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Thread: Pre focus to where action will be

  1. #1
    wilgk's Avatar
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    Pre focus to where action will be

    Hi all
    I'm sorry if this question has been 'asked & answered' but I'm hoping for some advice.
    I have been trying to improve on my technique of pre-focussing on where the action is going to be, to help with my sports photography.
    I find with the kids, I can folow the action, but a friend Coaches the top mens team here & when I practice on them - they go way too fast for that!
    I understand this would work with cricket - focus on the stumps & wait...but what if there is 'nothing' to focus on, at the pre-action point, e.g middle of the Basketball court for mid court action - as if I focus 'there' before the players get there, I find I'm focusing across at the other side of the court.

  2. #2

    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    I think some of the newer cameras have auto tracking focus - especially Nikons. You don't say what camera you have. I find setting a specific focus point before I take the shot is useful for getting the composition right and capturing the focus where you want it. If you have a camera that shows the focus points used when you look at the screen after the shot (I get little red dots) then that's a good guide as to what is happening.

  3. #3

    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    I see pre focus a lot in things like show jumping, dog agility etc.... sports where you know where the subject is going to appear before its there. This allows you to prefocus and thus use the method. In a slightly more free form sport like football I would think its a far harder method to apply simply as the chances of the ball or players appearing in a set location is far smaller. Understanding the sport well and even the team itself can give you some good guides and hints as to where the action might be going - but its not the sort of thing I would expect many to learn very quickly.

  4. #4

    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Quote Originally Posted by carregwen View Post
    I think some of the newer cameras have auto tracking focus - especially Nikons. ...
    It depends what you mean by auto tracking. If you mean continuous autofocus or servo autofocus, where the camera would continue adjusting the plane of focus as the subject moves, then yes, most cameras do have it (even compact ones). If you mean locking onto a subject and the camera tires to track it as it moves around the frame, then no, few cameras have that. I know the D300/700/3 Nikon cameras do have the 3D tracking option but it does not work well.

    PS: The D700 I have cannot function reliabily when using the 3D tracking or auto area AF (it's the big white box option). However, the continuous AF works superbly. In day light, the first shot is almost always in focus. Subsequent shots are also usually in focus, unless you're very near the subject.

    To the OP: I would suggest maual focusing if prefocusing is what works for you.
    Last edited by Blazing fire; 16th March 2010 at 10:29 AM.

  5. #5

    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Quote Originally Posted by Blazing fire View Post
    It depends what you mean by auto tracking. If you mean continuous autofocus or servo autofocus, where the camera would continue adjusting the plane of focus as the subject moves, then yes, most cameras do have it (even compact ones). If you mean locking onto a subject and the camera tires to track it as it moves around the frame, then no, few cameras have that. I know the D300/700/3 Nikon cameras do have the 3D tracking option but it does not work well.

    PS: The D700 I have cannot function reliabily when using the 3D tracking or auto area AF (it's the big white box option).

    To the OP: I would suggest maual focusing if prefocusing is what works for you.
    Yes, you explained it a lot better than I. The problem with autofocus/server (which most cameras have) is that although it refocuses to take account of movement, it will still focus as it normally does (usually the nearest object). And that doesn't really help the original poster. Better to do landscapes.

  6. #6

    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    "it will still focus as it normally does (usually the nearest object). "

    Could you elaborate on that please? I'm not sure what you mean.

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    wilgk's Avatar
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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Thanks All - & Rob landscapes! you're kidding me right - then I'd need to get out before sunset & other crazy ideas!
    On reviewing my work - I can see that the technique has worked for me sometimes at Showjumping & Surf Life saving - the former focus on the jump & wait, the latter was with 'the flags' which for those in the Northern Hemisphere has nothing to do with flags - it's where the kids run & dive for rubber sticks in the sand - 1 less stick each round as they drop out. There I even took a shot of the sticks checked it & waited.
    So for the Basketball etc I will just have to get better at moving with the play - I have found the various auto focus tracking options - for this I use 'Al servo' and have got the wee red spots in use, they were very helpful with tennis as I could see the racket was pin sharp but not the eyes of the player, so I changed from 1 of the spot options to the zone option.
    The simple thing for me to do would be use a much wider depth of field get a whole heap into focus, but that's not what I'm trying to master.
    As you can see there are many sports at our school so lots of chances to keep learning
    So thanks all again - this has been much more helpful then the camera mag articles!

