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FORUMS Photo Sharing & Visual Enjoyment Sports 
Thread started 28 Jan 2008 (Monday) 08:52
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Figure Skating--How to focus??

39 posts
Joined Mar 2006
Jan 28, 2008 08:52 |  #1

So I went to Nationals this past weekend. I just got a new Canon 135 f2 L lens for my skating photography. (Wanted something black, smallish and fast)

I had ample light for my shots, and found the focal length to be fine for my seats when the skaters were on my end of the arena. I was row 15 on an end and I also used the Canon 1.4 converter. Oh and I have a 20D.

My main problem (other than my knack of timing and getting mostly skater's backs!) is focusing. About half of my shots from Sat night are out of focus. (that was row 15). Yesterday for the men's final, I was in row 8 and probably 90% are OOF. I tried both Al focus and Al servo. I think yesterday when I was having the huge failure rate, I was probably using Al servo, but I may have only had the center focus point active. Does that make a difference? Maybe I don't understand Al servo completely.

So how do I focus on a small subject like that on a huge white sheet of ice? I know it's got to be me and not my equipment. This is proof that it's not the equipment that makes the god photos, it's knowledge and technique!

So help...what was I doing wrong??


Who's really upset because people using cheap P/S's probably got better shots than me and my new 1K lens!!

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Cream of the Crop
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Joined Jul 2007
Location: NE Ohio
Jan 28, 2008 10:57 |  #2

actually AI Servo and center point is exactly how you should be setup for that. I suspect it's really just about panning technique. I'd suggest you considering moving your focus to the * using CF-4 as a starting point. Also make sure that if you are panning with the skater you don't stop panning just because you pressed the shutter release (this is pretty important to maintaining focus). Without and image sample, that's about all I can tell you for now. Post some shots and maybe we can help more.

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Admin (type T-2000)
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Jan 28, 2008 11:06 |  #3

I use the 20D with the 135mm for ballet, in a dark theatre. Less light than a lot of skating events, but it depends on the events..

AI servo, usually center point, but if shooting portrait when they are in close, off center single focal point and indeed AI Servo.
use CF 4-1 to focus with the * button.
Tracking moving subjects it tough.

Jake Hegnauer Photography (external link)

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Joined Dec 2007
Jan 28, 2008 11:07 |  #4

My daugher started ice skating a year ago or so and this is what I found to work best:

- Set the ISO to be as high as possible, in my 40d, I always shoot at ISO 3200
- Depending on your lens, you may need to stop down 1 stop. I have used 70-200mm 2.8, 135mm f/2, 100-400mm (too slow), and 200mm 2.8. Eventhough all those lenses are very sharp wide open, I always found that stopping it down one stop or even more really helps. This way you get more DOF for the difficult focus situation. Normally I use at least f/3.2 or even f/4 if the lights permits
- Move AF to either the AF button (40D) or the * button (20D). I then normally keep on pressing that button using AI servo to maintain focus at the skater at all times. This way, when you are ready to shoot, all you need to do is press the shutter button.
- Get as fast as a shutter speed as possible to avoid camera shake blur. I normally never shoot below 1/250th, and always aim to shoot faster if the lights permits.

Hope this helps. It took me 2-3 competition to get the pictures that I was satisfied with. Shooting figure skating is VERY difficult.

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Jan 28, 2008 13:06 |  #5

As to timing you don't mention if you are shooting multiple frames per second or just single shot...I'll assume with 20D that you are using multiple (If not then do so!). I have the 40D and shoot hockey and the 6.5 fps certainly allows me a much better chance of capturing the moment so to speak. Agree with others here...set your ISO as high as you can so you can maximize both your shutter speed and your DOF.

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Senior Member
352 posts
Joined Jan 2006
Location: North East Lincolnshire,United Kingdom
Jan 28, 2008 15:45 |  #6

Shooting figure skating can be quite deceptive. Firstly make sure you overexpose by at least one stop as the ice fools your meter. Set the highest shutter speed possible preferably 400th but certainly no lower than 250th. Set lens to f2.8 and ISO accordingly. 1600 or lower would be preferred if the lighting permits. White balance should be ok at auto but you may get intermittent colour casts due to the recycling of some rink lights.

Set camera to AI servo with centre focus spot. Your 135 lens is not ideal as you can only shoot in certain area, a 70-200f2.8 would be better as this would increase your range. I rarely use the * button as I just cannot get on with it. Also I never shoot in burst but prefer to follow the action with a good focus lock and anticipate the skaters moves and shoot single frames. Practice and some knowledge of ice skating certainly helps.

Below are a some of images from the British championships which I covered as the official photographer.

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Figure Skating--How to focus??
FORUMS Photo Sharing & Visual Enjoyment Sports 
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