Some of the most common questions I get asked as a professional photographer are "What camera should I buy so I can take great pictures like you ?" or "How do I get great shots of my kid while they are playing sports ?" While a good camera is certainly helpful, a bigger part is knowing how to use the camera to create the images that you want. You do that, not the camera. For this blog I am going to assume that you will be using a DSLR of some sort. Quite honestly, a small point and shoot won't yield the type of results you are wanting to achieve if you are reading this. It just would not be the right tool, sort of like using a butter knife to chop down a tree. I am a Nikon gal and own three camera bodies, Nikon D7000, Nikon D90, and Nikon D3300 (just bought last week so still getting acquainted) . I know these cameras pretty well and could probably program and take photos with them in my sleep. That being said, I still have my owner's manual for each model on hand to refer to when needed. My first piece of advice is to really familiarize yourself with your camera and what all the buttons do. The first time you ever drove a car, did you just get in and turn it on and expect it to get you to your destination safely all on it's own ? I doubt it, you had to learn how to operate it and got better over time and with practice.
I get more sports photography questions than anything else so today we will focus on some basic tips and tricks to help you create those great sports shots. Sports photography can take place indoors or out. How you approach photographing them are completely different. Outdoor, you of course have the natural light which is much easier to work with. Indoors gets a bit trickier because you have to rely on the gym lights and usually are not allowed to use flash. Sometimes you get wndows that provide natural light, but it can be very harsh in the area that it illuminates.
Tips for shooting sports:
1) Have the right lens to get the job done. I recommend at least a 200 mm focal length lens. If it is too heavy to hand hold then use a monopod.
This is a great lens for sports photography
I took this image of The Thunderbirds at Rockford Air Show 2012 using a Nikon 55-300 mm lens, as you can imagine they were quite a distance away from me but zoomed in all the way I got great overall detail.
2) DO NOT shoot in auto mode. Auto is not your friend, plain and simple. It is the one setting that I truly wish they would leave off of future camera models, but they won't. Instead, use Shutter Priority (S) Turn the dial so that the white line is on the "S"
Then turn the dial located on the top right corner of the camera until you have the shutter speed you desire, 1/500 for outdoors
The next important thing you want to do when shooting indoor sports, or in any low light situation, is bump your ISO up. This is MAJORLY important and will allow the camera to absorb light more quickly and result in a brighter, clearer image. Bump it to at least 1000 and possibly as high as 3200. The only catch to this is that the higher the ISO is set, the greater chance of the image becoming slightly grainy (better known as "noise"), but we can't have everything when lighting is not perfect now can we ? The good news is that at ISO 3200 the noise level in the images should not be deafening. Find the ISO button on your camera (may need to refer to owner's manual) Then press it and again use the dial on the top right to set the ISO.
Use a shutter speed of 1/125 or the highest you can for indoors (monopod may be needed). Start at 1/125 and go up one click to 1/160, take a test shot to see if the image is too dark. If it is too dark, go back down to 1/125, if it is fine then go up another click, and so on until you reach the right setting for the lighting situation you are in. The faster the shutter speed, the crisper your images will be so we want that shutter as fast as it can be.
3) Position yourself as best you can to have nothing obstructing your camera's view of the subject. Don't be afraid to walk up as close to the competition area as they will allow you to without being a distraction.
This image was taken from a high up angle. There may always be slight "soft focus" when taking indoor sports photos, especially when the subject is moving quickly. You can only do what you can do, but good images are certainly possible, a monopod was used.
4) Zoom your lens in on the subject so that it more or less fills the frame with action. Composition can make all the difference.
This was taken from a lower angle and makes the subject appear larger.
5) Take many, many photos. Once you have the subject in your sights, follow them with the camera and keep on clicking. Just hold that shutter button down. This is the age of digital, who cares if you delete 500 images but get that one great shot to show off to your friends. To set your camera to shoot image after image continuously, please refer to your camera manual. I would be happy to walk you through it, just message me with your camera model.
6) Hold your breath when taking the photo. When we breath our body moves, thus causing camera shake = blurry image. Take a deep breath right before you depress the shutter, and hold that breath until you hear the shutter close.
7) Experiment with shooting from different angles or a series of photos. Shoot from high up in the stands, and from close to the floor while down on your knees, as I did for this series of images.
Now you may be asking, what about the pre-set sports setting that most cameras have ? I admit that I do use that setting on occasion when I don't want to put too much thought into the shots. All DSLR cameras come with pre-sets that are optimized for specific lighting situations. There is a sports setting that is usually marked with an icon of a lil' guy running. I have gotten good shots while using this setting, much more success outside than inside. I have better luck inside using the "no flash" setting (lightning bolt with circle around it). Feel free to give that setting a try, trial and error is the best way to learn.
Many of the pre-sets cameras have these days are very good. They have them for all sorts of photography situations like pets, food, flowers, night, landscape, night landscape, close-up, beach/snow, and many more. This image was taken on my Nikon D7000 using the "sunset" setting and it is spot on for exposure and color. It looks very true to life of how I remember it. I had this enlarged into a metal print and it is truly exquisite. It hangs on my husbands office wall at work. It was taken at Rock Cut Mt, near the top of RMNP.
And now for a camera recommendation, as I mentioned earlier I just purchased the Nikon D3300 24.2 megapixels . I am in LOVE with this camera. For 95% of the people out there looking for a great camera this one is perfect. It is smaller and lighter than my other two but is just as capable. I decided on this one because I wanted to get a more suitable camera to take on vacation and stomp around the mountains with instead of lugging my pro one's along. The buttons are simplified for the beginner and it is very user friendly. I am not going to say that you need to put no effort into your photos, you still will have to do your part but there is nothing too overwhelming about this camera. It is affordable and has some cool features that many of you will appreciate. If you choose to, you can add the Nikon WU-1a mobile adapter to connect to wifi and be able to send images right from the camera to an Android or iOS device. I have not played with that feature yet because I am a rare breed and do not have a smart phone. I plan to experiment with it soon as it may be something I would use in my business. Other key features to this gem of a camera are: 1080/60p HD video, 5 frames per second of continuous shooting (great for sports photography), a 700 shot re-chargeable battery life, and Expeed 4 processor. This camera is available at Amazon with a bundle that includes a 18 - 55 mm lens as well as a 55 - 200 mm lens, a carry case and SD card for under $650
I hope my tips will help you achieve your photography goals. Feel free to ask any specific questions or request topics for future blogs.
~~ Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still ~~