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  1. #1
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    Good DSLR Settings for Action Shots

    I want to start getting good action photos of trail riding. What settings do you recommend? Obviously it varies depending on lighting conditions, etcetera, but let's discuss in general terms.

    The sport mode always takes garbage blurry photos for me, so I just go to manual mode. I increase the shutter speed so the image is not blurry. This, of course, lets less light in so I increased the ISO to my max of 3200. I've never fully understood the F stop setting, but it seems to turn out better when it is lower. How does everyone get nice sharp photos that are well lit?

    Follow up. Any tips for editing in photoshop? I thought it might be possible to take the fairly dark but sharp shots and brighten them up after. Adjusting the brightness and contrast make it look grainy and like some awful filter has been applied. Any help is appreciated!
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  2. #2
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    You need a faster lens (brighter lens) I.E. F/ 2.8 or a camera that is better at high ISO settings I.E. Full Frame Sensor...where are you shooting at? Outdoors I assume...if in the shade or under cloudy skies you will need to raise the ISO or shoot at F/2.8...the only other option is artificial light I.E. Flash or LED lights that will brighten the subject which will increase the shutter significantly enough to freeze the subject at low ISO's, but not all cameras can sync a fast shutter either and are somewhat limited on shutter speed with a flash...that would depend on type of camera utilized...

  3. #3
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    I am using a Canon T1i and the basic 18-55 mm kit lens. Yes, I will be shooting outside. I tried using flash, but it doesn't look good. It only brightens so many feet in front of me and the rest is dark. I don't have any additional lighting accessories. Thanks for the info, I'll see if I can get a better lens.
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  4. #4
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    Yes you need a HUGE Flash I.E.Canon 430EX minimally that can reach approximately 141ft at ISO 100, I don't know your distance, but the 70-200 f/2.8 would be the way to go for most folks...get a good used one or rent one and try it first before buying...the T1i is an older APS-C sensor camera and will not fare to well at higher ISO's...I would shoot Aperture "A" mode and then choose the lowest aperture which will give you the fastest shutter speed, that kit lens is a no-go for action unless you are in bright sunlight with the sun at your back and the sunlight fully on your subject...even with the F/2.8 you'll probably still require ISO 800 or more, but IF there is decent light already, it won't hurt the IQ too much...a good software can help as well...I.E. Adobe Lightroom 6...

  5. #5
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    I can't tell if the advice was a joke or not.

    You don't need a huge flash. You will need something somewhat powerful for daylight stuff, but more importantly, you need to learn off camera flash (OCF). OCF will take a trigger of some sort, I'd suggest radio. Cheapest/best way to get into that is to pick up Yongnuo stuff. Strobist can pretty much teach you all the theory you need for flash and OCF, and practicing on anything will show you what turning different knobs will do.

    Realize that to get magazine-quality stuff, you're diving down a hole. You'll need to learn composition, lighting techniques (both ambient and flash), equipment, etc. A 70-200 f/2.8 was suggested (the go-to sports lens, but not really what you always want for mountain biking, especially being on a crop sensor), and that's literally thousands of dollars. I'm scared to bring my Nikon 70-200 out on trails just because it's so damn expensive. But, you don't need to go that far to get really nice shots. You might have to spend a little money, but the more important thing is knowledge and practice.

    What I'd suggest is to start by learning basic photo skills, which will involve the exposure triangle. That's basic, and is pretty necessary if you're going full manual. Learn your camera inside and out. Things like ISO settings, you can usually set the ISO to auto, but then set a limit to where the camera won't go any higher. To avoid a lot of noise, you'll probably want to stay at 1600 or lower. Some noise is acceptable depending on what you're trying to do with the photos, and it's much better to get a sharp shot than to try to eliminate all noise. People get too caught up with that sometimes.

    For lenses, where you're shooting is going to make a big difference. But generally, you're going to want at least one wide-angle lens, which is what you have now. However, it's not a very fast lens (a wider aperture, a lower f-stop number, is a "fast" lens), which is why you're not able to let a large amount of light into your camera. I love my Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8, it's an awesome lens and doesn't cost a lot. I'm not super familiar with Canon, so I don't know what a budget telephoto would be, but search around and try to see what's well-regarded. Sigma makes some good stuff these days, and looking around for a used 70-200mm f/2.8 might be good, or new, not sure what your budget is. If you can't buy anything, then that's fine too, your camera is going to take photos, and will get you started to see if you want to continue and spend some money.

    I don't want to tell you "go out and get down to your lowest f-stop and then...." because not all situations are the same, different things call for different settings. You want motion blur? Your shutter speed is going to be low, so your aperture will be smaller and your ISO will be lower. You want small depth of field? Other settings will be affected. What I'm getting at is that if you understand photography, even the basic stuff, you'll be much better off in the long run than to ask exactly what settings people use to get something. Know what I mean?

