I'm shooting photos for Peletonia (outdoor cycling event) using a Canon Rebel T3. How can I get the best results? Are there particular settings that are important?
Rule no 1
You need to track the motion with the camera, it will help composition and make your shots sharper even at faster shutter speeds.
To somewhat freeze a speeding cyclist, you need a shutter speed of 1/500 s to 1/1000 s. Maybe less if they are driving towards you. (lumia 1020 cell phone, 1/1083 s, 25 mm equivalent) This is in a corner, after an uphill, so his speed is less than average. And note that distance is about 2 meters.
When the cyclists are far from you, use a longish lens and follow the movement, then just click photos when the composition is right. (Nikon D90, 1/50 s, 30 mm equivalent) See an actual tele lens shot (300 mm equivalent).
When they are riding close past you, use a normal to wide angle lens. Now the panning movement becomes a fast throw. And targets at different distances have different apparent speeds, so you will always get something sharp in the shot, but everything is never sharp. This creates this kind of warp speed photos: (1/40 s, 42 mm equivalent)
Are you under or over following movement?
- If the upper part of a wheel is sharper, you are over following.
- If the lower part of a wheel is sharper, you are under following.
- The first rider is closest to us, his apparent speed is largest, and his front wheel's lower part is sharper.
- The last rider is farthest from us, so his apparent speed is lowest, and his front wheel's upper part is sharper.
If you have a pro lens with a dedicated setting for panning, use it. Most consumer zooms try to auto detect panning, it works well when tracking motion that is predictable and steady. But if the motion is mostly towards you, the camera motion is very slow and the automatic setting might freeze your pan (You get a blurred subject against a sharp background). In this case your only option is to turn the Stabilization off.
Also when the cyclists are driving close to you (the quick throw pan) the stabilization will not work properly, but the fast camera movement doesn't really need stabilization. In this case just switch it off.
You have two options:
- Use continuous auto focusing. Many sports photographers use the thumb button focusing.
- Pre-focus at the place you want your subject in. This is especially handy when shooting motion blur in sunlight, so you are at f/22 to f/32, and depth of field is really large.