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Quote Originally Posted by Blazing fire View Post
    It depends what you mean by auto tracking. If you mean continuous autofocus or servo autofocus, where the camera would continue adjusting the plane of focus as the subject moves, then yes, most cameras do have it (even compact ones). If you mean locking onto a subject and the camera tires to track it as it moves around the frame, then no, few cameras have that. I know the D300/700/3 Nikon cameras do have the 3D tracking option but it does not work well.

    PS: The D700 I have cannot function reliabily when using the 3D tracking or auto area AF (it's the big white box option). However, the continuous AF works superbly. In day light, the first shot is almost always in focus. Subsequent shots are also usually in focus, unless you're very near the subject.

    To the OP: I would suggest maual focusing if prefocusing is what works for you.

    Here's a link to what Nikon have to say about the focusing on D3x and D3 and they say it covers the D700 and others too - might be worth a look. http://nikoneurope-en.custhelp.com/a...41/r_id/127673
    My wife & I shoot a lot of Rallying [motor sport] and use D700 / D200 & D80 and have anther friend who has a D3 all with good results. Conversely we have a friend who has run the Nikon main competitor for years and said he woud change in a flash if he hadn't bought so many lenses. That said I suspect there are many more who do get good results with this make. I don't want to open up "makers wars" [ie - one manufacturer vs another] but feel that you [the photographer] really do need to get to know your kit thoroughly and be comfortable with it - know it's limitations too [and yours].
    Good shooting
    Rob

  9. #9

    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Thank you for the link, Rob0. The manual is rather comprehensive and does inform the user on the settings to take under different circumstances.

    However, it only educates me on the settings to use for "dynamic area AF", not Auto area AF or 3D tracking, which I complain is not entirely reliable. I have no problems whatsoever with the "dynamic area AF" using 9, 21, or even 51 points. As with any new equipment, I do experiement and test out all the combinations and permutations under the situations that I come across to understand its limitations.

    So if you can find me another link, or wish to discuss your expertise regarding the Auto area AF and 3D tracking, kindly PM me. I would like to revisit this option if you can offer me advice. Thank you!

    That said I suspect there are many more who do get good results with this make. I don't want to open up "makers wars" [ie - one manufacturer vs another] but feel that you [the photographer] really do need to get to know your kit thoroughly and be comfortable with it - know it's limitations too [and yours].
    That's true. I am constantly trying to improve my skills, and understand the camera better.

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Quote Originally Posted by wilgk View Post
    I have found the various auto focus tracking options - for this I use 'Al servo' and have got the wee red spots in use, they were very helpful with tennis as I could see the racket was pin sharp but not the eyes of the player, so I changed from 1 of the spot options to the zone option.
    The simple thing for me to do would be use a much wider depth of field get a whole heap into focus, but that's not what I'm trying to master.
    Hi, Kay;

    I think you're on the right track with AI Servo for a moving subject. However, if I understand what you mean by "zone option," you may not want to use that. If that's where all the red spots are on, and lets the camera choose which one to use, you may not like that.

    When Rob said, "usually the nearest object," that applies to Canon. Or at least, it applies to my 500D: maybe the 7D is smarter. If I have the focus points all turned on, and my camera chooses which one to use automatically, it picks the one that's closest. So this may cause you problems in some situations. I would think it would be especially troublesome in a basketball game, where a player in whom you're not interested might run across the foreground without warning. Perhaps less so in tennis, but you'd have to make sure none of the autofocus points were catching one of the sidelines, for example.

    Cheers,
    Rick

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Quote Originally Posted by Blazing fire View Post
    It depends what you mean by auto tracking. If you mean continuous autofocus or servo autofocus, where the camera would continue adjusting the plane of focus as the subject moves, then yes, most cameras do have it (even compact ones). If you mean locking onto a subject and the camera tires to track it as it moves around the frame, then no, few cameras have that. I know the D300/700/3 Nikon cameras do have the 3D tracking option but it does not work well.

    PS: The D700 I have cannot function reliabily when using the 3D tracking or auto area AF (it's the big white box option). However, the continuous AF works superbly. In day light, the first shot is almost always in focus. Subsequent shots are also usually in focus, unless you're very near the subject.

