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So for the first time, I've been shooting moving subjects. I've got a new camera and a lot of stress, so I barely had time to set it up completely before the shoot (nothing professional though anyway). The subjects weren't too challenging: Kids on a dance show. The stage was outside, and the sun was out. Lighting condition was good, but due to a lot of moving clouds it was changing a lot.

To sum my three questions up:

  1. Which camera mode do I use for moving subjects?
  2. Which AF area do I use for moving subjects?
  3. Which image stabilization mode do I use for moving subjects?

I wanted to get a depth of field as shallow as possible and also keep the ISO as low as possible. So I've put my camera into Av mode, set the aperture to 2.8 and my ISO to 100. This worked very well at first, the sun being out and my camera picking a shutter speed between 1/2000 and 1/4000 mostly. Quick enough, clouds started to rise and I've noticed the camera going down to 1/160-1/1000, the lower end of this definitely not being good enough to freeze the motion (which I'd say happened around 1/500-1/640).

I ended up putting the camera in full manual, setting a shutter speed of 1/800, aperture of 2.8 and the ISO to auto. Once the clouds were gone again however, I'd get overexposed images. And while changing the shutter speed accordingly worked, I feel like the camera would do a much quicker and more accurate job at that than me.

So which settings/mode would be prefered for this type of situation? There is a setting for "Minimal shutter speed" in my camera's setting, should I be using that? The options there are only full stops, so it'd be either 1/500 or 1/1000. I feel like 1/1000 is a bit too much for dancing kids, but would 1/500 be enough? Is there any other way to properly shoot moving subjects like this?


My second question would be about the autofocus. Using Large Zone AF or Auto selection AF, I feel like, with a lot of possible subjects in the frame, my camera would just not do the right job of picking who I want to pick, so those were out. With Spot AF or 1 pt AF, I felt like it might be too hard for me to consistently have my subject right in that point, so I went with Zone AF, combined with AI Servo. Did I do anything wrong here? Most of my shots were in focus.

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    How about Auto-ISO settings and set the longest shutter speed to your 1/500 - 1/640? – Horitsu Apr 9 at 4:01
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    What specific camera and lens are you using? – Michael C Apr 9 at 5:47
  • @MichaelC A Canon 6D Mark II with a Tamron 24-70 and 70-200 F/2.8 G2 was used mostly. For some extra reach in a different scene (same lighting conditions though) I switched to a 70D. – confetti Apr 9 at 7:18
  • 'Zone AF' is notoriously problematic for selecting the closest thing to the camera, even when that thing is outside the selected zone with many older Canon cameras, particularly the EOS 7D and the later EOS 70D that uses the same PDAF sensor as the 7D did. I've not used the 6D Mark II nor any of the other cameras with which it shares the 45-point AF system it uses. The only Canon cameras I've found that can do 'zone' or 'auto' selection very well are the upper tier models that let one select the initial AF point manually when using those modes (1DX, 7D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, etc.) – Michael C Apr 9 at 22:18
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    @confetti After looking at page 139 of the manual for the 6D Mark II, it's not really "one primary point plus surrounding assist points" the way 'AF point expansion' (with either 4 or nine surrounding points) is on other Canon cameras. It is a form of Zone AF where all 9 points are weighted equally. – Michael C Apr 10 at 17:42
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I've got a new camera and a lot of stress, so I barely had time to set it up completely before the shoot (nothing professional though anyway).

Tracking moving subjects is a skill that takes practice just to become minimally competent. Panning at slower shutter speeds to keep your moving subject (mostly) blur free while the background is blurred to show the motion of your subject is even more difficult. Not only is knowledge of how to do it required, but muscle memory needs to be developed. It's more like actually shooting a basketball than like diagramming a basketball play.

I've known some amazing photographers in terms of composition, lighting, exposure, etc. that can't take a decent slow-panning shot to save their life. Most of them only try slow-panning shots once in a blue moon while on assignment, get frustrated very quickly with the unsatisfactory results, and go back to using a fast enough shutter speed to freeze all motion.

Which camera mode do I use for moving subjects?

Which exposure mode one selects should be based more on the lighting conditions and how stable or how rapidly changing they are than on whether one's subjects are moving or not. The desired end result may also play a role.

Which autofocus mode one uses should be based on the amount of movement by one's subjects. 'AI Servo AF' or 'AF-C' (depending on what brand the camera is) is generally the best AF mode to use with moving subjects, but there are some rare times where the nuances of the situation might make 'One Shot/AF-S' a better choice.

Which AF area do I use for moving subjects?

This highly depends on the specific camera, what AF point selection methods that camera offers, and how well each choice performs in that camera.

For your EOS 6D Mark II, if the "Zone AF" option that gives equal weight for a square of nine AF points¹ works for you, I'd stay with it. I'd expect it may be more problematic if there are other things in the foreground closer to the camera than what you wish to focus on.

Using Large Zone AF or Auto selection AF, I feel like, with a lot of possible subjects in the frame, my camera would just not do the right job of picking who I want to pick, so those were out.

I'd recommend you try using 'Automatic selection AF' and using [C.Fn II-11: Initial AF Pt in AI Servo] set to either option 1 or 2 that allows you to designate the initial AF point.¹ If your subject is at the selected AF point when you initiate AF, the camera will attempt to track that subject as it moves around the entire frame.

Disclaimer - I've not tried using 'Automatic selection AF' that allows the user to select an initial AF point with a camera, such as your 6D Mark II, that does not also have an RGB+IR color meter and EOS iTR AF.² YMMV.

For your EOS 70D, I'd probably avoid 'Zone AF'. 'Zone AF' is notoriously problematic for selecting the closest thing to the camera, even when that thing is outside the selected zone with the EOS 7D. The more recent EOS 70D uses the same PDAF sensor as the 7D did and most likely uses many of the same AF algorithms. Instead, I'd go with '19 point automatic selection AF' in 'AI Servo AF' and use the method outlined on page 105 of the Canon EOS 70D User Manual to select the initial AF point.

¹ Please see pages 139-40 of the Canon EOS 6D Mark II User Manual

² I've personally found that 'auto' selection works well with the upper tier models (1DX, 7D Mark II, 5Ds, 5Ds R, 5D Mark IV, etc.) that let one select the initial AF point manually when using 'Auto' AF point selection mode with 'AI Servo AF' and also offer EOS iTR AF(EOS Intelligent Tracking and Recognition Autofocus) which uses a dedicated processor to combine distance information from the AF sensor with color information from the RGB+IR metering sensor to track moving subjects when EOS iTR AF is enabled in 'Auto' AF point selection mode.

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