna improve this type of photography.
    What AF focus mode is best in Canon? I have the old Canon 5D mark I and found AI Servo not the sharpest.
    One point AF was better If I got the right focus. I did that by telling the subject to stand a certain distance from the camera, lock the AF in, and then estimate with the viewfinder when they are at that same point to then press the shutter completely.
    SHould I stick to the centre AF point because it's more accurate or all the other points would be fine?
    Also Of these lenses which would do better for this: 35L, 135L, 24-70L, 100 F2.8 macro. obviously my 70-200 f4 IS is slowest.
    I tried today with 35L and honestly results not sharp even though I was shooting around F2-F2.5, and shutter speeds of 1/5000-1/8000. A better question is there a magical shutter speed number e.g. for just example lets say "If my photo is faster than 1/1000, and it's not sharp then it's not the shutters speed problem and I need to look at either the aperture or the AF accuracy ...etc"
    Another question, with action photography in Canon do we forget about flash? because at speeds faster than 1/200s my 430exII won't sync anymore, or should we try such slowish shutter speeds first since the Flash adds so much appeal to the pics?
    Last question to this topic, I read somewhere that 'telephoto fast lenses' are the best for sport and action photos. Is that because maybe they are needing that distance e.g. in stadiums or games, or is it actually that having a telephoto and being away from the Jumping subject will produce better image overall esp, how in focus and sharp the subject will become.
    Because I tried 50 1.4 last year, and as far as 'Jumping photos' I got better results than the 35L, could it be the focal length, that say I would expect the 135L or the 85 1.8/L to give better results?
    I know too many questions, but it's some area of photography I suck at.. and really want to learn some of the principles of it :)
  2. Just to add, I had a look at flickr pools of the lenses I own, the shots of the 100 macro in jumping action seem great!
    I just thought about it now, maybe say comparing the 100mm focal lengths Vs 35 mm, the 100 will make you 3 times further from your subject and so focus and AF should be better because any time delay or early shutter release, would be translated to 'smaller distance as seen by the camera on the more telephoto lens' this correct?
    and so it means that theory wise the 135F2 would be a top choice, and if too long then the 100 F2.8 Macro should also make a much better choice than the 35L. and this would explain why I got better action shots with my 50 1.4 than the 35L?
    Just one important question Please, AI SERVO or One point Focus AF?
  3. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Can you post some examples? It's a lot easier to tell where the problems are with examples, especially because some of the things you are saying are a bit confusing.
    A few comments.
    I did that by telling the subject to stand a certain distance from the camera​
    You won't be able to do that in real sports photography, so you have to learn to get the focus in the right place.
    SHould I stick to the centre AF point because it's more accurate or all the other points would be fine?​
    If you are talking about using all the points at once, that's a bad idea with sports. You want to know where you are getting the focus.
    Of these lenses which would do better for this​
    Depends on where you are relative to the subject.
    I was shooting around F2-F2.5,​
    Big mistake. Your depth of field will be very shallow and any slight focus error will be very visible.
    is there a magical shutter speed number​
    What are you going to be shooting? Once again, your examples may help. I shoot fights at 1/500 usually with good results.
    with action photography in Canon do we forget about flash?​
    This depends on the rules. Some professional sports don't allow flash, some do.
    speeds faster than 1/200s my 430exII won't sync anymore​
    You should be able to set high speed sync on the flash and it will sync at higher speeds although the maximum power output will drop.
    the Flash adds so much appeal to the pics?​
    Flash may or may not add appeal, depends on what you are shooting, but it will stop action if properly used.
  4. Thanks Jeff,
    I uploaded these 2 pics to flickr just now to show what I mean. the one in the park with 35L, the one indoor with the 50 1.4, both on a 5D:
    I'm just a newbie, exploring sport photography with some action shots e.g. jump, not really sports and games.
    so you said F2-F2.5, big mistake what's a good aperture then?
    If F2-F2.5 is a big mistake, so I don't really need fast lenses afterall.. and that makes me slightly confused now about action photography to be honest !
    and for AF, my question was like is ONE SHOT, AI FOCUS, or AI SERVO best?
    and also wether longer focal lengths are better for this type of photos or not reallY?