    To the OP: I would suggest maual focusing if prefocusing is what works for you.
    My D90 also does 3D tracking and that seems to work fine for me. The increased number of focus points on the D300 up would be better though.

    Another thought would be to use trap focus - I can't remember how to do this but there is a way to set the camera to fire when a focus point comes into focus. I've looked at so many things about cameras that I can't even remember which camera range that could do this, I suspect it was Nikon. It isn't a standard feature but one of those tricks like getting the D300s to fire at 8fps without the battery grip. Might be worth searching youtube for it, there's bound to be someone showing how to do this. It's a combination of settings and you then sit there with the shutter button pressed - the camera waits till the focus point lights up before firing.

    Also consider setting autofocus to the AEL button at the back rather than the half-press shutter, I'm told that speeds things up but couldn't get on with it myself.
    Pete

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Actually, I've just found it - google "trap focus nikon" and you'll get a solution on the first link - looks useful!

  13. #13

    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Hi Peter!

    Could we discuss this over PM instead please? You seem to be knowledgable in this area. I don't wish to hijack this thread.

    Just to clarify matters. The 3D and Auto Auto AF can take sharp photos. However, the 3D cannot reliabily track the subject. The Auto Area is slow to acquire acquisition and usually ends up taking the foliage instead of a face. I thought is supposed to have face recognition?

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Hi Peter and kay,

    I wrote this on how to use Trap Focus for Nikon cameras, see also the post below mine that mentions using it with manual focus.

    I didn't link to it earlier because I felt that it may, for fast moving sports, result in far too many missed shots.
    Try it by all means (I haven't), but it may frustrate.

    I think DSLRs with "Face Recog" focusing may only work in the Live View modes - probably because the s/w routines were borrowed from Point and Shoot cameras.

    Do keep us informed of any successes or failures.

    Cheers,

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Here's the downside of "Pre-focusing"; you will need to set everything on your camera in manual mode and basically "lock" your camera at the specific area of the court. Now if you're not coordinated enough (meaning remembering to switch the lens back to AF and switching shooting modes); you're going to end up "missing shots" in another frustrating direction. If you prefocus ahead of time, and don't leave the lens on manual focus, the camera will refocus as soon as you depress the shutter release half way (or AF lock) button. Prefocus lock does work when it is "properly applied".

    Sports or action photography (especially at night or low lighting situations) is among the most challenging of subjects to capture. It takes a lot of practice, being knowledgeable in photography and your gear, and a whole lot of patience. Parents often times will ask me why I don't use shutter priority or aperture priority mode when I shoot sports, but in manual mode only (including focusing at times). My answer: "I do not like the camera to second guess me and take over. I prefer to be the one in the driver seat when it comes to making shots count."

    Kay, since you mentioned "AI Servo" mode. I am assuming you are using a Canon, and possibly a 7D because of the focusing AF points tracking modes available. Human Error is the most common mistake for budding sports shooters. Please go to page 209-213 of your user manuel read section "Custom Setting Functions III".

    Believe it or not, but Nikons and Canons do share similar control setting within the menus. They're just annoyingly "worded" differently; read each function "carefully" before changing them. I am familiar and experienced with both systems; some features will not be available on the Canon, but not to worry. But depending on the model of camera you have; certain models will have "limitations in certain conditions" that even with the proper lens just won't cut it. "If there just isn't enough available light, flash is not allowed, and the camera doesn't have high enough ISOs" is the biggest problem for many.

    Watch this video tutorial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEoqc5KdASg Again, apply features and setting to your camera. Default settings, incorrect lenses (fyi kit lenses will not cut it with indoor sports, they're too slow. Fast primes or zooms are necessary; f2.8 or wider), slow memory cards, and human error is the leading cause of disappointment.

