Since most sports are different from each other, it's important to know the details of the sport. Not only is it key to know the way the game is played, but different sports also require certain camera settings and shooting techniques to capture the best moments.
Determining the best shutter speed
You need to determine whether you want to freeze the action, or show some motion in the image. Typically, when I photograph a sport such as swimming, I want to freeze the action of the swimmer and the surrounding splashes of water. To achieve this, I set my camera to shutter priority and, depending on my lighting conditions, set my shutter speed to a minimum speed of 1/750 second. If there’s a lot of light, I may shoot at a faster speed (approximately. 1/1500 second).
Remember that the higher the shutter speed, the narrower the aperture, meaning you will have less chance to capture the entire subject in focus. In the best conditions, you will have the option to, if you want more of the image in focus, shoot at a fast shutter speed and still have an aperture of f5.6 or better.
Alternately, when photographing auto racing, it’s usually a good idea to slow the shutter to the point where you get some blurring and motion in the tyres and the background. If you freeze the action in an auto race, it may look like the car is parked on the track, taking away from the impact and excitement of the shot.
Never missing a moment with "burst" mode
It’s a good idea to set your camera to capture images in “burst” mode. Newer DSLR cameras can capture anywhere from three to 10 pictures per second, giving a huge advantage for shooting sports. Most sports are fast action and so the odds of you hitting the shutter at the perfect moment are low. This is why most sport photographers shoot in burst mode so as to grab that perfect image in a sequence of many.
Staying in focus
When shooting most sports, your subject will be moving quickly and constantly, varying their distance from you. Learn how to change the focus mode of your camera to “servo focus.” This will allow your camera to continually change focus while you hold down the shutter release button, as opposed to locking the focus at the first point where you hit the shutter. If you don’t change your focus mode, your first picture will be in focus. But if your subject is moving closer or further from your camera, each subsequent image will be out of focus.
Keep that buffer clear
I typically shoot on a 32GB 600x CompactFlash memory card, so I can shoot lots of RAW images without having to stop and change cards. Remember that faster memory cards allow you to fill flush the buffer of the camera quickly, so that you can keep shooting and not miss any action.
Some other helpful tips to keep in mind are:
- Keep an eye on your background to make sure that it complements your subject(s) and does not distract from them.
- Most often, when shooting sports, the closer you are to the action, the better your images will be. Do your best to get as close and as low as you can to the athletes.
- Know where your light is coming from and position yourself to take advantage of the best light (try to avoid harsh shadows on the faces of the athletes).
- Look for unique shots, trying to differentiate from the typical shots that many others are taking.
As with most photography, there is not one exact way to photograph sports. You should experiment with your shutter speeds, your camera angles, your focal lengths and your creative ideas.
Words by Jeff Cable, professional photographer and director of marketing at Lexar.Visit Lexar