Stopping the action in sports photography

| August 21, 2011
jumping horse colorado horse park

A horse jumps at a competition in Parker, Colorado

I recently had the opportunity to head up to Parker, Colorado to shoot a horse jumping competition. Photographing these types of events is a lot of fun because you always know where the action is going to be. If it is being done right, all the horses end up jumping in the same place!

The first order of business was to pick the best jumps to photograph by looking at the orientation and angle of the sun relative to the subject. I wanted to make sure the sun would adequately illuminate the horse and the rider without masking them too much in shadow. I also had to be sensitive to the available reach of my lens, the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS. The 70-200 is my sharpest and fastest zoom, which made it perfect for this particular event. I knew it would give me a lot of flexibility while trying to capture the beauty and action of the sport. I picked the jumps that were closest to my ideal shooting position and made sure that I shot at a low enough angle to see the rider’s face.

To expose the shot above, I needed to strike a good balance between ISO, aperture and shutter speed. My personal goal was to stop the action and present the sharpest picture possible. To reach this goal, shutter speed was the most important part of the exposure equation. I found, for these shots, that a shutter speed of 1/1250 or better was best for eliminating motion blur.

I took the shot above at 1/2000th of a second. Now, at 1/2000, I would still need an aperture that would allow the entire horse to be in focus from head to tail. I ended up dialing in f/5.0.  I figured that if I focused on the rail, waited for the horse to come to me, and was able to get the whole horse in focus using f/5.0, I would be a very happy photographer. Oh, to support 1/2000 at f/5.0, I needed to set my ISO to 400. In all, the three settings were a good compromise to get my desired result.

If I had used f/2.8, which is the largest available aperture for my lens, It is likely that the middle of the horse would have been in focus and the head and tail would be slightly out of focus. Bummer!

horse jumping colorado horse park

This guy almost went down!

I love this shot. Thankfully he did not go down but, as you can see, it came really close. I am sure that most of the spectators did not pick up on this action because it happend so fast. Thanks to our well thought out camera settings, we did not miss a beat! The resolving power of today’s cameras never cease to amaze me. In the full resolution version of this image, I can see specs of dirt in the air from when the horse launched into the jump! All the settings were the same here except the aperture was f/5.6. As you can see, it was a little brighter in this shot so the camera had to cut the light a bit to get the correct exposure.

horse jumping colorado horse park

Cool as a cucumber!

Now this guy has it all under control. He is probably thinking about the sandwich he is going eat for lunch as soon as he finishes up the next couple of jumps!

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Category: Photography, Tutorials

Comments (2)

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  1. Jim Denham says:

    Great post Lee, and great action photos! The expression on the rider’s face in the second picture is awesome!

  2. AutumnLeaves says:

    I have to agree with Jim. Marvelous moments captured in time!