    Suggested readings: Bryan Peterson's Series -
    http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-...9097862&sr=8-3
    http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-...d_bxgy_b_img_b

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    wilgk's Avatar
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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Hi & thankyou so much - you have got it spot on for me!
    Yes I have a 7D (I was lucky enough that the school used many of my last years shots on the 450D, that we upgraded) either taht or my husband got a new sailboard (but I digress..)
    I have learnt that 'slow zooms' no good - so have purchased an 85mm 1.8 lens & it is great for this application....
    I have 'rented' to give it a try the 200mm 2.8 and used that last night at the game last night.
    I also got brave & ventured way higher into the ISO settings than I have ever done before, so that I could use a wider depth of field & give myself more margin for error in what is sharp & what is not, whilst still not using flash.
    So ISO 2000 & apeture of 4 - I also throught I'd step back in 'the shallow end' & use AV - but those shots were overexposed - so that confirmed exactly what you have said, so back in the driver seat & Manual I went.
    On review I think the strike rate is slowly increasing & will most certainly follow your links & learn more- I also need to look for 'moments' that tell the story other than those where the ball carrier is sprinting down the court.
    The quote at the end of your post made me laugh as I have absolutely no artistic/creative skills at all - I am the stubborn geek type who has instruction manuals as bedtime reading!
    I will try to upload a shot from the game last night - here also I am at the steep point in the learning curve.
    Our team is in Red - Thankyou again
    Pre focus to where action will be

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    I also need to look for 'moments' that tell the story other than those where the ball carrier is sprinting down the court.
    You nailed that on this one! When I was shooting sports (back in the 50s,) "the moment" was the one I always looked for. Sometimes, I was not so popular with the players. There is a certain retired politician who tells me he is still worried that my picture of him, with his track shorts around his ankles as he stood up from the pit of the long jump, will surface in public.

    Pops

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    The most common and favored of lenses for basketball is the "holy trinity"; 16-35 2.8, 24-70 2.8, and 70-200 2.8. If you don't believe me, just watch a NBA game and the photographers on the sidelines. Zooms are more practical because you will often times run out of room fast, your primes will be useless if they come too close or if you can't backup. Yes, you can change out lenses but that can be a pain if you have a lot of primes. Changing out lenses is a technique that all sports and media photographers have to master.

    And example of how fast change out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbVgu...7879E2&index=1 Go to timeline: 4:30. Yes, it is possible with tons of practice. I can change out lenses in under 8 seconds while standing or kneeling. Cheat trick: use bright red or white nail polish and mark a line where the line up (red dots or white) marks are so you can better see them.

    Optimum location for basketball is within the corners of the end zones, baseline behind the baskets, and 1/4th of the court's length by the end. Underneath or by the baskets, I would definitely recommend a wide angle or fisheye. Often times a second camera would make more sense in this situation if you don't want to bother with lens change out. Always ask the facility if you're allowed to shoot in these areas fyi, and always be ready to "get out of the way". Collisions with photographers and players happens more so in these areas. Sports, event, and media photography is first and foremost a "privilege" not an "entitlement". I am extremely considerate to the players and competitors I shoot.

    Another common mistake for beginning sports shooters is "shooting or framing too tightly". An analogy that I commonly use is "You can always carve down a watermelon the size of a lemon. But you can't blow up a lemon the size of a watermelon.". Seeing the story unfold before your viewfinder takes time and a lot of practice. Let me know if you need anymore help.

    Pre focus to where action will be
    Last edited by Amberglass; 21st March 2010 at 02:05 PM.

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    I 100% agree with using AI Servo. I'm not site about the 7D but it is newer than the 1D3 that I use and the 1D3 has a setting that you can slow down how fast the AF priority changes so if a player steps in front of your subject you can maintain focus on who you want.

    I take a lot of high school photos so while I do try to tell the story of the game. Most of the parents are more interested in getting photos of little billy or little suzy so they can make a scrap book. Manual focus would destroy my keeper rates.

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    Re: Pre focus to where action will be

    Quote Originally Posted by Signguy Gary View Post
    I 100% agree with using AI Servo. I'm not site about the 7D but it is newer than the 1D3 that I use and the 1D3 has a setting that you can slow down how fast the AF priority changes so if a player steps in front of your subject you can maintain focus on who you want.

    I take a lot of high school photos so while I do try to tell the story of the game. Most of the parents are more interested in getting photos of little billy or little suzy so they can make a scrap book. Manual focus would destroy my keeper rates.
    Hi Gary - just a note to watch the dates on these threads. This one is pushing about five years old (March 2010), so not a lot of people will be viewing it. The technology has improved a lot in the past five years, especially with autofocus speeds. I can nail shots today that took a totally different technique when I first shooting with a DSLR, although prefocus is something I have used many times in the past, especially with non-autofocus cameras.

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