7 Steps to Photographing Pig Races

Have you ever been to a pig race?

Well, it’s that time of year in Western North Carolina.  The NC Mountain State Fair has arrived in town, and it’s time to, well, have a good time for the next week or so!  And, part of the festivities include — you guessed it — pig races.

NC Mountain State FairI’ve had the privilege of attending the fair the past two years, and though I am Yankee transplant whose country-boy credentials are still a little wet behind the ears (but, the more time I spend tending the yard and minding the chickens, the more the neck is getting a bit red!), I’ve had a blast attending the fair with my family (and with clients).  And, guess what one of my favorite parts of the fair might be?

Yep.  You guessed it again.  The pig races!  (and the goat races and the duck races)  In fact, these races are not only a lot of fun to watch, but they’re a joy (and a challenge) to photograph.  So, what’s the trick, or the tricks, to photographing such an unusual activity?  Here are a few tips…

  1. Get to the “arena” early:  Though not exactly the Kentucky Derby, the pig and goat races tend to draw big crowds.  Just like shooting any type of event, the quality of your work often comes down to location.  The earlier you get there to scout things out and establish your territory, the better.
  2. Stay low to the ground:  The pigs are usually pretty small.  Just like you would when photographing children or pets, stay low and try to get your camera at eye-level to the animals.  You might have to lie on the ground to do this.  As you are next to a farm animal race track, you might want to inspect the ground for “debris” before you lounge across it.
  3. Shoot the early races:  You might find this hard to believe, but the pigs can boogie.  In other words, they are fast!  A  fast shutter speed is essential in capturing the action.  The more ambient light you have to work with, the easier it is keep your shutter speed high, and to freeze the motion.   As night approaches and there’s less light available, you’ll need to jack up your ISO to keep your shutter speed elevated, which could result in image quality degradation due to digital noise.
  4. Raise that shutter speed:  As noted above, these little porkers can haul *ss.  The quicker your shutter speed, the less motion blur you will have.  As a bare minimum, your shutter speed should be 1/200 sec — much quicker if possible (1/2000 sec if you can!).  You’ll likely have your aperture wide open to do this in the later hours, and your ISO will likely need to be raised.  But, better a shot with a little noise and frozen motion, than no noise and unacceptable and undesirable motion blur.
  5. Put your auto-focus on “continuous”:  Your auto-focus system will be tested with such rapid movement.  Nikon shooters should have their AF set on “continuous” with the area mode on “dynamic”.  Canon folks should set their AF on “AI Servo” and utilize additional focus-tracking functions if you have them (not usually found in the EOS “T” series).  In either case, keep your focal bracket on the piglet, with your shutter release button half-way down to track the movement.  NOTE:  Higher-end camera and lens models are much better at focus tracking, so if you’re struggling to keep things in focus, you may have hit the limitations of your gear.
  6. Set your drive / release mode on “burst”:  Most DSLR cameras have the ability to fire off continuous shots so long as you have your shutter release pressed.  Higher end cameras can rattle off shots at awe-inspiring rates (my D700 with the special grip / battery weighs in at eight frames-per-second!).  This setting is important whenever you are photographing unpredictable action.  Out of the sequence of images, one of them is bound to be better then the others, either from a “moment” or “composition” perspective, or with regards to “focus”.
  7. Apply all of the above to the goat races.

So, there you have it!  You’re now all set for some fun shooting at the fair!  Good luck, and have fun!

FYI:  Vagabond Vistas is conducting a photo tour at the NC Mountain State Fair on Thursday, September 12 starting at 6PM.  DETAILS & REGISTRATION HERE

NC Mountain State Fair Pig Race

NC Mountain State Fair Pig Race

 

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