The phone rang. On the other end of the call was Let’s Hike Utah’s George Dansie. “I have a mountain biker willing to ride for some shots. Wanna go?” A hearty, “Yup!” and I off I went. There’s just nothing like shooting high-speed action for an entire afternoon. I love the sound of rapid-fire shutters.
What’s it take to get great action shots out on your local singletrack?
- A camera with shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation controls. Start with Aperture Priority, ISO 400, f8. Look to start at 1/1000. Vary as your subject dictates. You’ll likely be changing ISO to get to 1/1000. This should be a good starting point on a sunny day.
- Set your autofocus to continuous, multi point.
- Use a longer lens to “compress'” your field for greater sense of action.
- Start with longer distance to your subject until you figure out what their moves will be. Then try close and wide for some exciting action look and feel. Don’t get hit!
- Suffer for your art. Get down on the ground on the wide shots and have your rider move in close for your shots. Don’t get hit!
- Shoot a lot. It’s digital, after all. Fill up those cards!
Meeting George with Elizabeth Timmer at Little Cottonwood Canyon’s Lisa Falls trailhead, the three of us walked/rode down the trail toward the edge of Little Cottonwood Creek. Keep in mind, the word “Creek,” conveys in no way what feels like the mighty Colorado river crammed into a narrow slot carved out of Little Cottonwood Canyon’s granite innards. Springtime raging snowmelt rapids make this canyon rock like nothing else.
So, what’re we here for? Elizabeth Timmer, Wasatch Touring’s Brand Ambassador, is as enthusiastic a mountain biker as you’ll find anywhere. She knows her biking stuff as evidenced by her 2018 Monticello Abajo Enduro 1st place finish. Putting on a great show for us, she drove “Rosie,” her Rocket Red Specialized Stump Jumper 29er bike hard. Ride the small pools and rivulets created by Cottonwood Creek’s overflow? No problem. Jump rocks and bumps? Ditto.
Camera gear choice? Had to be Nikon. D500’s rock solid autofocus is a must. George wanted Tamron 150-600 G2 lens’ massive field compression. I wanted D500’s 10 frames per second speed. I squeezed D750 shots through Nikon’s fabulous 14-24. Elizabeth traversed Little Cottonwood Canyon landscape numerous times for us. In water and out. On land and through the air. It was all great.
Action shots require good anticipation. Once your subject executes their technique for you it becomes easier to anticipate action during successive attempts. I used D500’s 3D Tracking AF exposing through Nikon’s Matrix metering. 3D Tracking does an excellent job locking onto and tracking your subject once you give it a target. Matrix metering exposes well under the trickiest of conditions including backlighting. I took over 500 successful shots. I think 1 or 2 of them might have shown some missed focus. The good part of that is having so many keepers from which to choose. Bad part is you get lots of duplicates. It took me half a day to delete all the clutter.
The afternoon gave us overcast conditions so ISO’s were high, around 2500 most of the time. I usually try to keep my aperture at around f8 or so. As the clouds came & went I, on occasion, let it drift down to f5.6. I wanted to freeze flying water drops so shutter speeds ranged from about 1/600 to over 1/1000. As we changed locations for a few shots, I had to switch to Nikon’s fabulous 24-120. Some spaces between trees were just too tight for the Tamron 150-600 G2. Aperture priority is, by far, the best way to shoot action. You have supreme depth of field control as well as easy access to the fastest or longest shutter speed in any given lighting condition.
Great gear, great rider, and great environment made for a fantastic shooting afternoon. Can’t wait to do it again.