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5 Top Tips for Shooting Fast Action
5 Top Tips for Shooting Fast Action
Posted by: Todd Winner on 04/28/2014
Keywords:  macro, Todd Winner, underwater, underwater photography, wide-angle
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Text and photography by: Todd Winner

Pikeblenny fight, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160
Pikeblenny fight, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160

There's nothing quite like capturing that perfect moment when shooting fast action. Whether it's a sea lion or billfish swimming by at break neck speed or just a small jawfish poking its head out of the hole, timing is everything. Many cameras are better suited to shooting fast action, with high-end DSLRs being the best. But no matter what camera you are using, here are five tips to help you come away with the perfect shot.

Mantis Shrimp cleaning out its burrow.  Catalina Island, California Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/160, f/8.0, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160
Mantis Shrimp cleaning out its burrow. Catalina Island, California
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/160, f/8.0, iso 100, 2 Ikelite DS160

Lower Strobe Power Most strobes take at least two seconds to recycle after a full flash, so by setting your strobes to a lower power setting you will be able to shoot a lot faster. If you're not getting enough strobe light with the lower settings, go ahead and increase your ISO. If you're shooting with an internal pop-up flash you will have to wait for the internal strobe to recycle. If you find that you're spending too much time waiting for the internal flash to recycle you can switch to electronic sync cords, a fiber trigger like the Nauticam flash trigger, or shoot manual strobes and set your internal flash to the lowest power setting.

Shark Handler putting a blue shark into tonic immobility,  California Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @16mm, 1/250, f/10, iso 640, 2 Ikelite DS160
Shark Handler putting a blue shark into tonic immobility, California
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @16mm, 1/250, f/10, iso 640, 2 Ikelite DS160

Continuous Shutter
Setting your camera to take multiple images as you hold the shutter release down can give you a slight advantage when shooting fast action. As long as your strobes are set to a lower power they should be able to keep up with at least a few shots. Many cameras have both a high and low setting for continuous shutter. I find the low setting to be fast enough for most underwater shooting scenarios. Another advantage is that many strobes tend to still fire even if they have not completely recharged, but at a lower output, so you also get a bit of strobe bracketing by using this method.

Blue Spot Jawfish Feeding, Sea of Cortez, Mexico Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 160, 2 Ikelite DS160

Blue Spot Jawfish Feeding, Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 100mm, 1/200, f/11, iso 160, 2 Ikelite DS160

Big Fast Memory Cards
If you're worried about filling up your memory card you definitely need one with a larger capacity. How large will ultimately depend on your camera and shooting style. I typically use 32G cards with my Canon 5D Mark III. When you first take an image the file is stored in the cameras buffer, by using memory cards with a fast read and write speed your camera can clear the buffer faster so you can continue to shoot. They also make downloading to your computer much faster.
 
Octopus fight, Redondo Beach, California Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @35mm, 1/50, f/13, iso 320, 2 Ikelite DS160
Octopus fight, Redondo Beach, California
Canon EOS 5D Mark lll, 16-35 @35mm, 1/50, f/13, iso 320, 2 Ikelite DS160

Multiple Autofocus Points
When you're shooting larger subjects like sea lions or dolphins in clearwater, try using multiple autofocus points. It's not as precise as using a small focus point but it can be much faster. I recommend using the largest autofocus selection that will get the job done. Start with one of the wider AF selections and move to increasingly smaller ones until you find one that is working well for the shooting situation. For macro, I prefer to use a single focus point most of the time.
 
Pair of Atlantic spotted dolphins.  Bahamas Nikon D2X, Tokina 10-17 @10mm 1/100, f/5.6 iso 320, 1 Ikelite DS51

Pair of Atlantic spotted dolphins. Bahamas
Nikon D2X, Tokina 10-17 @10mm 1/100, f/5.6 iso 320, 1 Ikelite DS51

Focus and Recompose When you are using a single or small cluster of autofocus points, then focusing and recomposing while using focus lock or the back button focus method Is much faster than trying to move the focus point around in the view finder. You can also use the half press shutter method but you will need to refocus between every shot unless you hold down the focus lock button. Whether your shooting large pelagics or macro behavior, I hope you find these tips useful the next time you find yourself in a fast action scenario.

  Todd WinnerTodd Winner is a contributor, instructor, and trip leader for Samy’s Underwater Photo & Video and has over 20 years of experience in underwater still and broadcast video. To see more of Todd’s work please go to www.toddwinner.com.       Samy's Underwater Photo & Video
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