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Archive 2012 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

I'm mostly a portrait and wedding photographer, and my biggest challenge in shooting sports is getting a sharp focus. I'll go with AF-C and use a single point pointed at the subject moving. When they're going left to right, I pan with them and focus usually isn't an issue. But running directly at me... I totally dropped the ball.

This weekend, I shot a 10k charity race and I decided to shoot each runner as they crossed the finish line. I thought I would donate the pictures by letting the runners come to my gallery and download for free a web-sized JPG. Then I saw my pictures. Crap, crap, and more crap. All OOF. Ugh. I shot with a D4 with a 70-200 f/2.8 VR I lens. I shot at ISO 200, f/5.0 and 1/2500 sec.

So I'm wondering if I should have put in Facial Recognition mode, or maybe 3D tracking? I'd appreciate any input on this.


I decided to add a sample pic just so you can see how awful I was!

1. Full-length pic of runner approaching the finish line.

2. Same pic, but cropped at actual size.

Oct 03, 2012 at 03:33 AM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

I find it interesting that I had better luck when more runners were crossing the finish line together and I moved from one runner to another. They're still not tack-sharp like I'd like them to be, but definitely an improvement from the crap in my first post.

Here are three pics I shot in succession. I'm thinking I hit my AF-ON button, then hit the shutter faster than when it was a single runner by himself/herself.




Oct 03, 2012 at 03:53 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

Well, I had similar issues when I first bought my D2H. A friend who also had one suggested NOT using the single point focus. Use the next step up. That seemed to help me a lot.

I don't know the D4, but I know the D2H has menu options for focusing as well, including nearest subject. I have not used that myself yet, but have been planning on playing with that. I shoot a lot of running and triathlon events.

Oct 03, 2012 at 04:22 AM
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

While I'm a Canon rather that a Nikon user the principle of shooting runner is the same while the camera controls are different.
Looking at the fist image the focus point is behind the runner, their trainer looks like its sharp, which would indicate that the runner had moved past your focus point by the time the shutter was fired.
You should consider using AI servo focus, or Nikon equivalent, which will continuously refocus on the target as it approached
Given the amount of light you have F5.6 to f8 at 1250/sec will freeze anything and give a reasonable DoF. so if you aim at the race number you should then get the face in focus.

If you have just read the above and say "Yeah, I'm doing all that" then it could be a technical issue which requires a repair. You could try practising shooting random cars on a public highway to check your auto focus is working alternatively focus on your feet and while holding down the focus button move the camera up to the horizontal and check that the focus change as the focus point changes.

If it does check that you have the tracking speed set to fast (I'm assuming Nikon's have am equivalent function)

Oct 03, 2012 at 08:14 AM
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

This isn't too difficult to do once you get used to it. Probably you need to get a couple of core principles nailed down that might run in total contradiction to what you need for your usual work.

First, use what in Canon world we call AI-Servo, meaning that if the button (shutter or AF-on/*) is being pushed, the camera focuses. They are moving towards, which even at fifty-five minute 10K speed means that the runner has moved six inches to a foot in the time you take to drop the AF and then hit the shutter. They're forward progress is a dream for modern AF systems because the speed is not going to change much which is great for the predictive algorithms.

Second, pick a single focus point, most likely the centre spot, which usually has the most sensitivity. You may need to dial in the AF tracking speed (I've got my Canon 1Diii set on slow).

Third, keep the point on the runner's number -- the high contrast between the white background and the dark of the number is heaven for an AF system.

Fourth, shoot a bit loose if you are on the finish line in case folk put their arms up in victory.

The specifics of the D4 AF system will probably mean you need a change in some of the details (I'll have to figure this out with the Dx soon, I hope), but the basics of the technique stay the same. It should let you keep shooting wide open, which is what will likely set you apart from some of the others crowing the finish line.

One other thing I would point out is that most people look like they're ready to drop dead on the finish line, which is why I usually take the shot twenty to thirty metres before the line when folk are still hammering and have a look of anticipation on their face. Yup, I miss some finish line jubo, but I get far fewer shots of people looking like they need medical attention (including those who all but fall on me).

Good luck,

Oct 03, 2012 at 11:17 AM

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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

check the setting you have for focus locking, I use the "off" setting - means no delay when seeking the focus as things move, it just keeps adjusting.

Oct 03, 2012 at 02:46 PM
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

Good stuff from all of you. Thanks!

I haven't been using the AI Servo, so that's what I'll be doing. I appreciate your taking the time to point these things out.

Oct 03, 2012 at 02:49 PM
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

Practice practice practice but D4 should easily handle this!
Shot a lot of running with D3s not much with D4 yet but should in a few more weeks. Even shooting a burst with setting below have gotten 90% focus with the aperature you are shooting, even do pretty good wide open at 2.8.

1) AF-C ( use AF-ON )
2) Release priority ( was very good even with sprinters/long jumpers )
3) Delay normal to short ( depends on how often you think people cross your subject. I've found even with mutliple subjects that normal still works amazingly well )
4) Spot focus ( usuall not the center point but moved to locaiton of their face )
5) 9 pt or 21 pt ( as nice as people say 3D is on D4 I find that fewer points works as long as the subject stays in the center portion )

Oct 03, 2012 at 06:31 PM
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

Interestingly, at some point, my focusing kicked in and I started getting the results I would have expected. No changes in what I was doing, so not sure why I struggled with focus early, then started nailing it consistently later.

Regardless, I plan to incorporate these suggestions, so I appreicate it.

Oct 03, 2012 at 11:24 PM

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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · 10k finish line -- how best to focus?

to me it looks like you were focused on the ground in the first photo, maybe the af just tracked movement there and when you shot it thats what it turned otu to be like. idk

Oct 05, 2012 at 11:20 PM

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