Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Using the Nikon D4 to capture a fast moving subject

Yesterday we did a shooting session with a high platform diver/swimmer. It is the type of sports situation that requires a camera/lens combo that can focus extremely fast and accurately, as you only have a split second to capture the peak of action that is most definitive of the event. We were working with a professional model and were able to repeat the action. Even so, it was important to capture each scene quickly so we could move through our shooting script without totally exhausting the swimmer.

The camera of choice was a no-brainer. We used Nikon D4 cameras set to shoot at 9 frames per second, and coupled them with the long Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and 80-400mm zooms.  We had two camera angle set ups on every scene.

Having a fast moving subject coming directly towards the camera is the most difficult situation for a continuous focus camera and lens to follow. The first time I ever tried a photo sequence like the one above was still in the age of manual focus cameras and lenses. I was working with a film Nikon and 400mm fixed lens and would pre-focus the camera at a fixed spot hoping the swimmer would hit it with the right expression and attitude. Needless to say, the absence of  digital review also made this a real hit-or-miss opportunity. We would repeat the scene over and over again just to be sure that we had at least one shot in focus.

With a digital D4 and any of the fine Nikon pro teles, this type of shot is now a piece of cake. Set the camera to continuous focus, place one of the focus points on the swimmers face and let the camera do the rest shooting continuously at 9 fps.

Capturing lateral movement like this is much easier because the subject stays along the same focus plane. The main trick here is to capture that one split second when the diver is in the perfect attitude. This is where an extremely high speed camera motor drive is important. If the motor is too slow, there is a good chance the photographer will miss that split second of peak action. In the era before fast motors the photographer would have to time the shot, hitting the shutter just a fraction of a second before the peak action so the camera would go off at the right time. 
As you can see from these two frames taken before and after the one above, a fraction of a second too early or a fraction of a second too late and you miss the peak of action. Since the camera is shooting at 9 fps, there is only 1/9th of a second difference between each of these two photos and the one above them.  Timing is everything.

This was our first use of a camera housing on the Sony RX100 II. The photo was taken by my son, Daniel, from a position  underneath the swimmer. The little Sony performed admirably with very accurate focus and a motor fast enough to capture several variations of each pass of the swimmer.
At the same time Daniel was photographing the swimmer with the RX100 II from his position under water, I was taking this series above with the D4 and 80-400mm lens.

During our shoot the sun was off to the right but out of range of my camera frame. It cast a strong light that outlined the diver, and created deep shadows over the rest of his body. I opened the shadows in post-processing, but decided to enhance the bright sun by substituting a different sky I had on file that included the sun itself and its actual flare. 

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