SPORTS & ACTION

Ready for action: the best settings for filming sports

Pro skateboarding videographer and production company founder Dan Higginson shares his filming secrets.
A skateboarder performs a jump by a rail in an indoor skate park, while a man kneels down in front of him holding out a video camera to capture the action.

Sports videographer Dan Higginson and his production company Clockwise Media have filmed a wide variety of sports including football, rugby and motorsports, and Dan's own speciality is skateboarding – so much so that he even films from a skateboard himself, sometimes. © Tom Sparey

When it comes to capturing video of sports action, there are rarely any second chances. This is why professional skate videographer Dan Higginson has to get his footage spot-on, first time, every time. "We could be filming a skater all day, and they might execute a complex trick just once – that's how crucial it is to get everything right," he explains.

Dan is co-founder of Clockwise Media, a production company that creates branded content, events and documentaries and specialises in filming sports. "My approach to sports filming isn't defined by hard-and-fast rules," he says. "It's in the nature of sport that you have to be versatile and flexible, and this may mean changing video settings on the fly. However, there are plenty of features and functions on Canon's cameras that you can leverage to increase your odds of capturing great footage."

Here, Dan offers his advice on the best settings for shooting sports, based on his own experience of using Canon kit.

Master the Craft: Shooting extreme sports with Clockwise Media

1. Shoot in high resolution

The ability to shoot in high-resolution modes such as 4K on Canon Cinema EOS pro video cameras and hybrid cameras such as the EOS R5 C, EOS R5 and EOS R6 gives Dan the ability to be more creative when filming faster sequences. "Not only does 4K look great, thanks to the detail and sharpness the extra resolution creates, it also enables me to crop in should I feel the scene needs it," he says.

"When you are following a skater travelling quickly along the skate park, you can't always get the framing exactly where you need it, and 4K gives me enough image information to just crop in where I feel it's needed without any noticeable drop in image quality."

2. Shoot at higher frame rates

The critical difference between filming sports and shooting more static scenes is the element of speed. Dan uses higher frame rates in order to be confident of capturing the action as it unfolds and not just a blurred impression of what's happening.

"I shoot pretty much everything at 50 frames per second," he says, "because this setting gives me the safety net of using the footage as slow-motion in a 25fps timeline. Sometimes slowing down the action can actually intensify the sense of speed to the viewer. This is also particularly useful if a skater is doing a very technical trick as you can see the movement for longer on the screen and perceive more of its detail."

If he's deliberately shooting slow motion, though, he goes even higher – but not too high. "As I shoot in the UK, I'm set up to the PAL video standard 25fps, so shoot slow motion at 100fps rather than US video standard NTSC at 120fps. This avoids any issues with getting weird strobe effects on my footage, which can happen when shooting under artificial lights at 120fps due to the frequency mismatch."

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A group of people in white t-shirts stand outside in a sunny concrete park, gathered around a video camera and looking at the fold-out screen.

Canon video and hybrid cameras enable videographers to configure their setup to suit their own needs, with the option to add accessories such as monitors and microphones or use a stripped down camera for simplicity and nimble shooting. © Tom Sparey

3. Adapt to the lighting conditions

Dan is used to shooting in skate parks both indoors and outside, so he has to know how to adjust his video settings to adapt to the conditions. "I try to work with as lightweight a kitbag as possible, so huge lighting rigs are out of the question," he says. "Sometimes this will mean I have to ramp up the ISO, but other times, if it's really bright, I may need to introduce an ND filter to balance the exposure.

"On a camera like the Canon EOS C70, this is really easy as there are three built-in ND filters, at ND2, ND4 and ND6, that you can cycle through at the touch of a button. [ND8 and ND10 are available when enabling the Extended ND Range in the camera menu.]

"Depending on the light I may adjust the shutter speed of the camera. I always aim to follow the golden sports video rule and shoot with a shutter speed at least twice the inverse of my frame-rate, so I use anything from 1/100 sec and upwards."

A black and white photo of a skateboarder performing a jump while being filmed by two men standing below and to the side of him.

You might find yourself filming sports action in a variety of settings – indoors or outdoors, under bright lighting or available light. Dan recommends filming in high resolutions at high frame rates for maximum flexibility in all conditions. © Tom Sparey

4. Focus fast

"Focus is key," Dan says. "Again, something might happen just once, and you don't want that critical moment to be soft and out of focus. Therefore, I tend to work in AI Servo mode, because the Dual Pixel AF in Canon cameras is really impressive when following a subject moving around the frame.

"One of the key features I use all the time is the Focus Peaking display option, because it lets me quickly see on the LCD what is in focus and what isn't. Remember, I could actually be following the skater on a board myself, holding a camera such as the EOS C500 [now succeeded by the EOS C500 Mark II] using a top handle. This gives me just split-seconds to get the focus right, and manual focus just isn't a realistic option when following subjects on the board. I'm pleased with the autofocus options Canon's cameras offer me."

