Photographing Track & Field!

Jay_ZJay_Z Big grinsRegistered Users Posts: 54 Big grins
edited May 29, 2016 in Sports
Unfortunately, I don't get as much practice on this as I'd like - I make it to 2-3 meets a year and one is the state high school meet!

My forte is landscape and agriculture - not as much sports, so I have a couple of specific questions! I use my 5D M3 and either 100-400 II or 24-105.

I mostly photography Triple Jump, High Jump as well as 100/300m hurdles.

On the triple jump, I get some good shots running toward the pit but the landing is tougher since the athlete jumps up then drops down in the frame. Any recommendations for keeping focus through the run, jump and landing? I shoot horizontal and have tried using AI Servo but I don't seem to stay on the person through the jump! I usually set up at the end of the pit - which I need to zoom in since I'm outside the track/field.

High Jump - I manually focus on the name that's printed on the center of the bar but the subject is usually out of focus since they end up slightly closer. Is the best option to use a wide aperture? Where do you focus?

100-300m hurdles - this is ok, I usually set up at the very end - beyond the finish (outside the track) and line up on the lane and can get some ok shots over the hurdles. Surprisingly, less were in focus than I imagined - think I need to go above 1/500. Recommend AI Servo?

I'd appreciate if you had any tips, feedback or ideas for shooting these sports!!

Comments

  • T. BombadilT. Bombadil Major grins Registered Users Posts: 285 Major grins
    edited May 4, 2016
    Jay_Z wrote: »
    . . . I use my 5D M3 and either 100-400 II or 24-105.

    I mostly photography Triple Jump, High Jump as well as 100/300m hurdles.

    . . .

    High Jump - I manually focus on the name that's printed on the center of the bar but the subject is usually out of focus since they end up slightly closer. Is the best option to use a wide aperture? Where do you focus?

    100-300m hurdles - this is ok, I usually set up at the very end - beyond the finish (outside the track) and line up on the lane and can get some ok shots over the hurdles. Surprisingly, less were in focus than I imagined - think I need to go above 1/500. Recommend AI Servo?

    I was hoping a Canon shooter would reply to your post. Not being familiar with Canon gear, I don't know whether you are using a full frame or crop body, how fast the lenses are, what to expect from the focusing system, etc.

    Having said that, my suggestion is to set the focus system for continuous focusing on a single focus point (choose one a bit above center) and keep that focus point on your subject athlete (on the name on their shirt).

    You will definitely want a faster shutter when shooting (as you described) from (outside the track) beyond the finish line. An easier shot to make (without spending money on longer lenses) is from the side of the track (especially for 300m hurdles at the curve) aiming at a 45% angle to the track or so (I've caught one at 90 degrees to the track that was one of my favorites, but timing is difficult because you don't see the athlete in the viewfinder until the exact moment when you need to press the shutter). With the lenses you are using, this must have necessitated a significant crop in post, yes? I've caught a few images that really pleased me from that position. Some support (I use a monopod) can be helpful. An example (that required more cropping than I would really like) captured when I was standing a bit beyond the finish line (must get the image and get out of the way quickly - something that might be tolerated at a regular meet, but not a state event. you also owe it to the athlete to only do this if they know you and expect you to be there, so they are confident you will be moving before they arrive):
    i-hSfpqX6-L.jpg


    For triple and long jumps, I like to sit very low at the far end of the pit, and shoot in vertical orientation while the athlete runs and jumps toward me. Sometimes I am directly in their path (but beyond where they will travel), sometimes off to one side a bit (depending on what sort of background that gives me). One of the lenses you already have should be suitable for this (maybe near the 100mm end of one of yours). Point the camera so you can capture the high point of their jump as well as the 'splash' in the sand when they land (without changing the way you are pointing the camera). How many frames per second can your camera shoot? This might be a time when holding the shutter button and just keep firing will pay dividends (you probably only want two or three images from the sequence you create, but with some luck there will be good ones there. alternatively try to time a good pose when they are rising, then another when they are high in the air and one when they hit the ground).


    Things are easier if you can get near, and inside the track - can stick to shorter focal lengths, and be low to the ground, which is beneficial for the throwing events also.

    i-z839shj-M.jpg

    Whatever you do, keep shooting. My keeper rate is lower in Track and Field events (and I rely more heavily on 'spray and pray') than with other sports, so don't expect success on every shutter click.

