Hints for Running Dog Shots

Started Jan 14, 2009 | Discussions
bobkeenan Contributing Member • Posts: 714
Hints for Running Dog Shots

I am new to my Rebel XS. Sunday was a bright day and we went to the park. I had a 18-55mm IS lens. I probably had it around 35mm. I was shooting in P at an ISO of 100. I tried the AF servo both off then on. I had just the single center point focus. I had the continuous shooting selected. I focused on my dog from a distance, started taking shots while I commanded him to come.

He did a great job of achieving all sorts of dynamic dog in motion poses as he approached me. I managed to get all of the photos either out of focus or not a fast enough shutter speed. And I mean about 8 attempts at about 10 shots each.

What would have been some good settings so I can try this again?


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sbphotography Regular Member • Posts: 204
Re: Hints for Running Dog Shots

if you have your dog running toward the camera, try shooting in shutter priority (TV) mode and use a shutter speed of between 1/500 to 1/750

(P) program mode is basically auto mode with some manual features. it will set the aperture & shutter speed according to what the meter reading is.

But, since shutter speed takes priority in this case over aperture, it's best to shoot in (TV) shutter priority mode, set the speed you need for your situation and the meter will tell the camera what aperture to set. in the case that the light situation is very overcast, there may not be enough light to shoot at fast enough speeds to freeze motion without the use of a flash.

If you shoot with a SLR, if you set a shutter speed that is too fast for the light situation the aperture number will blink, the camera might not let you shoot, or otherwise will let you know that it cannot open the aperture wide enough for that speed & get a good exposure....in that case, raise your ISO...or wait for a brighter (but not directly sunny) day.
Shannon Beauford

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AdriaanMeijer Veteran Member • Posts: 3,047
It's FAST!

When something like a dog is running towards you it is moving very fast.

One problem is the DOF is quite shallow and the dog (or whatever) coming to you will easily move out of that shallow region.

A broader DOF might help (so with a short shutter time as another wish you'd be urged to choose a higher ISO).

Also, try to make the nose of the dog the thing to focus on. I can't calculate how much the dog will come closer in the short time between pressing the button (archieving focus) and the actual release of the shutter, but an inch would not surprise me... In that case the eyes still would be in focus.

Better still: post a couple of shots of the dog (of this session), because there are several possible reasons for not-too-sharp-lookin shots (like: motion blur, camera shake, low contrast, shallow DOF, focussing, lens flaws, noise) and that way we might find out which one is the one to take care for in YOUR situation.

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All in my humble opionion of course!

(I might get a preposition wrong -or any other word for that matter-. English is a nice language, but it's not mine)

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John_A_G Veteran Member • Posts: 7,686
some advice

OK, here is some advice.

With the kit lens at 55mm and f5.6, dof is not going to be an issue - it really isn't. What is likely to be an issue is proper technique.

Set Camera in AV (aperture priority mode).
Set Aperture to f5.6
Set ISO to 400
Set focus mode to AI Servo
Leave all focus points on

Take a couple test shots and see what shutter speeds you're getting. If the shutter speed is below 1/640 then raise the ISO to 800. If it's greater than or equal 1/640 don't change anything. This approach will give you the best stop action while maintaining quality. There are three problems with using TV mode as was suggested by another poster:

1. No reason in stop action photography to LIMIT your shutter speed. There really isn't. If you can achieve 1/2000 that's great. The idea with stop action photography is to make sure your shutter speed doesn't fall below a certain threshold. But you want the highest shutter speed you can get.

2. With TV you can select a value that is too high. And yes the camera will let you take the shot anyway and it will be underexposed.

3. Depth of field. The idea with action photography is to draw attention to your subject and diminish other aspects of the background. A panning technique can help that but it's not applicable in the dog running toward you scenario. So, the best way to accomplish it is to have shallow DOF (wide apertures, long focal lengths). In TV mode you lose control over aperture so rather than getting extra shutter speed which is beneficial you can get narrower apertures which leads to more DOF which is NOT beneficial.

So, now that the camera is set up you have to do some things to maximize your chance of success.

1. If the dog is running TOWARD you and not sidewise, use the camera in portrait orientation - unless it's the fatest dog in the world there is more vertical component to the dog than horizontal.

2. Don't bother taking photos until the dog fills 1/2 the frame. You want to give your camera more detail to work with - especially when the subject is moving toward you and changing focal planes. Unfortunately with only a 55mm lens that means the dog is going to be really close. This type of shot is a lot easier with a 70-200 or 70-300 lens that you can start at max focal length and zoom out as the dog gets closer.

