How to get the action shots

Getting shots of high speed action, say a frog jumping or a bird flying past can be difficult, but with a few simple rules and a bit of good fortune you may just manage. Here are three subjects and the stories behind them… For more information, view my article: Camera stuff I never regret buying

Now, one thing that all of these have in common is the use of flash. Flashes can make life easy, but incorrect use can be very detrimental to your images. So, without further ado we shall explore each image and I’ll fill you in on the details.

Canon EOS 60D, EF-S 60mm f2.8, 2x Wireless flash dialled down to -2, ISO 800, 1/125

The first is this picture of a Wallace’s Flying Frog in the air, actually there are a couple. Recently, in the Danum Valley, Phil Lewis and I found a number of these large tree frogs. They feature highly webbed feet that they use to control their descent. With an abundance of shots from underneath, I decided to have a go at some side-on pictures of one in the air. Without the help of Phil in this, the pictures would not have been possible. I set up the camera on a tripod. Carefully hanging a flash from an overhead tree, Phil held the other one. The autofocus was disabled and the flash’s power was dialled down using the on-camera menu on the Canon EOS 60D. The reason I dialled the power down was so the flashes would not work too hard. This means the time the flashes are outputting light is less, which results in less or no motion blur. The more flashes you have, the less motion blur the pictures will suffer as each individual flash will not put out light for as long. Also, I wanted the picture to look like night time, so just enough light to illuminate the frog was plenty. The frog always wanted to jump to the same place, so I made sure its path was parallel to the camera, and I pre-focused it to the frog’s likely path. I held the frog and Phil manned the camera. I gently touched the frog’s legs, and as soon as it jumped, Phil hit the button and captured the above shot. We managed another good one:

Canon EOS 60D, EF-S 60mm f2.8, 2x Wireless flash dialed down to -2, ISO 800, 1/125

So the next is of an Archerfish firing a jet of water. This required a bit of juggling and luck. I had a few Archers in my aquarium for a while. Wonderful pets, they are highly interactive and will happily spit at anything that looks edible. In the wild they use their skills to knock insects into the water where they are swiftly grabbed and devoured. I set up one flash on the roof of the tank, wired to the camera’s hot shoe. The camera was set up on the tripod. I looked through the viewfinder while I held a bloodworm just off-shot. As the fish angled itself up to aim, I pressed the button just in time. I also got the fish leaping to claim its reward.

Canon EOS 500D, EF-S 60mm f2.8, f/13, 1/125, ISO 100, Flash from above

Canon EOS 500D, EF-S 60mm f2.8, f/13, 1/125, ISO 100, Flash from above

Finally there is this kingfisher. Buff Breasted Paradise Kingfishers fly from New Guinea every year to northern Queensland in Australia where they make nests in termite mounds on the forest floor. They become used to people and many nest beside tracks, like this one. The method for getting shots like these is more complicated. First, you need a trigger to fire the camera. I rigged up an industrial infra-red laser manufactured by the oddly named German company “SICK”. You have a send/receive unit and a reflector. When something breaks the beam, a switch is triggered. I rigged up a safety switch between it and the camera, so no voltage from the 12v unit can reach the camera and vice versa. I had to set up the camera and leave it. I came back to find a number of images.

Canon EOS 350D, EF-S 18-55 3.5-5.6, f/8, 1/4000, ISO 200, Flash mounted on shoe.


Canon EOS 350D, EF-S 18-55 3.5-5.6, f/8, 1/4000, ISO 200, Flash mounted on shoe.

36 comments on “How to get the action shots

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