    Good luck!
    Bruce

    Chooka chooka hoo la ley
    Looka looka koo la ley
  • jheftijhefti Hyperope Registered Users Posts: 734 Major grins
    edited May 6, 2016
    Bruce has good suggestions for position and angles, to which I have little to add. In my experience, T&F is hard to make interesting, but with the right angles and positions, it's possible. I might only say that it's very important to pay attention to the background. Bright colors (like cars in a parking lot) or other clutter really detract from an image. Sometimes you don't have a lot of choice, unfortunately.

    Regarding the settings, you definitely want to be faster than 1/500; 1/1000 is usually the minimum for sports, and I almost always go faster except in certain night games with horrible lighting. With those lenses on that body (with its good ISO) you should no problems whatsoever bumping up the SS to 1/1000 or faster.

    I would also suggest shooting in manual mode, if you're not already. Sports tend to have highly variable backgrounds so the exposure can bounce around if the camera is in any auto mode. Just expose for the athlete and keep it fixed. If you want good isolation, keep the aperture was wide as possible (4.5-5.6 in the 100-400mm). This will help reduce background clutter as well.

    To focus, you'll want to be in servo mode, as that tells the camera to adjust the focus continuously as the subject moves. Manual focus works if you're absolutely sure the athlete is going to be exactly where you want him or her to be when you take the shot; otherwise, don't bother.

    I use only a single AF point, never zone or a larger focus region. I've just never found the focus to be as sharp when the camera has any choice on where to focus. And like Bruce said, try to choose a high contrast part of the subject to focus on, like letters/numbers on a shirt. This will give you the best results. Dark or bright white is the most challenging for the camera, as it relies on contrasts to find the focus.

    Hope this helps!

    John
  • Jay_ZJay_Z Big grins Registered Users Posts: 54 Big grins
    edited May 24, 2016
    Thanks John & Bruce!! I greatly appreciate the advice and information. I had a great weekend shooting a state track meet and took the same advice to a baseball game.

    I am going to try and get a media pass for next season! Otherwise, especially at larger meets, the options are very limited. Luckily people along the fences move often as events change.

    One thing I found MOST effective - Back button focus combined with AI Servo (Canon 5DM3 w/ 100-400 II)! I had tried this previously but couldn't get used to it - now, I'll use BB Focus all the time! Worked great combined with a high shutter speed, at least 1000-1600 - and, I usually use a single AF point. It was overcast with thunderstorms so I was at ISO 400/600 or lower when I could. Images are crisp!

    Also, for high jump, I focused on the bar and moved back about 2 feet to compensate. Previously, with a wide shutter, they weren't quite in focus but the bar was!

    Thanks again! I can't wait to do more summer/club meets this summer & fall, just in time for my nieces senior year! And, with a pass, I hope to use more of the advice (wide angle, different perspectives, etc).
  • Brett1000Brett1000 Major grins https://www.flickr.com/photos/photoscw/Registered Users Posts: 819 Major grins
    edited May 25, 2016
    Jay_Z wrote: »
    Thanks John & Bruce!! I greatly appreciate the advice and information. I had a great weekend shooting a state track meet and took the same advice to a baseball game.

    I am going to try and get a media pass for next season! Otherwise, especially at larger meets, the options are very limited. Luckily people along the fences move often as events change.

    One thing I found MOST effective - Back button focus combined with AI Servo (Canon 5DM3 w/ 100-400 II)! I had tried this previously but couldn't get used to it - now, I'll use BB Focus all the time! Worked great combined with a high shutter speed, at least 1000-1600 - and, I usually use a single AF point. It was overcast with thunderstorms so I was at ISO 400/600 or lower when I could. Images are crisp!

    Also, for high jump, I focused on the bar and moved back about 2 feet to compensate. Previously, with a wide shutter, they weren't quite in focus but the bar was!

    Thanks again! I can't wait to do more summer/club meets this summer & fall, just in time for my nieces senior year! And, with a pass, I hope to use more of the advice (wide angle, different perspectives, etc).

