Saturday, November 6, 2010

Surf's Up Dude: Go Find an Action Subject!

This time of year is kind of an off time for scenic photos outdoors--at least here in New England. The leaves are pretty much gone, the pumpkins have been picked and the days are getting shorter. But there is a lot of sports action at this time of year--football is in full swing, the outdoor rinks will be frozen soon and, believe it or not, there are still people playing in the water.

I photographed windsurfer Mike Colombo off of the seawall in Stratford, Connecticut last weekend and it was quite a challenge to get a good sharp photograph of someone moving so incredibly fast. The day was a bit gray and the wind was really blowing, so just holding the camera steady was a challenge too; I tried using a tripod but the windsurfers (there were probably 6 or 8 there) were whipping by so fast that the tripod, while great for holding my 70-300mm lens steady, did slow down my reactions a bit. This photo was shot using the tripod (a Manfrotto 3021), however, because Mike was heading right toward me and it was easy to predict where he was heading.

The keys to stopping this kind of action and getting good focus are to set your camera to its highest burst rate (if you have that option) and to place your autofocus in the "continuous" mode. In this mode the camera will continue to fire whether the focus is exact or not, so it's a bit risky, but at least the camera won't balk when you press the shutter. I shot this with a Nikon D90 and I have to tell you, most of the frames are extremely sharp and well focused--and I give a lot of credit to Nikon's predictive autofocus. I also give some credit to the fact that last summer I spent a lot of time photographing high speed subjects, including the Blue Angels and really practiced with the various focusing/metering/burst combinations. You can't just show up and start shooting with action subjects like this, you really need to study the action modes in advance and keeping working at it.

In my next posting I'm going to show you an incredible shot of Mike in a near collision with a U.S. Coastguard boat...a very exciting shot! And trust me, the collision would not have been his fault!

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