    Almost forgot: Photoshop has a really steep learning curve. You don't need to use that right now. As suggested above, Lightroom is awesome. Adobe has a monthly plan that includes that and Photoshop. Tons of tutorials for both of them on YouTube.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by playr2 View Post
    I want to start getting good action photos of trail riding. What settings do you recommend? Obviously it varies depending on lighting conditions, etcetera, but let's discuss in general terms.
    "but let's discuss in general terms."

    The OP is shooting a Canon Ti1...not a Canon 5D, 7D, or 1D...an amateur grade camera to be honest...he could still be challenged with the AF System even with off camera flash...

    Explaining the need for a HUGE flash = The OP was using the on camera flash...on camera flash Canon Ti1...

    You think the "on camera" flash is a joke for shooting outdoor action on a mountain bike at any distance? the 430EX has over 3X's the distance as the on board flash...so it can LIGHT-UP the whole scene within reason instead of "just the subject" leaving ALL the scenery he wants to capture in the dark/black...

    Yes, off camera flash is one method, but may not be too practical for the OP...

    "The Rebel T1i's built-in flash has a guide number rating of 43 feet (13 meters) at ISO 100, translating to a range of about 15 feet at ISO 100 with an f/2.8 lens."

    "the Speedlite 430EX II features a powerful flash (guide number of 141 ft./43m at ISO 100) with a fast recycling time in a compact"

    Don't claim to be an expert, but I have picked up a camera once or twice...

  7. #7
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    Not thousands...as mentioned...less than and if you shop around you can get even cheaper...
    https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/produ...f_2_8l_is.html

  8. #8
    saddlemeat
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    Quote Originally Posted by playr2 View Post
    I want to start getting good action photos of trail riding. What settings do you recommend? Obviously it varies depending on lighting conditions, etcetera, but let's discuss in general terms.

    The sport mode always takes garbage blurry photos for me, so I just go to manual mode. I increase the shutter speed so the image is not blurry. This, of course, lets less light in so I increased the ISO to my max of 3200. I've never fully understood the F stop setting, but it seems to turn out better when it is lower. How does everyone get nice sharp photos that are well lit?

    Follow up. Any tips for editing in photoshop? I thought it might be possible to take the fairly dark but sharp shots and brighten them up after. Adjusting the brightness and contrast make it look grainy and like some awful filter has been applied. Any help is appreciated!
    Shooting raw images and editing them with the PS editor is a good start. The workflow you describe above uses "destructive" tools, which will degrade your image with each successive adjustment.

    Sometimes you can just get closer with a wider faster lens setting and get better exposures. A lot depends on how the image will be used. The pros I have observed rely on refined spot picking skills a lot too.
    I ride with the best dogs.




  9. #9
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    You need to understand the basics, the relationship between the three settings shutterspeed, aperture, ISO. And how each setting affects the pictures. All three interact to get a certain amount of light into the camera. Shutter speed is how fast the shutter opens and closes, you can think of it as how fast it blinks. The aperture is how big the aperture opening is, in your eye it would be the pupil size, but everyone thinks of tgat, think of it as how much it squints. So to get the same amount of light in, the faster shutter you youse, the bigger aperture opening you need. ISO is a little harder to make an analogy, its basically how sensitive the sensor/film is. Think of it as turning up the volume on your stereo. Cranking up the ISO nakes it "louder" but also cranks up the background noise, in photo sense it makes things grainy especially in the dark areas, just like cranking volume youll hear more noise in the quiet sections.
    Then figure out what each of the three do to the image. Faster shutter freezes motion. Smaller aperture give you wider field of focus, meaning more of the scene is in focus, you can actually see this when something is blurry and you squint if you dont have perfect vision. Squinting can actually make the focus broader. Like mentioned, higher ISO gives you more "volume" with same amount of light, but higher you ho the more noise you get. So once you understand these, you can understand what happens to image as you change one and adjust with the other, and start to use it to purposely get certain effects.

  10. #10
    stoneblender
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    Your stated problem is based on not enough light and slow shutter speeds. Without getting a new body or dropping a ton on lens, a 50 1.8, 85 1.8, or best a 35 2 IS are relatively inexpensive and will allow for immediately better results. Use aperture priority at ~2.5-3.5 and keep the iso at 1600 or lower. Flashes are great, but I can't recommend cheap or small ones. 600 is minimal for good action. You can get one for 350ish refurbed. If you have to work within your current set up, stay at the wide end near 18mm, that's where the aperture is widest and lets in the most light. Have fun!

  11. #11
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    Also important is learning how to pan a shot. Blur of the subject can come from not panning.

    Birding and action shots can be a real money pit!

  12. #12
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    I read a few articles on MTB photography and one guy (who is a pro) had a super expansive super expensive setup.
    I did find an article that perhaps fits the average shooter with a more budget oriented kit lens type setup: https://www.dpreview.com/articles/32...aphy-technique

  13. #13
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    playr2, G'day.

    Further to the advice above, if you consider what you're wanting to achieve pictorially, think about that firstly. Then work backwards, selecting your camera controls that will allow you to realize it ... and practice a lot. This might sound crazy to you, but shoot heaps of shots, more than you need. Those shots that have worked for you, look at the data. Noticing what has worked well, is worth duplicating.

