Tips on Becoming a Great Sports Photographer, Part 2
Part 2 from Rob Miracle;
Besides these long lenses, you need a camera that can drive them. Today, most new cameras are auto focus. Auto focus makes this easier on us, but the AF systems are not fool proof. Luckily, many sports lend them selves well to manual focus, so sometimes you can get a bargain on a manual version of a lens to use on a manual camera and still get good photos. However AF comes in handy for a few sports. Hockey and Soccer involve many subject to camera distance changes. Motion is less predictable and these sports are some what harder to manual focus. Football, Basketball, and Baseball are quite easy to manual focus.
You may also need a flash with a high output. I personally do not recommend a flash at any sporting event. I find the results unpleasing. However the new modern flash systems produce great results. Some sporting events like gymnastics and others are no-flash events. It is best to talk to an event official (referee, coach, etc.) before using your flash. Flashes will be covered more in the section on lighting.
Other equipment which can come in handy are remote triggers. These allow you to mount a camera where you cannot be during the game and remotely triggering it, recovering it after the event. Basketball and Horse Racing are two good examples of sports where great photos come from someone who never sees the viewfinder while they are shooting. Pictures of NBA stars slam dunking the basketball taken above the rim or the winner of the horse race thundering by are done remotely.
Depth of Field — Isolating the subject.
Most all dramatic sports photos are shot with the lens wide open or one stop from wide open. This is done for two reasons. First you need all the shutter speed you can get, which means shooting wide open, but just as important, it has to do with isolating the subject. As the aperture on a lens opens up, less and less of the photo is in focus. The longer the lens, the more dramatic the change. The larger the distance between the subject and the background the more out of focus the background will come. If you use a long lens and a fast aperture, then your subject will stand out and the background elements will have less impact on your photo.
Reducing background noise is an important goal in many photographs, sports action or not. In studio or landscape settings, you have time to control the elements that make up the picture. Action photography is a “grab it now” type of shooting and you live with the background that is there. If you open up the lens to its maximum, you will find your subjects standing out and becoming memorable.
When you are shooting sports, in particular football and soccer, keep in mind that plays shot on the far side of the field are closer to the background than shots on the near side of the field. Thus if you are shooting a soccer player moving the ball down field and the player passes in front of the bench when you snap the shot, you will have a very distracting background. It may be hard to separate the player and ball from the background noise. Fences, signs, poles, bleachers, stands, and people on the far sideline can really mess up a good shot. Even though you might be shooting wide open, the background will be too prominent in these shots. Should they be avoided? If you have better shots, don’t use it. However, it may be your best shot. Shoot it, just be aware that distracting backgrounds are more problematic on shots on the far side of the field.
An out of focus shot is pretty useless. There isn’t much you can do with them other than throw them away. So achieving crisp focus should be a goal of every one. Today’s AF cameras do a very good job of focusing, and focusing quickly. AF has really made a lot of photographers lazy. I used to manual focus everything, but now that I have an AF system with AF lenses, I let it do my work for me.
However, many times, manual focus works better. To understand this, you need to know how auto focus works. The camera takes a series of measurements across its AF sensors. It looks for contrasting lines. It moves the lens until these lines achieve the maximum sharpness. These sensors are located in the viewfinder of the camera. Different camera models have different sensor configurations and different capabilities. These sensors either are a simple spot meter in the center of the view finder. A line of three sensors that run across the viewfinder. Or a cross which run side to side and top to bottom. Generally, these sensors do not cover the full range of the view finder and your view finder will have markings showing where the AF sensors are.
If you are following a football player as he runs down the side lines, or a horse as it heads over a water jump, you start by pointing the camera at the subject. If you have a spot AF sensor, you have to be dead on the subject or you will find a focused background and a blurry subject. Wide horizontal sensors will allow you to lead your subject a little bit or allow you to compose shots that are off center. However, when you turn the camera to shoot a vertically framed shot, your sensors now run up and down. There are two things to be aware of here. First the AF is now vertical, thus your subject now has to be in the middle of the frame again, just like the spot sensor. Depending on the AF sensors in your camera, they may not focus on horizontal lines as well as vertical and you may find the AF less than responsive. However, you are shooting vertical sports, like volleyball, shooting vertically works pretty well.
Depending on your composition, many sports photos are shot vertically. Humans are vertical people and if you are trying to get a good shot of your favorite baseball player cranking a home run, you want to turn the camera to a vertical format. Luckily, baseball lends itself well to a small AF sensor for pitchers pitching and batters batting.
Some of the high end cameras have a cross pattern of AF sensors and they are generally selectable. By using a sensor array in this format, you have good vertical and horizontal sensor patterns regardless of which way you hold the camera.
For those times where AF isn’t working well, or if you have a manual focus camera, you need to understand how to focus. 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, rotating the focus collar attempting to keep the subject in focus. 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. This requires practice to get down. A good way to practice is to go out to the street and follow focus cars as they drive past.
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. This is timing related. You need to practice the timing on this as well, Both of these methods allowed photographers to capture fantastic photos before the invention of auto focus and will continue to into the future. Even if you have an AF system, you should learn to follow focus and zone focus because there may be times where your AF isn’t available (low light, low contrast situations for instance) and you need to be able to come back with the shot.
To Be Continued…
Posted by Monroe Ohio photographer Vincent Rush, Cincinnati Sports Photography and Dayton Sports Photography of Monroe Ohio. Vince Rush can be contacted by phone at (877) 858-6295 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://CincinnatiSportsPhotography.com Check out my about.me profile!