My, how things have changed. When I first joined the camera club, the top scoring wildlife shots were often a close-up portrait of a bird of prey with a piercing gaze and pin-sharp feathers taken of some hapless raptor tied to a post. Even now a good photo of a bird perched in a tree gets summarily dismissed as ‘a bird on a stick’.

The technical advances in camera and lens design, and in processing software, have raised expectations to scary levels. The emphasis these days in both wildlife and sports photography is on storytelling, and if you can capture fast action to do that, look forward to the glittering prizes. Try it if you dare for this is the sharp end of photography!

It was a great pleasure this evening to welcome Nick Rogers, the Chairman of Reigate Photographic Society, to help us understand how to meet these expectations if we aspire to taking successful action pictures.

Nick clearly has wide experience of both genres much of which was gained from attending photo excursions organised by experts in the field such as Lou Coetzer (CNP Safaris), Mark Pain (UK sports photographer) and Mark Carwardine (wildlife photographer, conservationist and broadcaster).

The first half of the evening was devoted to wildlife photography and the second to sport, profusely illustrated by his own stunning photos. I will try to pick out some of his key advice for capturing moving subjects in both.

  1. Know your camera. Not only how to control it quickly (obviously!) but do some tests to work out the highest ISO setting you can use before the noise level becomes unacceptable.
  2. Use aperture priority mode. This is preferred to shutter priority by most action photographers. Nick sent me a link to a clear explanation of the reasons for this in a YouTube video by Mark Carwardine
  3. For action photography, you need to allow as much light as possible through your lens, so set to maximum aperture unless you have reason to want greater depth of field. This will also help make the subject stand out clearly against a blurred background.
  4. The variable to control is the ISO setting. Adjust it to obtain and maintain a fast shutter speed. On safari, Nick normally uses 1/4000 or 1/5000 sec if possible.
  5. Don’t get too close to the subject if using a long telephoto lens, typically 500 or 600 mm focal length on safari. You can always crop an image if the subject is a bit small but you can’t recover parts of a creature lost outside the lens’s field of view if it moves suddenly.
  6. Always dial in some negative exposure compensation. This gives the advantage of faster shutter speeds. Exposure can then be rectified during RAW conversion. Nick routinely uses minus 1.7 EV.
  7. Use the motor drive in short bursts to cover the action, but don’t be tempted to go mad with it.
  8. Using noise reduction software can let you to set higher ISO values than you would normally consider. DxO PureRAW is effective and is available on a 30 day free trial. It is very simple to use and also applies data correction adjustments specific to the lens on your camera.
  9. When shooting winter sports events when it is snowing, slow down the autofocus sensitivity to stop actuation by the falling snow.
  10. A piece of advice by the veteran sports photographer Don Morley is to shoot from a high vantage point to avoid over-busy backgrounds.

When it comes to evaluating the worth of wildlife photos, Lou Coetzer uses a star rating system. I read similar suggestions in an article in PAGB eNews around October last year offering guidance for judges. I have taken the liberty of combining the two and it runs something like this:

1* subject and photographer stationary i.e. descriptive/portraits

2* movement of subject evident but limited storyline e.g. flying bird

3* shows interaction between subjects of the same species e.g. animals fighting or feeding young

4* shows interaction between subjects of different species e.g. predator catching prey

Oh, and ‘cute’ – 0*

So now you know!

Nick has very kindly let me reproduce some examples of his work.

Wildebeest crossing, In the Masai Mara, Kenya
Impala fighting, Etosha, Namibia
The Salmon run, Brooks Falls Alaska

In the afternoon/evening you can watch the falls live on Brooks Falls Bear Cam

Snow Polo – Kitzbuhel, Austria
Badminton horse trials, Piggy March came 4th in May 2022
Reigate’s first fun run after lockdown

Thank you Nick. An evening packed with great pictures and great advice.

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