  5. Whether or not you need very fast lenses is completely dependant on the type of sporting events, and the time of day, or whether it is indoors or outdoors. I shoot auto racing events, and during the day I can use a 70-200, or even a 100-400 and shoot at f8 or slower in bright sunshine. For night races, I'm lucky if I can get past f4 in many instances.
    The "speed" is completely dependant on shutter setting for most action sports. And unless you are looking for action-blur it is difficult to set the shutter speed too high. I personally start with that side of the equation, and dial in aperture and ISO dependant on the situation. And I use AI SERVO and center-point 90% of the time.
  6. Action photos take some practice. Your camera has 3 AF settings One shot, AI Focus and AI Servo plus you can use manual focus. For action sports you really have two choices - Manual and AI Servo. Manual is the way we used to do it with MF cameras - you pre focus on a fixed point and shoot when the athlete reaches that point - in my case it was ski racing and I would use the turning gate to focus.
    With a modern EOS body AI servo should be fine but it needs careful use - I do not own the 5D but do own the 5DII which has similar AF capabilities. There are three things you should be aware of - the first is that you should only use the center point (add expansion point if the 5D has this option), using all the AF point seems like a good idea but can have the camera focus on the wrong subject. The second point is that you need to give the camera a chance so you must follow the athlete - keeping the AF point on their body or head for as long as possible. This allows the AF system to understand and predict the speed of travel relative to the camera (this is why I find running / playing dogs the most difficult as their movement is very erratic) - on many bodyies (including the 5DII) you can adjust the AF sensitivity so that if you lose the subject (or they pass behind an object) the tracking system does not change when it detects a sudden change in focus distance - I find the slower end works best. Finally the choice of lens is important - USM and a lens that is faster than F2.8 work best.
    Your issue with the 35mm lens is that you will need to be very close to the athlete at F2 to fill the frame. At 10 feet your DOF will only be 3 feet. Your 135mm lens will give the same field of view at about 40 feet as your 35 at 10 feet - and a similar 3 feet DOF. In general people use longer lenses because they cannot get close. For the sports I shoot you cannot be on the ice hockey rink and it is dangerous to be too close to a skier - especially as the bets shooting angle puts you right in the spill zone if they fall (in downhill this means a 200 lb body on 7 foot long razor blades coming at you at 80mph).
    In general flash is not much use - either too far away or not allowed - it is unlikely to help your problem as it freezes motion but does not solve focus issues. Your shutter speeds are more than adequate to freeze motion. For Ice hockey I try and use about 1/400 or 1/500 and for ski racing 1/500 to 1/1000. There should be no need with a running subject to go above 1/500 and this will allow you to use a larger aperture to increase the DOF (not the F2.8 relates to the maximum aperture of the lens - not the shooting aperture).
    In terms of lenses the 135 F2 is great and you should find your 70-200 fins outdoors for running speeds (the F2.8 is better for indoor and being F2.8 focuses better). The main trick is actually practise - you need to understand the sport to get the best angles and practice tracking the subject. If the light is low don't be afraid to dial up the ISO. For ICE Hockey I find I am shooting at ISO 1600- 3200 1/250 - 1/500 and F2.8 - F5.6 depending on the arena.
    Here is a shot taken with the 70-200 F4 L IS (note IS makes almost no difference for action sports as you are usually shooting fast enough not too worry about camera shake)
  7. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I uploaded these 2 pics to flickr just now to show what I mean.​
    Thanks for uploading, it's a lot easier. These are not all that bad. I think if you stopped down to f4, you will be fine. Also, your bigger problem is lighting, and they might look sharper if exposed a bit better, the first in particular is way too dark. If you are going to be shooting like this, flash would be very useful.
  8. OMG I feel honoured to be getting advice from top sport photographers. Thanks to Everyone, this is great already!
  9. You do need fast lenses for sports - there are two main reasons.
    Primarily the fast lens gives you the ability to shoot in lower light - it is very difficult / impractical to shoot many indoor sports with lenses slower than F2.8.