3. Keep the center focus point on an area of contrast - preferably the face. If it's sunny as you said the focus system will have the most difficulty with a white face. So bright sun and white hair will cause problems you wouldn't see in overcast situation. But in any event do your best to keep the center point over the dog's face. And with the dog filling 1/2 the frame that's not too difficult to do.

BAK Forum Pro • Posts: 23,907
Lots of advice, some good

Re> Set Camera in AV (aperture priority mode).

Seems like a bad idea to me, and I photograph a lot of dogs.

Anyway, photographing running dogs is a challenge, and you need a resonably small aperture to gain decent depth of field in order for the autofocus to keep up with the running dog.

And you need a fast shutter speed to semi-freeze the moving dog as a whole, and the various parts of the running dog.

So, as you start to learn to do this stuff, set your camera at ISO 800. Any decent picture you capture will enlarge to 8x10 with no problme at ISO 800.

You were on the right track with continuous autofocus.

Take a look at the surroundings, and decide if you are going to try to zoom the lens when taking your shots.

Plus, what color is the dog?

If you are going to zoom so that the dog continues to take lots of space in the frame, look and see if the background / foregorund brightness is going to change a lot as you zoom. For instance, zooming wider and the dog gets closer might mean lots of bright sky in your frame. Or zooming wide may cause tje background to include a lot of dark trees.

And if the dog is black or white, it will start to "fool" the light meter as it fills more and more of the frame.

So, there's a lot to be said for setting exposure on M for manual, as long as the light falling on the dog (not the background) remains consistent as it runs.

If not shooting in manual exposure, P for program is your best bet. Remember that you can move the setting wheel while in program, changing the shutter speed to whatever you like without changing the overall exposure.

Look in the lower right corner of your viewfinder. When you half-press the shutter release, you should see a number telling you how many shots you can take in a row with the shutter on continuous. Learn to time your initial pressing so that you do not run out of frames before the dogs gets nice and close.

For a dog running toward you, the face may be sharp but the legs blurry, depending on the shutter speed. A faster shutter speed freezes the ears as they fly up and down (depending on the dog, of course). And, up reasonably close, dogs move very, very fast, so getting them without motion-blur is trickyy.

Remember, lack of sharpness is caused by mis-focus, by camera movement, and by subject movement.

Often you can get nice photos by swinging the camera so the dog stays in the frame and shooting while the camera is moving. Backgrounds will blur but at least some parts of the dogs will be sharp.


OP bobkeenan Contributing Member • Posts: 714
Re: Lots of advice, some good

Wow.... I love this forum.

Lots of great advice.

This weekend is supposed to be clear and in the 60s' (Sorry for you guys in the recent cold blast).

So will try all of the advice.

I will post my bad pictures and hopefully the good ones next weekend.

BTW. Even though my current photos are blurry/out of focus I was amazed at how my dog moves his body when he runs. I am dieing to capture it clearly.

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BuffaloWolff Regular Member • Posts: 188
Re: Lots of advice, some good

Agreed, the hardest part is getting the AF to keep up with the dog!

The kit lens is going to make it tough with AF speed, get a small aperture, and do what you can to keep the shutter speed as high as you can get it while maintaining proper exposure. With all the thin hairs moving around, even a well focused shot will look poor with too slow a shutter speed.

AV or TV is your choice, but given the scenario and lens, I'd say AV, and up the ISO until your shutter speeds are greater then 500, but as fast as possible. On a sunny day, with the sun at your back, ISO 200-400 should be no problem to get 500-1000 shutter speed. If the sun is in your face or to the side, or its cloudy or in shade, it starts to get a little more interesting.

-Jon (2 Australian Shepherds and a back yard with terrible light )
Finding my way

John_A_G Veteran Member • Posts: 7,686
care to elaborate?

BAK wrote:

Re> Set Camera in AV (aperture priority mode).

Seems like a bad idea to me, and I photograph a lot of dogs.

Care to elaborate on why P mode is better? You'll get no argument that manual exposure is ideal IF lighting is constant. But after 100,000s of thousands of action shots I can't think of a single reason why I would want to use P mode over Av mode. But I'm curious to discuss why you think it's good.

Now, most of my work is with humans. But in conversations/posts with a lot of other experienced sports and wildlife shooters, Manual then AV is the predominant progression for stop-action photography. I've never heard of P mode being suggested over AV

I already explained why I believe Av mode is a good selection (I admit I left off manual on purpose).

feraldruid Regular Member • Posts: 438
Re: Hints for Running Dog Shots

Great topic! I have two dogs, too, and want to photo them (and my kids). I love the advice already given, and am eager to experiment this weekend.

