Quick Photography Tip
One of the biggest mistakes is including way too much in the picture...
Using the auto mode on a digital camera gives you a point
and shoot camera that allows you to concentrate on the
subject while the camera makes the necessary settings to
give you a well exposed and properly focused image.
But like most automatic features, knowing how they function
will help you keep the camera from getting fooled in those
special situations that often yield the most dramatic
photos: including when your subject is backlit or off-center
or moving rapidly.
The Decisive Moment
Sports and Action photography is all about timing.
It's about reacting. It's about being in the right place at
the right time and it's about execution. The saying goes
"If you see the action you missed it."
This basically means if you wait for the soccer player to
head the ball then press the shutter release, the ball most
likely will be sailing out of the frame. You have to push
the button before the action so that the shutter has time to
open and close.
"Its not the equipment but the photographer who makes the
picture" is generally a true statement.
However with sports and action photography, having the
wrong equipment means not getting the shots you want.
The further away, the longer the lens is needed to capture
the same image in the frame.
Generally, each 100mm in lens focal length gets you about
10 yards (9 meters) in coverage. This coverage means that
on a vertical format photo, a normal human will fill the
frame fairly well.
There are two primary means of focusing a camera:
Follow Focus and Zone Focus.
Follow focus is where you keep your camera on your subject.
This works very well on side to side movement, where the
camera to subject distance is not changing rapidly. You
might use this method for football, auto racing, or other
events where you turn side to side following the action.
The second method is called zone focus. Here you expect the
action to take place at a particular place, at the goal
mouth on a hockey rink, or at the jump point on a long jump
event at a track meet.
You can focus on the area you want to be sharp and when the
subject moves into the zone, you then take the photo.
The face is the primary source of emotion in a shot and that
emotion is what makes or breaks a shot.
Shots of the subject's backside just don't cut it.
You can hold the camera in the traditional way where the long
side of the film is horizontal to the ground or Landscape.
If you turn the camera so that the long side of the film is
perpendicular to the ground, you are now shooting vertical
or portrait format.
Think about the shape of humans. They are taller than they are
wide. To fill the frame with a person playing a sport, they
fit the frame better while holding the camera vertically.
Rule of Thirds -
There is a common photograph rule called "The Rule of Thirds",
which says that if you divide the frame into thirds vertically
and horizontally (like a tick-tac-toe grid) and place the
subject where the lines intersect, the resulting photo is more
Lead your subject into the frame. If you are shooting a football
player running left to right, leave more room on the right
side than the left to imply that he is going somewhere.
Shooting the player leaving the frame is poor composition.
Know your Sport, Know your Players
Each sport is different in the techniques used to capture the
moment. It's very important to know the sport you are shooting.
You have to understand some basic fundamentals of the game or
you will become very frustrated.
Baseball is one of the hardest sports to shoot. The action is
unpredictable. You wait and wait and then when you are half
asleep, something happens. You have to wait and be patient.
Baseball games are long and you will get opportunities.
Unlike baseball, basketball is the easiest sport to shoot.
Action is contained in a 100 foot x 50 foot area. There are
two objects (the nets) where the action always heads.
Football is an easy sport to shoot but may be one of the
most equipment intense sports. Most of the time, you will be
shooting at night. Motion is predictable and a student of
the game can almost predict the plays to allow you to get
Soccer and Hockey -
Auto focus was invented with soccer and hockey in mind.
These two sports involve rapid changes in direction.
Soccer is a game where you need long lenses.
The ice wrecks havoc with your camera's meter. You will need
to overexpose by at least one stop in ice rinks to get white
ice. This takes away from your available shutter speed.
Track and Field -
Track and Field meets are a lot of fun to shoot. You get a
lot of variety of shots, multiple opportunities to shoot most
participants and events and there generally is a lot of
emotion displayed during a track meet. Use follow focus to
catch runners and they move past, or zone focus if you are
working on the finish line or pit.
Gymnastics and Figure Skating -
With the exception of the floor program, most of the
gymnastics events are kept in a small area which makes
focusing easy and the movements are predictable so you will
probably want to zone focus most of the events.
Figure Skating combines the problems of gymnastics with the
problems of hockey. You are limited by your access to off
ice and you have to compensate for the white surface.
Auto focus is a good idea for Figure Skating,
though some success with follow and zone focusing can be
Motorsports and Racing Events -
These sports are generally fairly easy to photograph.
They usually occur during the daytime and you can get away
with longer slower lenses and you can follow or zone focus
Freezing Action Shots
Freezing the action requires fast shutter speeds. For
subjects coming to you or heading away, their apparent
movement isn't as great. Many people make up some of the
action freezing by getting the action coming toward them.
Giving the illusion of movement. Many new action
photographers worry about freezing action, trying to
get the crispest shots possible.
Your eyes don't freeze the action precisely, so why should
your pictures. A blurring bat or an elongated ball leaving
a blurry arm implies movement. As long as most of the body
and the face are crisp a little motion in the hands, feet,
and projectiles is acceptable and in many cases desired.
Shots that lack emotion are ho-hum. They lack energy.
They lack story telling ability. If there is no emotion,
then there is little desire to view it.
One final note. Don't rush your action assignments. Spend
some time, and expect to shoot lots of shots. Only through
practice and looking at the results and going back to it
will you get the timing and skills needed to capture great