Syd: How to practise – Part 2: Tracking a moving subject

In part 2 of my How to Practise series, I’m going to give you a framework for practising focusing a moving subject.

Examples of moving subjects are a runner, a moving car, and a model on a cat walk.

In Part 1 where you learnt about focusing a static object and going as slow a shutter speed as possible, this exercise is about how many images you can shoot that are all in focus.

Before high speed motor drive and auto focus cameras tracking a moving subject was virtually impossible. Generally, there are two types of moving objects. Ones that are coming towards or away from you, and ones that are moving sideways. Both require you to have the right technique but they both rely on your camera’s Continuos Auto Focus features.

So, here’s version 1.0 of my exercise on how to practise tracking:

Setting up your camera:

  • Set your camera’s focus mode to AF-C (Continuos AF) on Nikon and on Canon
  • Set your camera on Dynamic AF area, use the centre point for this exercise
  • Separate the AF activation (just like Part 1)
  • Using your sports lens, eg a 70-200mm, rack it out to 200mm
  • If your lens has vibration reduction, turn it off
  • Using aperture priority or manual exposure mode, set the aperture to the widest for the lens eg f 2.8 and a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th of a second. You will probably be using an ISO of at least 1600 if you’re practising indoors
  • Set your camera to high speed continuous shutter release – this was known in the old days as motor drive. Your camera should be able to do at least 3 but maybe as fast as 10 shots per second.

The exercise:

  • You will need a friend to help you, or you can go to a ball game or athletics club with some action
  • Ask your friend to stand at a distance where his whole body fills your camera frame. You can do this exercise horizontally and vertically. Do it horizontally first
  • Focus on your friend’s face or body by holding down the AF-ON button, keep it held down so the Auto focus function is engaged all the time
  • Ask your friend to walk towards you slowly and start firing your shutter. Keep firing until you have 20 images. By this time, your friend will be quite close to you and you should now have just his face in the picture
  • Check your images, are all 20 images tack sharp?
  • When you have 60-70% images tack sharp, have your friend walk a little bit faster until he’s running at full speed. When he’s running you may only be able to get 5-10 shots off depending on how fast your camera’s shutter mode. But EVERY image should be tack sharp
  • There are 3 variations to this exercise. 1. Holding your camera vertically, and have your friend move away from you; 2. Have your friend move sideways from left to right and 3. Sideways from right to left

I hope this 2-part series of focusing and tracking have been useful.

Have fun shooting!


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5 thoughts on “Syd: How to practise – Part 2: Tracking a moving subject

  1. I’m not sure anyone is out there – I was just introduced to your podcasts and website, so I realize my comment is quite delayed, but if anyone is there, I tried Syd’s exercise of having my son walk straight toward me with my camera on the required settings. I captured 30 shots (he wasn’t walking very fast), and NONE of them are “tack sharp” – even the first photo before he had moved! I took the photos in the afternoon on an slightly overcast day with the sun behind me, but there were also some trees lining the sidewalk, so the lighting varied a bit as he walked. I used a Nikon D50 with a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G, SS 1/640, f/5.6 (best the lens can do at 300mm), ISO 400. Thanks for any input you may have.

    1. You need to post some of the photos on the web (eg your Flickr page) so we can have a look, and the EXIF data that would tell us what ISO, f stop and shutter speed.

      1. I did not use a monopod for this set of photos. I did use one for a different set, but struggled with the angle/position of the camera to keep my son in the center of the frame as he approached me. Clearly I need more practice!

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