    I don't think you'll have any problems with full access on the track. But you will definitely need to shoot at a higher shutter speed - a lot more than 1/500

    these are at 1/5000

    (with Canon 60D and original 100-400)

    17009483740_b77319aef8_b.jpg

    17023018048_27e649fbaa_b.jpg
  • kdogkdog artistically challenged San Jose, CAAdministrators Posts: 11,661 moderator
    edited May 26, 2016
    jhefti wrote: »
    I use only a single AF point, never zone or a larger focus region.
    You know, you're losing out on a huge portion of your camera's technology in doing that. By using a single AF point, you're overriding your 1DX's ability to track your subject by its shape and color and Canon put a lot of work into that. Sure it works as long as you keep that single AF point on your subject, which takes some skill. But it also limits your compositions because you need to keep your subject centered.

    What you might try is turning on *all* AF points. I can practically hear you shudder at this point. But that's a special mode which allows you to lock on to your subject with your single AF point, but track with all AF points. Then your camera will continue to track your subject even as it moves throughout the frame. That frees you up to concentrate on the framing of your subject with respect to other objects or players in the scene allowing for better compositions without cropping. The key to making this work is turning on the AF point display to show which points are actively tracking your subject. You can watch the active points dance over your subject as it tracks him and know instantly if the camera jumps off to something else. That's probably the variability in zone tracking that you've seen in the past -- not knowing that your focus has moved off your subject. Then you can just regrab the focus with that single point and off you go again. It takes a bit of doing to set your camera up like that and to get used to shooting that way. But it's very powerful. Might be worth playing around with on a non-critical shoot sometime and see if you like it.
  • jheftijhefti Hyperope Registered Users Posts: 734 Major grins
    edited May 29, 2016
    kdog wrote: »
    You know, you're losing out on a huge portion of your camera's technology in doing that. By using a single AF point, you're overriding your 1DX's ability to track your subject by its shape and color and Canon put a lot of work into that. Sure it works as long as you keep that single AF point on your subject, which takes some skill. But it also limits your compositions because you need to keep your subject centered.

    What you might try is turning on *all* AF points. I can practically hear you shudder at this point. But that's a special mode which allows you to lock on to your subject with your single AF point, but track with all AF points. Then your camera will continue to track your subject even as it moves throughout the frame. That frees you up to concentrate on the framing of your subject with respect to other objects or players in the scene allowing for better compositions without cropping. The key to making this work is turning on the AF point display to show which points are actively tracking your subject. You can watch the active points dance over your subject as it tracks him and know instantly if the camera jumps off to something else. That's probably the variability in zone tracking that you've seen in the past -- not knowing that your focus has moved off your subject. Then you can just regrab the focus with that single point and off you go again. It takes a bit of doing to set your camera up like that and to get used to shooting that way. But it's very powerful. Might be worth playing around with on a non-critical shoot sometime and see if you like it.

    Thanks for the thoughts and advice, Kdog!

    I have played around with virtually every combination available in the AF system. Although what you say is true in principle, in practice I have found that anything other than a single AF point produces a lot of soft images. It is true that I have fewer totally OOF images with larger AF coverage, but I also have fewer crisp images. And I have no use for any images that are even slightly soft.

    Part of the challenge is that I shoot wide open (f/2.8) for most of my sports work, even in broad daylight, just to get the isolation. This means that the AF point has to be spot on or the image is soft. When the camera is given some choice on where to focus, it struggles.

    The one exception is shooting hockey at ice level with a wide angle lens. Here I'm looking for a specific image; usually players getting checked and/or slamming into the boards. In this case, I do use all the AF points, and push the initial AF point to the side of the action. I also don't look through the viewfinder for these shots--not enough time. It's still hit or miss, but I get more hits with this approach.

    However, the one place where using all AF points might work is shooting hockey from an elevated position. The flat white ice is low contrast, while the players are usually high contrast. It might be the way to go in this particular case. Unfortunately, my next hockey assignment is game three of the Stanley Cup, so not sure I want to be experimenting with my technique!
  • T. BombadilT. Bombadil Major grins Registered Users Posts: 285 Major grins
    edited May 29, 2016
    Really Great Stuff at http://www.johnhefti.com !
    jhefti wrote: »
    Bruce

    Chooka chooka hoo la ley
    Looka looka koo la ley
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