Spontaneous Planning - Shooting High Speed Action

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A few people have asked me to put together a brief article to cover my focusing technique that I use for all those fast action dog shots at the various venues I shoot. The bottom line for any action or sports photography is you need to understand the concept of what you are watching, the rules of the game and where it is safe to place yourself.

For the dog events, understanding what you are watching. Does the activity involve multiple dogs? Lure coursing and the Jack Russell Terrier events of have races featuring multiple dogs. When shooting these events you may want to go with a wider angle to try and catch all the dogs in the frame. If it’s a single dog how random is the course of action. In agility usually the course of action is fixed, but some of the games have handlers performing obstacles for points so it can be somewhat random. The Brush Hunt while seemingly random the final destination can be learned in advance. For flyball everything is totally fixed on a single course. Where is the Sun if outdoors and what is my lighting indoors will also have an impact on where and what to shoot.

The rules of the game will help to identify what will be interesting to shoot. For dock diving catching the toy, the dog in air and the handler always makes a very nice shot. For Flyball, Box shots are always popular but I have found that I also like to get handler release shots. The important thing about the rules is you never want to mess up a handler and dog’s performance to get that good shot. This means no flash in most cases, or you have to stand outside of the ring. Respecting the dogs and handlers gets you invited back and also will keep you safe.

Spontaneous Planning - Image 1

Once you have in mind what you want, I find it best to set my camera in aperture priority with Auto ISO set to maintain a minimum shutter speed around 1/1250s. I then set my aperture manually to set the depth of field I want. From here I set the camera to focus on an object at or about at where I intend to shoot the dog. For flyball box shots I will focus on the ball while it is in the box and maintain the focus lock. Once the dog comes into view I depress the shutter and allow the continuous focus mode then track the dog through the frame.

Spontaneous Planning - Image 2

By pre-focusing I save an incredible amount of time spent by the camera to focus which helps to get a nice burst of 3-5 frames of high speed box turning action with tack sharp focus exactly where I want it. With other dog sports I will pick different things: Lure coursing I will find a leaf or twig at approximately the distance I want to shoot, For the Brush hunt, the tube with the live quarry, for hurdles the center of the jump bar, etc.