Around ten days ago, during the triennial Züri Fäscht, they organized once again the Freestyle Zurich. This time, obviously, without snow sports involved... I took the chance to go and practice a bit of action photography with MTB and BMX big air competition and Motocross Freestyle. I've posted here a few photos of the flying bikers. As you may notice, the light was coming from the wrong direction (hitting the riders almost straight on the back), so the pictures are not great, unfortunately, but I could nevertheless practice some fast action shooting.
I wanted to have the jumping bikes coming towards me and have a good viewing angle. I decided to stand in correspondence of the end of the landing, quite close to the track. This is an especially tricky situation for the auto-focus. You're positioned just on the side of the foot of the landing, meaning that your subject (the biker) is hidden from you until it jumps out of the kicker. So, you can't aim at it (the subject) and let the auto-focus in continuous mode keep track of it, because while it's on the up slope of the kicker itself you don't see it. Hence, the camera must be very fast to focus on it immediately after it pops out of the edge, in order to give you sharp shots on the few instants while it's in the air.
I have to admit my 80D performed even above my expectations. The auto-focus in 'Servo' mode is excellent. Once I properly set the camera, I could literally forget about any technical aspect, just be ready, point at the subject when it pops out of the kicker (you can easily anticipate the exact moment by following the biker down the ramp) and press the button. The photo burst begins, I move along with the flying bike and follow it to the landing. Most of the shots are in focus, I just have to pick the best pose. That's simply great when your gear just does exactly what you need. No headache. Just shoot.
At this point, it seems natural to tell a bit about those settings. I know they're obvious for whoever is somewhat familiar with action photography. Nevertheless, every camera brand is a bit peculiar, I'll describe here the detailed settings for Canon that I find magical.
Lens: Canon EF-S 55-250 F4-5.6 IS II (the "kit telezoom"), cheap and clearly on the lower end of performance, but it's amazing for the price (I'm thinking about a new tele, though...).
Autofocus: AI Servo
Focus area: AF zone, central area
Drive: high speed burst
Aperture priority with F:5.6 (most of the time)
In most light conditions, I keep the optical stabilization disabled: it's not useful, potentially harmful (especially to the battery life), if the rest is properly set. So, of course also this time the lens stabilizer was off.
Now, the key part concerns ISO and shutter speed. I want to make sure that the maximum exposure time is 1/500 sec, to avoid motion blur due either to the fast moving subject or to my shaking hand.
To achieve this I set the ISO to 'auto', then in the menu I go to the 'ISO speed settings' and set the minimum shutter speed to 1/500. In this way the camera will chose the minimum possible ISO, then shutter speed according to the exposure, increasing the ISO when the light is not enough to keep the exposure time below 1/500 sec.
Here you find a few of the shots. I hope you'll like them.