Best settings/lens for dog action shots

Hi guys! I’ve had my D5100 forever but just starting to really learn about it. I focus mostly on dog/pet portraits but recently have been trying (and failing) to get some action shots. I’ve tried the 18-55mm lens, the 55-2 lens, and even my 50mm lens and I can’t get anything to come into focus for the action shots. I’ve been playing with the settings but I haven’t been able to get it right. Hoping for some tips!


  • If you're using the green auto mode you're likely going to have trouble, as action shots require a different priority of shutter speed and focus. If the dog is moving at more than a leisurely pace, I'd try shutter priority mode, setting the shutter speed at 1/250 or faster if possible. Set AF to C (continuous servo) mode to follow action, and for starters I'd try dynamic area focus. Not sure what options the D5100 has for the number of focus points, but if there's one at 9 or 11, try that. If the dog is not moving too fast and you can follow it easily with the camera, use as few focus points as you can - even single point. If you have trouble keeping it in the focus area, increase the focus points. Make sure the focus area is centered, as it is easily moved by accident.

    You'll probably have to keep the ISO on automatic for this. Look at shots you're getting and see if you can decide how high you can go in ISO without excessive noise, and the maximum in your menu at that, so that the camera does not end up in its highest range. If you'e using auto ISO, always start at the lowest, and let the camera raise it as needed.

    Try shooting in short bursts of 3 or 4 shots in a row, as AF might lag a little and not be quite all the way there on the first shot.

    If you're uncomfortable with the P,S,A and M modes, which give you the most power and options, you can also try the Sports mode, which is optimized for following action, and usually comes pretty close to what you'd want.

    Part of this is a matter of practice at aiming and panning. The better you become at following the movement of a subject the easier it gets, and it is also possible when panning a subject moving right across your field to use a slower shutter speed. Done right, this will get your main subject in focus, but may blur moving legs and ears and the like, and will impart motion blur to the background.

    When at all possible aim for your subject's eyes. If the eyes are sharp much else can be forgiven, but if the eyes are blurry, it's almost always a throwaway.
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