Dan also takes advantage of the Face Detection autofocus feature. "The general rule in skateboarding is to film from the front, not the back, as the tricks are more visible, so Face Detection comes in very handy," he says. "It's amazing how fast the camera picks up on a skateboarder, even if they are wearing a beanie or cap."

A skateboarder performs a jumper in an outdoor park, watched by four people in white t-shirts, one of whom is kneeling down and filming him on a video camera.

Opting for a wide-angle lens enhances the feel of speed in the frame, especially when the camera is low to the ground. © Tom Sparey

5. Follow your own vision

Of course, having the basics technically spot-on is only half the battle. Dan advocates stamping your own creative vision on your videos, and this is where elements such as lens selection and focal length choice come into play.

"There are two different styles of film in skateboarding," he explains. "There's fisheye filming or wide lens filming, which basically is normally getting as close as you can and following a subject on a skateboard. Alternatively, there's the long shot, where I may opt for the longer end of my Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens or my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM telezoom, which sit in the camera bag next to my EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM lens.

"The wider shots are typically faster and have more of a sense of speed, especially if you are moving with the camera. The longer shots are better for establishing a sense of environment – where the action is taking place – and a sense of scale, so you can see how big the spot is, for example." Dan says he plans out sequences and then selects the lens to best match what's needed to achieve the shot and to provide a more stylised edge.

He also highlights the benefit of shooting in Canon Log as an important factor to provide more headroom when editing footage in post-processing. Cinematographers sometimes worry that using Canon Log means post production takes more time, but Dan disagrees. "Being able to put my own grade on footage not only speeds up my editing workflow, but enables me get the look I want time after time," he says.

A group of basketball players gather together on a court, standing around their coach. To the side, three filmmakers stand with cameras and a microphone, filming them.

Bringing the Tam Tam basketball team to the screen

For their powerful documentary about the Tam Tam basketball team, producer Francesca Tosarelli and director Mohamed Kenawi turned to the EOS C300 Mark II.
A large number of people on skateboards are skating towards the camera, looks of excitement and determination on their faces. A few of them are holding video cameras at calf level to film the action.

Canon's range of video cameras and hybrid cameras deliver broadcast quality footage without the Hollywood budget. © Tom Sparey

6. Trust your kit

Working day in, day out with his Canon cameras on big productions for sports-focused brands has given Dan complete confidence in his gear.

"Even the way the camera feels in your hands is important," he says. "The ergonomics have to be right and buttons and dials need to be quickly accessible – because if not, that will slow you down." He appreciates the modular design of Canon cameras and often adds accessories such as a top handle to make the camera easier to carry or an external microphone to enhance any audio he wants to record.

When choosing the camera for the job, Dan also recommends thinking about workflow options in addition to shooting settings. For example, using a camera with dual card slots will make it possible to record that unrepeatable moment to two cards, creating an instant backup.

Capturing sports video can be demanding, and Dan puts as much time and thought into his preparation and his equipment as the athletes do. Special moments don't happen often in sports, and you rarely get any warning when they're about to occur, so it's critical you have the essentials such as the optimal frame rate, the appropriate autofocus mode and other settings dialled in and ready to go. Just as it is for the athletes, the rest is down to your own skills and reflexes.

Find out more about video standards and settings.

Autor: Matty Graham


Dan Higginson's kitbag

The key kit pros use

Cameras

Canon EOS C500 Mark II

The successor to the EOS C500 Dan uses features a 5.9K full-frame sensor packed into a compact and reliable Cinema EOS body. "The EOS C500 is my go-to camera," says Dan. "4K 50fps is ideal for action sports. The camera gives lovely skin tones, has great ergonomics and packs down small."

Canon EOS C300 Mark III

The latest version of the EOS C300 Dan favours is a versatile Super 35mm Cinema EOS System camera supporting internal 4K/120p RAW and a high dynamic range. Dan says: "The EOS C300 is a workhorse: small, compact and versatile. The picture quality still holds up despite its age."

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The successor to the EOS 5D Dan works with is a beautifully engineered and thoroughly accomplished all-rounder, designed to perform in any situation. "The full-frame EOS 5D has a crisp picture and is handy for stills," he says. "Also, it fits in any bag, so is great for double angles."

Lenses

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

A modern classic, this fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens is a favourite with photographers in virtually every genre. It's now even better in bright light, and engineered to perform in the most challenging conditions.

Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

A versatile fisheye zoom lens offering a choice of full frame or circular image. The EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM is part of Canon's high performance L-series lens range and delivers fantastic image quality, even with such a wide-angle view.

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