Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shooting Sports

“Buying a Nikon doesn't make you a photographer. It makes you a Nikon owner”. ~Author Unknown

Since high school I have been shooting sports for the yearbook, from football games and soccer to covering the Football Hall of Fame games, the Cleveland Indians and the Browns for news. The key to a great sports photograph: Capturing that moment; freezing that action, so you capture that spilt second in which the game changes.


Understanding the sport is very important.




Shooting sports was probably my favorite assignment. Each season, each sport would bring a new challenge. I don’t think there is a sport I have not shot. I have covered everything from volleyball, Swimming, Baseball, Softball, Basketball, Soccer, Football, Golf, Track, Cross-Country, Field-Hockey, Hockey, Boxing, Wrestling, Tennis, to Rodeos. I’ve had the pleasure of photographing some of the most well-known names in the sporting world; LeBron James, Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome, Tiger Woods, Hall-of-Famers, Jim Kelly, Marcus Allen and John Elway.


When shooting sports, not only is it an understanding of the sport and how the action occurs. Equipment is crucial. Having the right equipment is essential; also understanding how to use your camera for the action/sport will help get the images needed to capture the event.


Depth of field plays an important part of separating your action from the background. Shooting wide open will help keep the crowd, other players out of focus so that your eye naturally goes to the player in your frame. Typically f2.8 to f4 was great from the distance I was shooting at the sidelines.
I had three lenses with me when shooting sports when I worked for the paper; The 300mm f2.8, the AF-S 80-200 f2.8 and the 28-70mm lens f2.8. These were the types of lenses I used regardless of camera from the F4 to the D1. I would carry two bodies, the 300mm would be mounted to a monopod and the second body would be around my shoulder with the 80-200mm lens attached. If I only felt like carrying one body; the 80-200mm would be in a front Domke waist pack, ready to grab and change lenses.


Stopping the action


When shooting sports, the shutter speed was my main priority. When I used Shutter Priority “S”, the aperture would open automatically as much as it needed. I then controlled how fast I was stopping the action.




Typically with outdoor, day games, I would have a shutter speed of 1/500th or higher, depending on the ISO-ASA I used and the sport I was shooting. I would use ISO/ASA 400 on both the F5 and D1 during day games.


In the evening when covering sports, I would have to use at least 800 ISO-ASA. Shutter speed was @ 1/250th of a second, if lighting was really low it was @ 1/125th of a second. Motion blur did occur in some of the images, but I also would have a flash available when they were close to the camera. Because of the low-lighting, an f2.8 lens was necessary.


Focusing for Sports


After you understand the set-up on shutter speed, aperture and ISO, next is to recognize how the camera will focus, based on the settings.


AF-S, or single servo is designed to be used when shooting relatively still subjects, In the Nikon cameras, setting the priority on focus, means the camera will not allow you to release the shutter unless the subject is in focus.






AF-C is continuous; it is designed for shooting actions or moving subjects. The lens will continue to focus and if the options are set-up correctly in the camera, it can also track your subject as it moves through the frame. In Nikon DSLR’s; Dynamic mode is recommended. You then have a choice of 9, 21, or 51 point. You also have the option of 3D tracking. I have tried the 3D tracking while shooting pee-wee football and it performed flawlessly. It maintained focus and stayed with the action in the viewfinder.


Basic Set-up for Night Sports / Indoor Sports
ISO 800 (at least if night game up to 3200) 200-400 ISO if day game


Shutter Speed 1/250th
F 2.8/F4
Dynamic, 21 pt
AF-C
Release + focus priority
Standard Color
High ISO NR: OFF
Active D-Lighting: OFF
Keep in mind, things happen, not all of your images may be sharp, you may have motion blur depending on your subject and how fast they are moving. But having an understanding of how to set-up the camera is the first step.


Shooting sports, takes practice, just like playing the sport itself. The more you practice the better you become. Timing and knowing the game is everything. If you don’t know when to release the shutter to capture that moment; no matter how many frames per-second your camera can shoot, you will still miss the moment.


I don’t consider the “rapid-action” shooters pros. They are shooters that should have video cameras not DSLR’s, that don’t understand the game, their camera or how to choose that decisive moment to freeze the action. This may offend many, but let me ask you this…Film cameras allowed you to shoot 36 frames; that is it. 

How many of you would have been able to capture the action at the right time, the right second the right speed? How many photos would you have in those 36 frames that are usable and of quality? Could you walk away from a game shooting only one photo, knowing you “got” the shot?





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