How fast does a pit bull run?





Talk about stressing your autofocus system! 

To get this shot, I encouraged my dog, Blue the Pit Bull Mix, to wander about 100 to 150 feet away. I then encouraged her to run straight at me (probably 20 mph or faster), sat down and tried to fire off some shots. 



I tried this several times and this was the only picture that came back in which all four of her paws were off the ground, thereby making this photo the best of the series despite the fact that I inadvertently cropped the top of her head and missed focus. If you look at a larger version of the photo, you can see that the camera is actually focused on her shoulder, not her face (as intended). 

It was cloudy and I was using a slow telephoto lens, the Nikon 70-300mm. But that wasn't the problem -- even shooting at 1/800th shutter speed I was able to freeze the action. 

The issue was that the Nikon Df's focus system had a hard time handling a dog run straight at me at high speed. I tried both single point focus and the continuous servo with 3D tracking. I got a few shots in focus, but those shots only showed Blue with one or two paws off the ground. For dramatic impact, the above photos can't be beat, even with their flaws. 

Thinking this through, I realized there aren't a lot of situations even in sports shooting in which a photographer needs to focus on an athlete running straight at them at such close quarters. Photographers, for example, are usually much farther away from sprinters at track meets or race cars. One thing I could have done better is use a smaller aperture -- but that was tough given the low afternoon light. 

As far as the color versus black/white question goes, I think the B/W is more interesting and feels more timeless. In fact, the missed focus may even add something to the photo, conveying how quickly Blue was coming at me. 

To Blue's credit, she slowed up just enough to avoid a major collision -- knowing that only bad dogs breaking their owner's pricey FX bodies :) 

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--S.H.

The above photos are ©Steve Hymon and may not be used elsewhere without my advanced written permission. All rights reserved.