    The faster lenses give the AF sensor more light - improving it's performance. With F2.8 or faster. read this link. It is talking about the 1 series AF. I do not know the 5D but on my 5DII there are 9 visible AF points plus six hidden AF assist points around the center AF point. The center AF point has a sensitivity to vertical lines at F2.8 or faster and horizontal at F5.6 or faster. Above and below this there are two hidden F2.8 vertical line sensors and 4 hidden F5.6 horizontal line sensors to the sides (also hidden). The remaining 8 visible sensors are F5.6 horizontal only. So by using center plus invisible assist and an F2.8 or faster lens I get three vertical line sensitive AF sensors plus 5 horizontal F5.6 sensors. The F2.8 sensors are important as they are faster and more accurate than the F5.6 sensors. The 5DII AF gets bad press as it is not as good as the 7D (a camera I also own) but it is really quite good if you understand how to use it. While it cannot compare to my 1 series bodies it is still perfectly fine for sports use on an amateur basis. You just need to understand it's AF and use it with care to give it a chance. I find that my 5DII AF performs about as well as my old 1NRS - which was the professional sports film body before the 1V was introduced in 2000.
    Here is a Canon link and I am sure you can find the AF system on your 5D explained in the manual.
  10. Sorry to disappoint you but I don't shoot for a living (any more). Indeed this is one of only a few sports shots I have taken with my 70-200 f4 as I normally use the F2.8 version for sports for the reasons given above).
  11. Not disappointing at all, indeed inspiring; for me being an amateur into sports your pic just shows I can work a looong way ahead with my current F4 lens. thank you and thanks for the explanations above.
  12. In general, I find centre point AF and AI servo to be the best combination for movement and single shot AF where I'm shooting a stationary subject, such as a cricket batsman.
    For most of the sports I shoot; equestrian, rugby and cricket, I'll look for around f4 to f5.6, to give adequate depth of field. For equestrian sports, 1/1000 is needed for a sharp image of the horse (less if it's dressage) and to get good ball detail in cricket speeds of over 1/1000 can be needed. I change iso- to keep the sutter speeds up if the light is going. During a cricket match that started under bright sun and ended under floodlights, I've gone from iso-100 to iso-2000.
    Of the 2 shots you linked to, the vertical format shot worked quite well, the subject was nicely caught and looked almost levitated.
  13. Hi,
    First, camera. As said earlier it depends on the sport, time of day, inside or outside. I shoot high school football on poorly lit fields. Flash is not allowed.
    I think you need a 7D, 5D MK II or a 1 series for the faster, more sophisticated autofocus available.
    My shots are made with the 7D using RAW, 8 frames per second, Adobe RGB, ISO 6400, AI Servo, all 19 focus points active and a bunch of custom focus settings for my style.
    AI Servo locks on with the center point first and hands focus off to the other active points as the subject moves from the frame. I did not get good results with the 20D which has a focus system like the 5D. The 5D has some additional hidden focus points to help AI Servo but I don't think it's good enough for football.
    You need a fast lens matched for your distance from the subject. I use the EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM. I shoot Av at f/2.8. My shutter speeds run about 1/320 to 1/640. This lens focuses much faster on the 7D than the 20D.
    I do a lot of post processing. Color temp is a problem for the bad lighting (sodium?) that is used for the fields here. I use DxO Pro Optics with noise reduction first and save to a DNG file. Then I open in Bridge and ACR to adjust color temperature. I will then bring to CS5. Sometimes I convert to LAB color and use the CS5 noise reduction filter on the Lightness channel.
    Once the image is right on my screen, I save as a DNG, then I convert to 8bits and size at 300 ppi which is usually down sampled for a newspaper image size and save to my upload area for transmission to our local weekly.
    I have no monopoly on work flow and am relatively new at this.
    This is an early sample 7D image, note the ugly color, I have improved the color balance in more recent shots:
  14. Thanks Peter & Doug, and everyone for this. I feel the amount and quality of advice is more than enough on this topic which I knew very little on before :)

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