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Saratoga Race Course - 1st Try at This

Discussion in 'Sports Photography' started by NewBert, Jul 30, 2008.

  1. Well,I finally got to spend part of my day at Saratoga Race Course today. I'm not a gambler, so my sole purpose was to try my hand at capturing some of the action at the rail. This was my very first try at this, so I'm looking for some c&c.

    These were all taken with my 55-200VR, but I'm not too pleased with the clarity/sharpness. Therefore, I've posted the originals along with the final post-processed images using NX2. I know that I've got a lot more to learn regarding NX2, but I'm questioning whether the problem is my post-processing, or whether another lens like the 70-300VR would do better for this. (Maybe I should be asking this in the Lens Lust forum?.....)

    Anyways, here they are.... Please let me know what you think of them.

    1a. Original 1/1250s, f5.6, 175mm, ISO 400

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    1b. After NX2
    View attachment 230731

    2a. Original - 1/800s. f5.3, 165mm, ISO 400

    View attachment 230732

    2b. After NX2

    View attachment 230733
  2. I'm not sure if the technique I used was correct for this type of photography. I used AF-C and continuous shooting. I pre-focused on the spot that the horses were approaching, then held down the shutter as they passed. I suspect that my pre-focusing was off because it was focused into the distance instead of where the horse was going to be. If that's the case -- what would have been the correct technique to use. Note that I was not trying to pan to blur the background and keep the horse/jockey sharp. That's an experiment for another day.

    So, one thing at a time. Was my technique incorrect? Is my lens's AF too slow. Would another lens be better for this type of photography? I'm thinking of the 70-300VR, but if it doesn't gain me much over my 55-200VR, what's the point?

    Any comments would be appreciated.
  3. RichNY

    RichNY Guest

    Position yourself in a comfortable stance to shoot where you want your image to be taken. Now pivot yourself towards where the rider is approaching and obtain focus and pivot with your subject in the AF until you reach the spot where you want to shoot and then press that shutter.

    What would also help with these images is if you could shoot with a wide aperture to blur the backgrounds. If you have the ability to get closer to the fence and shoot tighter this would help with your current glass.

    Here are a few from my last day at the races: https://www.nikoncafe.com/vforums/showthread.php?t=178978
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  4. Thanks for the tips, Rich. I already was right up against the fence for these. Hence my question about how much better would the 70-300VR be?
  5. Bert,

    The 70-300 would give you some advantages that the 55-200 doesn't however....If I might be so bold, since you asked for some critique....

    Better glass is always ultimately a good thing, but, there is a but...

    I see two things to work on in your shots, one is composition/cropping, the other is reach.

    And before I go any further, understand that I have never shot a horse race, and probably never will, so I'm approaching it strictly from what , IMHO, would make a good print...If you reject any of my suggestions, I will not hold it against you, but should we cross paths, you buy....the first round.

    In # 1, you've got a shot with the horse/rider at the back of the frame, from a distance, that forces you to crop heavily for a 'decent' pic. If the horse/rider were closer to centre frame the cropping might not have to be so tight for a decent print.

    Because you've cropped so tight, the after NX2 does not look so good. Did you shoot RAW?

    Again, in #2, the lack of reach seems to have forced a crop that enhances the 'grain' of the sensor. If you were shooting film, this would happen, and even if FX, it would happen. The other issue is that your lens forced an f/5.6 aperture which kept the background in sharp focus.

    So, to answer some of the questions:

    AF is not too slow. Faster animals than horses have been captured with slower AF or manual systems than your camera. Your shot is in focus, but you've had to crop so much that 'grain' at a large size is blurring this.

    Rich makes some excellent points about shooting with your glass.

    I would suggest that before you buy any more lenses, work on the composition, panning at the course. The 55/70-200mm range is a very versatile range, and if you can master it, then purchasing a higher priced lens can get your a return that much faster, at least IMHO. If you get the consistency down (ie: you can nail the compostion/exposure on a regular basis, but the length/reach of the lens is getting in the way) then you'll have a better idea of what lens to get.

    So I'm suggesting that work on 'getting the shot' before you spend more money on a different lens.

    Hope this helps. Just my thoughts.

  6. Hmmm... All good thoughts, Mark. I found it difficult to get a horse in the center of the frame, so simply focused on a spot, set the focus on AF-C and shot in continuous mode. Zooming in closer on the original image would have made getting a horse in the center of the image even more difficult. So, I guess that's a reason NOT to go for a longer lens at this point. :frown:

    Yes - I did shoot Raw.

    I didn't even try panning. Although it would more likely center the subject of the image, I thought that it would be too difficult to capture the subject sharply as this was my first try.

    I plan to return to the track some time in the coming weeks, so I'll give your suggestions a try.

  7. Hi Bert,

    Before I give advice, I would like assure you that I am only trying to help. I have been a professional equine photographer since 1989 and part time until 2001 when faced with some choices I decided that this filed was where I needed to focus my attention and talent on. I have only photographed one horse race many years ago just for fun. I do work with running horses a lot of the time.

    I will go through the images one at a time for you and tell you what I see here, I know that the Internet doesn’t always provide the greatest image to view and I am taking that into consideration. Won’t repeat most of the other ideas that have been shared here.

    First thing is that the day was hazy or overcast so you won’t get that sharp detail that a good sunlit day will bring or the harshness of shadows. You have already said you had trouble keeping the running horses in the center of the frame as well. This just takes practice and using a longer lens doesn’t make it easy when you are just starting out.

    Your tech info indicates that you should have had enough shutter speed to stop the action and you did a great job with that, your aperture was at 5.6 and that should have been good as well. The problems I am seeing in all the images is a bit of back focusing. I can see in the fence of the first image lines that are pretty sharp.

    In 1a, it seems that the focus has been missed as well. I have not used the Nikon D80 yet so I am not sure what focus setting you may have, I think you said you were using continuous but how do you have or can use your menu to set the focus as well. Something is causing the focus to grab the contrasty parts of your image. I had problems with a D2H and didn’t realize it was grabbing the white fence until I checked out my images on the computer. I was using a wider lens than I normally do for shooting. Also in 1a here a good spot to have your focus point pointed at would be the jocky’s leg boot and the horse. There is enough contrast there to allow you to lock in on the focus.

    In 2a, you need to use a single focus point and have it on the horse someplace, it has locked in on fence but with this distance, you are still fairly close with the depth of field you have from using f5.3.
    In 2b, the focus is more on the fence as well.

    I personally don’t hand hold any shot very often, I use at leas a mono-pod with longer lenses, I want to make sure that I get the best possible shot. Photographing horses as I do, sometimes for long periods of time, the longer lenses I use will wear me out.

    I also shoot sometimes on continuous at max frames per second. I do that when I know what position I want the horses legs in and it often gives me a duplicate shot for several frames. I to time my shots for a specific leg position though. Using a mono-pod helps me to focus my attention on framing the image and following the action as well as watching for my shot. Photographing horses is deceptive at first. You shutter lag and focus can cause you to be behind so practice, you have the beginnings of some good shots.

    Keep working at it and if I may answer any questions in the future or offer any ideas that will help, let me know.

    I am posting two image in response to give you a look at possibilities. I love these majestic animals and could spend every day shooting them. Sorry I missed your post before you went, I just joined the site.

    Good luck in the future,


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