Tutorial: High-Speed Action Photography

March 13, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Recently, one of the editors of 1x.com curated photo gallery requested that I write a tutorial for my published photo 'Born to Fight'. This is the photograph that he was interested in. Click on the photo to view a large version of the image.

Born to FightBorn to Fight
EquipmentNikon D3s, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/800s, f/5.6, ISO1000, no flash, no tripod, no filter

And, here is the tutorial. I decided to make it available on my website, in hoping that some of you could benefit from it.

Introduction

On my trip to a village in Central Bali, I saw two villagers getting ready to put their cocks into a practice fight. They whispered to their cocks like coaches giving encouragement to their athletes, while at the same time, the two natural enemies stared intently at each other, ready to unleash hell. Finally, the cocks were released and a scene like the one captured on the photograph happened. The fight finished in less than 10 seconds.

The Picture

Planning is key for capturing a high-speed action like this. I scouted several locations in the village before settling in on the one that I liked. Next, I looked at direction of the sun (my main light) to make sure that the subjects will be properly lighted. This photo was taken in mid-afternoon. To give a sense of dimension, I also look for a chance to capture the shadows of the birds. Once I settled with the best location of the photo, I nicely asked the two villagers to move the fight location to this optimal place.

To increase my chance of getting a focused image of the animals, I set the camera speed to 1/800 and increased the ISO to 1000, knowing that my Nikon D3s can still produce a good quality image with that ISO value. I set my aperture to 5.6 to give me some focusing rooms for the animals to move vertically. Finally, I turned on the high-speed burst mode of the camera with the Auto Focus Continuous (AF-C) 51-points 3D focus-tracking mode. This way I was able to shoot to about 9 frames per seconds and didn’t have to worry about my area of focus.

The biggest challenge for me when submitting this photo to 1x is selecting the best photo from the hundreds of images I took in the session. After reminding myself, that the reason I used a mid-range lens for this action shot is to include some of the background elements for story telling, I selected this photo that I think has the additional elements that will interest the viewers: the smoke, the shadow, and the jumping birds.

Post-Processing

This photo was post-processed mainly with Photoshop with the aid of the Nik Collection Tool plug-ins.

1.     I brought the RAW image into PeopleSoft and tweaked it by increasing the overall clarity, vibrancies, and the fill light settings.

2.     Once imported into Photoshop, I cropped the photo by deleting the upper and the left side of the image.

3.     I darkened the ground by using the dodge/burn tool (Range: Midtones, Exposure: 30%).

4.     Using Nik Viveza, I selected the two cocks and increased the brightness and contrast until they have a better exposure balance.

5.     Using Nik Color Efex, I applied the ‘Darken/Lighten Center’ plug-in to darken the area around the two cocks, and applied the ‘Fog’ effect to the bottom part of the photo to add the intensity of the smoky ground.

6.     I ran the Nik Dfine Noise Reducer plug-in to reduce the noise on the darker part of the image (the brick wall).

7.     Finally, I sharpened the image by using Nik Sharpener Tool with a setting of ‘Dynamic Sharpening’ of 30%.

Hints

-       To capture a high-speed action, preparation is key. Make sure that the main subject is properly lighted to ensure that you get a sharp picture, even if you shoot with a very fast shutter speed.

-       Do not be afraid to increase the camera ISO capability to make sure that the proper details are captured. Noise can be somewhat cleaned up with the proper tool in post processing, but loss of details can never be recovered.

-       Build a good rapport with your subjects or the person who’s handling your subjects. Be courteous and sensitive to the local culture. When they think the animals are tired, do not push to get an extra picture.  

 


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