Every year, we get a chance to photograph the beautiful white horses of the Camargue racing toward us at full speed.
Here are tips, tricks and ideas on how to practice for this fast-paced exciting experience or for photographing any fast moving object for that matter.
My photos of the Camargue horses below list all the data on camera model, focal length, ISO, shutter speed and aperture used for each shot to achieve stellar results.
All images were shot on a full frame sensor. I use a 100-400 lens and am happy with the results.
I will go into more detail about camera settings below but to begin with, please note that you’ll want to use at least 1/500th of a second (1/640 or 1/1000 is better) and f 5.6 or 8. To achieve this you will most likely have to bump up your ISO, depending upon the light.
There are two settings on your camera that you will want to dial in.
Focus Mode. Choose Continuous Focusing Mode. You do this by choosing AI Servo AF for Canon and AF-C for Nikon, Sony & Fuji. On the new Fuji X-T3 which Magrit just bought, this setting is on the lower left front of the camera on a dial where you can choose from M, C or S. Choose C. Continuous Focusing Mode is most useful for keeping moving objects in focus within the viewfinder as you track the object. In continuous mode, after the camera achieves a focus and you keep the shutter depressed halfway or all the way to shoot, the focus should stay locked. This does not always work which affects a photographers keeper rate. All our past participants have come away with many good images.
Drive Mode. Choose Continuous High Speed. Instructions for this will depend on camera brand. You want to choose the fastest fps that your camera offers.
And then there are some topics that are not so concrete and are open to user judgment and expertise.
Focus Area. This topic is not so easy to suggest a particular setting as there are so many different brands and camera models within those brands. I advise to Google this topic for your particular camera. “Best settings for photographing action for the Nikon D750” for example. Here are the different zones available on the Nikon d750.
Different cameras have a different amount of AF points and zones within those points available. For example, The Sony a7r3 has 399, the Fuji xt-3 has 425, the Canon 5d4 has 61 and the Nikon d850 has 153. So one might think that more is better but that’s not necessarily true.
Let us use the Sony a7r3 for example, with 399 AF points. If I were to point the camera at the group of horses as they were poised to start their run and focus using all 399 AF points, the camera will focus on some part of the group but where that point is is hard to predict and control. If on the other hand, I were to choose in the AF area menu to use a zone within those 399 AF points and then move that smaller zone around with the joystick on the back of the camera, I can be much more precise on which horse I want to focus on. The reason we want to have more control over which horse we focus on is that often the horses are on different planes when running towards us. If you were to lock on to one of the horses towards the back of the pack it is very likely that the horse in the front, the leading horse or horses will be out of focus. Of course, this also depends on which f stop you are using and how much depth of field you have. You don’t want the lead horse to be out of focus.
Our French photo guide Patrice uses Canon cameras and uses a single AF point that he moves around with the joystick on the back of the camera to focus on the lead horse. I am not suggesting this for everybody as it takes some practice to get good at this technique. If you are comfortable with this, by all means, use it.
I use the Sony a7r3 and have found some zone settings that work well. I Googled “Focus area settings for the Sony a7r3” and came up with a great video by Sony Ambassador Mark Galer. For the Sony a7r3, Mark suggests using Lock-on AF: Expand Flexible Spot or Lock-on AF Wide. This is just an example of one particular camera model within one brand.
Shutter Speed. We want to use at least 1/500th of a second to freeze the action. 1/640 or 1/1000 are better and we can achieve this with good light and bumping up our ISO.
F Stop. f8 is a good aperture to use as this will achieve pretty good depth of field and in focus results for the front runners of the pack. Using f2.8 or 4 will often result in out of focus horses towards the middle and back of the pack, which I personally don’t like. This is not always true and depends on how much the horses are spread out from near to far.
Shooting Mode. Your choices here are Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. Personally, I have used all three of these and have had success. One might think that you should use Shutter Priority as a fast shutter speed is the most important factor. Patrice prefers to use Aperture Priority because to him, depth of field is equally important. So he will use Aperture Priority with f 8 and make sure his ISO is up high enough to give him a suitable shutter speed of at least 1/640. If you are using an automatic shooting mode like Aperture Priority you might want to dial in a + 2/3 stop of exposure adjustment as the horses are pretty bright and the auto mode on the camera may have a tendency to underexpose a bit.
Raw versus Jpeg. The smaller jpeg files will write faster to your cards. I always shoot in Raw with my Sony a7r3 as it can handle the large files and not slow down while shooting in continuous mode. If you find in your practice sessions that the camera is not able to clear the buffer fast enough and your camera stops shooting during a continuous burst, you might want to try the high-quality jpeg setting.
Card Speed. Card speed is another factor that you want to pay attention to and will also affect the speed at which your photos go from the buffer to the card. You want to use cards with fast read/write speeds. I use SanDisk Extreme Pro SD XCII, 64 GB cards with a speed of 300 MB/s. You also want a card big enough so that you don’t have to worry about filling it up. One past client who was using the Sony a9 at 20 fps needed to use 128 GB cards. Click here for an article on fast cards by David Coleman.
Back Button Focus is what some more experienced action photographers use. You program the camera to separate the focus button from the shutter button and assign focusing to a button on the back of the camera. I personally don’t use it much and I do not believe that Patrice does either. Most pro sports photographers use it.
I hope that you’ll find this information useful for photographing any fast moving object coming your way.