Now in bed with iPad on my lap and sleeping children snoring gently I felt inspired to share a few tips on how to capture sporting and other action – these tips apply equally to getting shots of fast moving children and pets as well!
1. Use the “Running Man” scene dial mode – if you are not yet brave enough to move into the more manual settings, and want to stay with the scene modes, the running man icon sets the camera up for action shots. Doesn't matter what kind of action – it could be the children running about, the dog shaking out water droplets after a dip in the lake, or Jess Ennis clearing the high-jump – the thing is that you are trying to freeze the action.
2. Use S mode and set your shutter speed. Similar to using the running man scene dial, the S mode gives you precise control over how long the shutter stays open. As you adjust the shutter speed up and down you will see the camera adjusting the f-number (which controls depth of field) accordingly, as the two settings have a direct relationship. Basically, faster shutter speeds will result in a smaller depth of field, and vice versa. So what shutter speed do you set? Well that depends on the action. People walking or jogging you can freeze with 1/125th sec. The Jess Ennis shot above is probably shot at 1/250th or even 1/500th sec. To freeze the Red Arrows as they cross each other head to head will need 1/1000th or even faster. Practice the type of shots you want and experiment with varying shutter speeds so you become aware of the effect you get at each speed.
3. Use a longer zoom lens. Unless you have a press pass to ringside, you'll probably be in the stands with the rest of us, so a long zoom is an essential to pull in subjects which are a way away and get them filling the frame. You want a 300mm lens or more really, but they do get expensive the longer they get, and the really cheapo 500mm lenses you see on eBay really are not worth splashing out on!
4. Pre-focus to where the action will be. By definition, you are shooting moving targets in action and sports photography. If you rely of the auto-focus of the camera and lens there can sometimes be a slight lag as the camera locks the focus, by which time you've probably missed the shot. So, again using the shot above as an example, you would switch into manual focus mode, and carefully move the focus ring on your lens while looking through the viewfinder, to make the middle of the crossbar pin-sharp. Then, as Jess begins her run up, you start shooting in multishot mode, so your camera is firing of several shots while you hold the shutter down. As Jess comes into your zone of focus she will then be sharp in the shot and the front page of the paper is now yours tomorrow!
5. Scout the best position. Good photographers check out different shooting angles because they know the type of shot they want. Go early, or make a pre- trip to your venue, and work out where you need to be, and how far away you will be, and then you can bring the right lens to get the shots you want.
6. Use a monopod. A tripod is great for getting rock steady shots, but you are working at faster shutter speeds anyway in sports photography, so a monopod is normally enough of an aid to avoid camera shake. Remember the rule of thumb that goes with long zoom lenses – if you are out at 300mm then to get a sharp shot you need a shutter speed of 1/300th of a second. Up at 500mm zoom you need 1/500th sec – that's why professional sports photographers all have the huge zooms which are very fast lenses letting in lots of light to get these shutter speeds – problem is that they cost a fortune!
7. Set Multi- shot on. As mentioned above in point 4, unless I'm shooting landscape, I always set the camera to multishot mode, and take a series of quick shots with the shutter held down. Very often in these sequences of shots you will find that the later shots in the sequence are sharper, because your finger movement from pressing down on the shutter has stopped and the camera is stiller than it was for the first shot or two.
8. Look at other good sports and action photography. As with all photography, a great source of ideas and inspiration is other photographers. The Olympics is a wonderful arena for this kind of photography, and every news outlet has dozens of creative shots which you should file away and use to guide and inform you when you are next at a sports event. Often the key thing is to find an unusual angle – that can turn a standard shot into a really dynamic one.
9. Use a fast memory card. Not all memory cards are equal! If action sequences are going to be a feature of your photography, then invest in a fast ca, which will allow the camera to write the photos down to it much quicker than a slow card. They cost a bit more but you don't find yourself waiting for the little light on the back to go out before you can shoot again. It can be very frustrating to miss the shot you wanted because your camera is locked up writing an earlier sequence of shots to a slow card. Get a x166 or higher for sports and action photography, and the bigger the better – cards fill up fast when you shoot sequences.
10. Look for emotion. Nothing brings photographs to life mo than emotion on the faces of subjects. Look to capture the effort, the elation, frustration, disappointment, whatever the emotion is sport tends to magnify it in the moment of triumph or disaster. If you are waiting and ready, these can be wonderful shots to capture.
Do you have any more tips for sports or action shots? If so, please share them as a comment.
Joe Houghton Photography runs small group photo walks, individual 1 to 1 tuition, and photography assignments. You can see some of Joe’s photography on Fine Art America, ArtistRising or on his Flickr site.
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