I would add one more thing to something already said. You had center point only, and the suggestion was to allow all points. I agree. When I'm taking static photos, using center only (or, I suppose any one single point) is strongly recommended.

However, when using AI Servo, I've read a few times that we should have all points active. The technique I've read is to pre-focus such that the center point was selected and then follow the dog as it runs, probably holding down the shutter button. Apparently AI Servo detects if the dog moves to another focus point.

Someone with more knowledge and experience with this, please feel free to add to this and/or correct my understanding.

Again, great thread!

Jim Engel Forum Member • Posts: 66
Some Samples

In general a longer lens helps. These examples use a 300 MM Canon lens
on a Canon 350 D.

In general by experiment, trial & error I am evolving to the idea

1 Manual or shutter priority

2 400 ISO as a start

Servo focus with all points active, start on center spot.

Dark dogs are a real challenge, as are long hair dogs.

I find you have to be very careful with the sharpening
not to over do it.

Comments are of course welcome.

Here is a sample:

Sometimes a little angel is interesting

Another sample.

Calz Forum Member • Posts: 57
Re: Hints for Running Dog Shots

Sometimes it's just luck...

I had my 450D for about a week, I had the basic kit lens 18-55 IS and was waiting for the 55-250 IS in the post, was out with a friends dog and after a few attempts caught this, on the bigger lens I might of got a less cropped shot but maybe wobbly or out of focus who knows.

It was shot using the basic 'sports' mode.

BuffaloWolff Regular Member • Posts: 188
Re: Some Samples

Exposure Time = 1/1000
F Number = F8
Exposure Program = Aperture priority
ISO Speed Ratings = 400
55-250 IS

I have since upgraded to the 100-400L, its much easier now as it focuses faster.

More shots in my gallery (many are with the old P&S though so don't judge )

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John_A_G Veteran Member • Posts: 7,686
center vs. all points

Using all points is the easiest on the photographer because it allows for a little operator error (vs. keeping center point on an area of good contrast). Where this is problematic is when the scene offers possible confusion for the camera. For instance, a sport like football or soccer it's not advisable because there are other players in the way. For some bird in flight shots it's not advisable if dof is shallow and you don't want the camera picking up a wing tip vs head (assuming bird is perpendicular to your position and head and wingtips aren't both in the focal plane). But if a dog is running in isolation and is large enough in the frame and dof isn't shallow (the conditions the OP specified) then all points gives you more latitude. The more complicated the environment and the shallower the dof the more need there is to use a single point so that you get not only your subject but in cases where you can't get the full subject in focus you ensure you get the CORRECT portion in focus. That's why cameras have options so you can apply the correct option for the specific situation.

bw100 Contributing Member • Posts: 970
Re: Hints for Running Dog Shots

Calz wrote:

Sometimes it's just luck...

I had my 450D for about a week, I had the basic kit lens 18-55 IS and
was waiting for the 55-250 IS in the post, was out with a friends dog
and after a few attempts caught this, on the bigger lens I might of
got a less cropped shot but maybe wobbly or out of focus who knows.

It was shot using the basic 'sports' mode.

nice shot, cute dog!

chris-grant Senior Member • Posts: 1,160
Av Mode

iso 400

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chris-grant Senior Member • Posts: 1,160
Av Mode again...

iso 400

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Henny Goedhart Forum Member • Posts: 68
Re: center vs. all points

Why not using sport modus?

feraldruid Regular Member • Posts: 438
Re: center vs. all points

Thanks! Good info.

feraldruid Regular Member • Posts: 438
Re: Hints for Running Dog Shots

haha, I love that shot! Aren't dogs great!

John_A_G Veteran Member • Posts: 7,686
biggest issue with sports mode is

that you lose control over ISO - it locks in to ISO 400 which may or may not be good. You also lose control over your aperture. For example, if the OP were using a 400mm 2.8 you wouldn't want to shoot at 2.8 - the DOF is too shallow. Shooting in AV mode, with AI servo turned on gives you every benefit sports mode does PLUS it allows you to change ISO and aperture to fit your needs.

Also - I can't remember if sports mode allows you to use exposure compensation - my current camera doesn't have a sports mode so I can't check.

In lots of situations sports mode works just fine. And it might work for the OP as well if there's enough light.

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