Have you ever wondered how photographers get crystal clear photos of fast moving people and animals? Well, thousands of dollars worth of photography equipment helps, but there are a few things that you can do with most consumer DSLR cameras that will help; a lot! I'll give you a rundown a couple of tricks that will sharpen up those pics of erratic, fast moving critters and kids!
1) Increase shutter speed!
For those new to DSLR photography - do some reading on 'exposure'. Essentially, exposure is a function of how much light hits the sensor of your camera (or film) and the sensitivity to light of that sensor/film. It's controlled by shutter speed, aperture and ISO. I won't go into it here...quickly Google it and keep reading.
What you want to do with fast moving objects is to increase the shutter speed. The faster your shutter opens and closes, the more motion will be frozen - the thing you're photographing would have moved less during the photo resulting in a sharper image. For general photography of slow moving people, 1/150 second may be enough. For a fast moving dog, you will probably want that up around 1/1000 second.
2) Move with your subject
Simple as it sounds. Keep the camera moving as you take the photo in line with the movement of your subject. This is how photographers get those cool photos where the subject is clear, but the background appears to be in motion. It can be hard to master...I'm terrible at it!
3) 3D tracking autofocus
If you have a mid range DSLR, you may or may not have used the 3D tracking autofocus tracking setting. For moving subjects it is brilliant! With my Nikons, this setting allows you to 'lock' onto a subject and the camera takes care of the rest! The autofocus adjusts as the subject moves, keeping it in focus. I can only talk from a Nikon perspective, but the more you pay for a camera, the better functions like this seem to work. It's where you really notice (and appreciate) your investment.
4) Get a lens with high speed focus
Kit lenses can give great image quality, but normally don't have super fast focussing ability. You have to pay a fair bit more to get that. If you're serious about photographing fast moving objects, or just don't want to miss special moments, invest in a fast focussing lens. It's a 'light and day' difference.
5) The trade-offs!
As with most things, there are trade-offs you should be aware of when applying these tips! Now that you've had a quick read about exposure (all you need is a basic understanding of the exposure triangle), you will realise that you may need to increase your aperture setting (a decrease in the A number) and/or increase ISO to keep the exposure optimal at those higher shutter speeds.
Increasing that aperture will allow more light to reach the sensor/film, but will decrease the depth of field (width of distance that is in focus)...that make it even harder to time your photos! This is why the 3D tracking is so handy!
If you have increased the ISO instead, you may get a nasty surprise when you look at your images...depending on your camera, even moderately increased ISO can degrade image quality....photos get 'grainy' and you can lose that sharpness you're looking for. Mderate to higher end DSLR cameras can have amazing sensors though, that allow you to dial up the ISO without too much worry. It's another benefit of those expensive cameras....
While we're on the subject of cost. The more you pay the more likely you get: better autofocus, faster autofocus, wider aperture, better image quality, clearer images, nicer colours, better ISO capability....yep, this is why professional level camera gear costs a lot...it's not essential to take a great photo, but it REALLY helps! That said, a professional level camera and lens used in the wrong way will still give crappy results. The more you get into photography, the more you'll appreciate better gear. Fine wine.
Happy shooting folks and remember; keep reading up on photography too. You can alway learn new tricks that will help you improve your art.
Here are some pics I took of fast moving dogs using 3D tracking and fast shutter speeds :) See how composition still matters? That last pic is sharp, but isn't as strong as the others. You can have the sharpest images in the world, but if the composition and 'moment' aren't there; it's not likely to be great.