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Athletic Photography Tips For Those High Up In The Stands

As the Olympics are getting closer, we have a few tips to help you improve your athletic photography skills.

|  Sports and Action
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This is an extract from pages 61-62 of Capture the Moment by Andy Hooper, published by Wiley. Visit Wiley's website for more information about this book and all their other photography titles.

Denise Lewis
Photo © Andy Hooper. See page 61 of the Capture the Moment book for more details about the photo.

There are a lot of key techniques to use for athletics, with freeze-the-action (as above) and pan blur being the two most important. But the panoramic technique is an achievable technique for camera phones and compact cameras at the back of the Olympic Stadium to give you the perfect view of this magnificent venue.

Panoramic Technique

Capture the moment

Higher up in the stands the view becomes wider and lends itself to a panoramic. Panoramic pictures usually capture a scene rather than an event so you are aiming for a clean picture that captures the entire scene.

This technique might sound difficult, but it is fun to shoot and easily obtainable. Because athletics finals often take place in the evening it’s the perfect time to try out a panoramic with the sun setting over the top of the stadium and the action below lit up by the floodlights.

Six Steps To A Panoramic

1. Choose your subject. Ensure an unrestricted view.

2. Set a large depth of field if you can (you can’t do this under floodlight conditions) so that everything in the shot is sharp.

3. Shoot six to nine frames with a 50 per cent overlap of each frame. Ideally you need a tripod but if it’s not possible think about a mini-tripod. If hand-holding your camera, take your time to ensure the horizon is kept level through all the images. Stand in one spot and as you turn to take each picture, keep the camera close to your body. Don’t move from the spot you are standing on between shots. Stay still and steady; use a slow panning technique.

4. A wide-angle lens is ideal, so compact cameras and even some camera phones are perfect.

5. Ideally set the camera’s metering to manual. This should keep the exposures in all the images similar and help the stitching together. If your camera only has automatic it might be possible to lock the exposure; if not, shoot the scene two or three times.

6. Stitching refers to the technique of using the computer to merge all the images together to make one panoramic. There are a number of software packages on the market that can do this for you (some are included in the camera) and the finished image should look like one picture taken on a panoramic camera.

Remember the saying ‘if you can’t get close, get creative’. Look back at the discussion of creativity (p.71) for some ideas with lines of symmetry and pattern. When photographing jumping events, for example, the best angle is head-on; you should also get as low as possible to accentuate the height of the jump. Fill the frame at the height of the jump, not the start or the finish. A 200mm or 300mm lens is perfect, or a 70–200mm where you start off at 200 and zoom out for the landing. If you want an action picture of the jumper running, take it as he or she is running down the track before taking off.

For combined events, such as decathlon and heptathlon, use the individual sports’ techniques. Look out for the unexpected, however. These athletes are not natural hurdlers or high jumpers, and there will be thrills and spills.

With a compact camera, use the automatic mode, shutter-speed or action priority in the morning for heats. For evening finals, manual exposures work best if you can up the ISO as high as possible to freeze the action at 1/500th of a second. When using your compact camera at night in the stadium turn the camera’s flash off as the flash is not powerful enough to illuminate anything more than three or four metres away.

If using your camera phones at night only take pictures of people under floodlights as it’s too dark without flash at night (most camera phones don’t have flash).

The above is an extract from pages 61-62 of Capture the Moment by Andy Hooper, published by Wiley. Visit Wiley's website for more information about this book and all their other photography titles.

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