    You don't need the best camera and top lenses to create good images. Having good camera handling techniques will overcome the limitations of your gear, compared to the top of the range camera gear.

    Have you seen this thread? I don't have a flash for my camera.

    Tips on Photography

    When I was learning photography, I was inspired by knowing that pro golfers hit 500+ practice shots a day. Good luck and shoot heaps. 500 shots next time you go riding. When your camera handling techniques become second nature to you, you're more than 95% of the way there.

    Warren.
    Last edited by Wild Wassa; 05-17-2017 at 09:38 PM.

  14. #14
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    Get closer, use a canon 50mm 1.8, they are pretty cheap and can take very sharp photos and the autoforcus should be fast enough. Use the shutter priorty mode, try to shoot at 1/250 or faster if hand holding, unless you are trying to blur, keep the iso under whatever setting starts to give you problems with your camera. I would turnoff the auto iso mode. Some like to shoot with aperture priorty, you just have to be careful of the shutter speed and don't let it drop to low.

  15. #15
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    I have really scaled back the number of photos I shoot because of how big the files are and what a PITA it is to go through them.
    Composition and lighting are super important so if you take care of those factors then tons of shots are not required.
    I also use mostly manual focus so you can nail the focus where you want it. Even with action shots if you know where you are going to take the picture then you can pre focus and not have to rely on the camera to do it's guess work. But with that said there are situations where you should have the auto focus on.
    I also think that shutter priority is not as good of setting as aperture priority. Aperture controls depth of field and if your camera is changing the aperture on you then you lose a very important element to your shot. If you set up the shot before you take the picture you will know very well what your shutter speed is going to be.
    As far as iso is concerned just know what iso setting starts to deteriorate the quality of your image. Some of the new cameras can shoot extremely high iso's with no loss of quality so you can still use auto iso but set the high range to your liking.
    I also think shooting in RAW is important since you can manipulate things more than you can with jpegs. Get a good RAW converter and learn how to use it. With my sony camera I was able to get the capture one software for only $50. It is super powerful and can really make your photos pop.

  16. #16
    saddlemeat
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    richwolf- Good practical points! Software is an integral part of the process today too, and it's so necessary to learn those skills if you are to get the best images. Just as important as the gear.
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  17. #17
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    I guess it's natural to focus on the camera equipment, but I'm going to suggest that when starting out don't worry about your camera gear.

    Instead, get a (patient) riding buddy, find a good spot on a cool trail with good lighting (sun behind you, lighting the trail section and rider), and have your buddy session the trail section while you shoot. Experiment with different camera settings and see what you like.

    In general, fast shutter speeds will "freeze" the action, but you'll need good light (and probably a fast lens) to expose properly. Also try slower shutter speeds. You'll need to pan the camera to follow the rider, but if you do it right you'll get a sharply focused rider with a blurred background, which really conveys a sense of speed and I think is a better photo, artistically speaking. Much harder to pull off though.

    Anyway, good luck and have fun!
    Last edited by NRP; 05-28-2017 at 09:09 PM.

  18. #18
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    I use Canon 6D mainly for landscape photography but have used it a couple of times for action mtb photos. With the camera/lens combo I use it's not great at keeping focus on fast moving objects so I just pre focus on the trail and take the shot when the rider comes into the focal plane allowing for the camera shutter lag and my lag from my brain to my finger. As I'm shooting at the one spot on the trail I also set the camera to manual exposure and take test shots until I'm happy with the exposure setting.

    The last time I used the 6D to shoot photos at a local 2016 6 & 12hr mtb race I used a couple of my cheapish Yongnuo speedlites using them off camera set on manual and found they work well at lightening up dark shadows and areas in the trees where it is dark and still able to keep a modest ISO, shutter speed and aperture
    Good DSLR Settings for Action Shots-myfile.dng-1.jpg
    This was shot 1/500sec f7.1 ISO800 193mm focal length with two speedlights to light up the track and rider

    Good DSLR Settings for Action Shots-myfile.dng-4.jpg
    This was shot 1/400sec f8.0 ISO400 150mm focal length with two speedlights on the right to lighten up the riders shadows

    Good DSLR Settings for Action Shots-myfile.dng-8.jpg
    Starting to get dark shot 1/180sec f10 ISO800 300mm focal length with two speedlights to light either side of the track

    Good DSLR Settings for Action Shots-20141018-0010-1020.jpg
    Using a slow shutter speed on my old 5D classic in 2014 1/30sec f22 ISO100 80mm focal lenght
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  19. #19
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    The principle is the same for all cameras. If you want to freeze the action you will require a fast shutter speed, a minimum of 1/500 sec. with your kit lense a f5.6 aperture will be fine. Set your camera to shutter priority with auto ISO turned on, 1/500 or 1/100 sec shutter speed and fire away. If you need to fill more of the frame, just get closer to the subject. Your camera is more than adequate in average lighting conditions.

    OG

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