How to take good sport photography photos with a fast shutter speed
How to take good sport photographs. A guide to taking good sport photographs.
"A photograph is a memory in the raw ..."
Want to increase the WOW!-factor in your photos? And learn some handy hints and tips while enjoying the picturesque joy ride? This guide is designed to help you out with a number of problematique categories in mind; such as shooting in less than optimal weather conditions, lens choice, timing, composition, additional equipment, settings, planning and post-editing. With the smallest of changes to your aim, your next shot might just be a bullseye.
We will start off with the basics, presenting some of the most commonly used words in the world of photography;
SLR – Single lens reflex camera, DSLR indicates that the camera is digital. As they come in both analogue and digital versions. An SLR uses mirrors at different angles located in between the shutter and the lens, which reflects the light and the registered picture to a matte focusing screen. This teamwork can be seen through the viewfinder, and gives the photographer a relatively good idea of what the photograph will look like before pushing the expose button, thus releasing the shutter, allowing yet another graphic wonder to materialize in this mad, mad world.
Shutter – The unit within the camera which allows the light to pass through the lens in a limited time frame. During the time which the shutter remains open, a light sensitive film or digital card, depending on whether the camera is analogue or digital, is exposed to light registering the given exposure which affects the taken photo. Changing the shutter speed will allow either more light to come through, with decreased shutter speed, or less light if you choose an increased shutter speed. The shutter speed is given in fractions of a second, and altering this up or down will double or halve the light exposure, respectively. A rule of thumb within the photographic wilderness is that one does not choose a longer shutter speed than focal length in millimetres (mm).
Aperture – This value is given as F-value, indicating the size of the lens aperture which determines the amount of light exposure going through the objective. A higher F-Value (lower aperture) gives a smaller exposure and a much deeper depth of field, compared to a lower F-Value setting which provide a much shallower depth. By increasing the shutter speed with one step and decreasing the F-value by one step, the light exposure amount can be equalised.
Focal Length – The focal length of a lens is most commonly given in millimetres (mm) in this modern day of age. Its main priority is to determine the perceived size of the portrayed motif. Lenses are usually divided into four categories; normal, macro, wide-angle and telephoto. An objective with a focal length less than 50 millimetres (i.e. 35mm lens) is usually considered to be wide-angle (angle of view wider than 60 degrees). Whereas, an objective with considerably higher focal length (i.e. 135-300mm), is known as a telephoto lens. A higher focal length lens is more sensitive in terms of achieving focus, compared to lenses with lower focal length and more angle of view (i.e. wide-angle or normal).
Overexposed – The pictures will be overexposed if too much light is let in through the aperture, thus making the picture to bright (too high white values).
Underexposed – In contrast to overexposed, there is too little light reaching the light sensitive film or digital chip, resulting in pictures which are too dark.
White Balance – This refers to the adjustment of the RGB (red/green/blue) primary colours in an image, such that neutral colours are reproduced correctly. New cameras generally have good automatic setting for this, but to achieve optimal results you might have to pre-define what kind of light conditions you are shooting in. For example, the white balance will be different depending on the weather. You can adjust the white balance manually before taking the picture, or if you shoot in .RAW format, you have the opportunity to do this during post-editing (i.e. Adobe Photoshop).
ISO Value – Basically, the film speed, a measure of a photographic film’s sensitivity to light. A high ISO value means higher sensitivity to light, meaning that the film acquires the information from the light exposure faster, thus allowing a faster shutter speed compared to a lower ISO value setting. The negative aspect of this however, is that the images are not as clear and contains more distortion compared with a lower ISO. The ISO values start at 25 and ends (in certain top-notch cameras) at 64000. To set this in some perspective, most pictures today are taken within the range of 100 to 800 ISO. When you double the ISO (i.e. 200 to 400) you also double the exposure strength.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LENS:
Like mentioned previously, there are four general categories of lenses; normal, macro, wide-angle and telephoto. Changing the lens will also change the picture and your expression drastically, it is therefore essential to pre-plan/visualize what kind of picture you want to capture.
Knowing which focal length to choose for the right situation comes with experience, and all photographers have learned this through the trial-and-fail method, before eventually becoming accustomed to their preferences depending on numerous factors such as weather conditions, motif speed and sports genre. If you have the chance, scout the area prior to the event, seeing where it would be most beneficial to be positioned.
The wide-angle lens allows you to include lots of the surroundings, which can give quite an impressive effect. However, most often it requires you to get the included objects close to the camera, which call for good cooperation between the photographer and moving object (i.e. a surfer or snowboarder) to achieve the optimal result.
With the telephoto lens you will usually be able to follow a moving object/person more easily, and it usually provides a little bit more room to play in compared with the wide-angle lens, but this is subjective. Another positive aspect is that it is easier to create a feeling of depth within the picture.
Choosing the right lens for the job is mostly about personal preferences, and what kind of expression you want to portray through your masterpiece of a picture. The main principle is that the lens should allow you to include all the elements necessary to create balance within the composition.
SHOOTING IN LESS THAN IDEAL CONDITIONS:
The sun has a natural ability to bring out contrasts and contour within a picture, which generally tends to be far greater than the mere mortal’s, even with artificial help. But if you have to photograph during gray, dull weather, here are some tips which might help you out a bit.
1) USE THE FLASH. The artificial light can create great effects in conditions including rain, fog and snow. Portraying the contrasts in photos tend to be the main challenge in poor conditions, but try to think of it as a learning experience, turning misery into inspiration.
2) THINK DIFFERENTLY. During poor, boring conditions, it is even more important to use the surrounding to your advantage. Include reference-points, like a tree, a cliff or similar. If you do not, you might risk ending up with a flat image, without contrasts and depth. Try out black and white to create a more dramatic effect.
3) EMPOWER. Increase the effects which are already present. Gray, dull weather can be a great opportunity to decrease the F-value and play around with silhouette- and portrait pictures.
A good action-picture all comes down to the timing. A fraction of a second might be all that separates a perfectly timed masterpiece and a photo which will never be a magazine cover. Be prepared, be familiar with your equipment, and maintain a good communication with the moving object you are photographing.
1) SET THE FOCUS PRIOR TO THE EVENT. If you are photographing a grind or similar it might be beneficial to set the focus beforehand, then it is easier to time the exposure correctly getting the shot where the moving object looks best, highest in the trajectory path or similar.
2) VISUALIZE. Pre-visualize the move and estimate where the highlight of the situation will be, for example the moment a surfer hits the lip with a wicked cutback or a snowboarder which is mid-grind.
3) STRONG COLOURS AND PATIENCE. Getting the person you are photographing to wear bright colours not only lights up the picture, but can make it easier to time the exposure, especially when there is some distance between you and the object.
Today’s modern cameras have lots of settings and look highly complex. This scares a lot of photographers, making them choose the automatic settings without experimenting with the manual settings, as it just seems to be too much work. That is alright, but please try a half-automatic setting for a while, determining your ISO setting, which will give your pictures a more personal feel. And what if we say that in principle… there are only four main different settings/parameters to alter; will that comfort you sufficiently to try out some photographic experimenting?
1) FOUR PARAMETERS. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO value and white balance. First, start of with the half-automatic programs, with a standard set ISO, alternating only the white balance, until you feel comfortable with this.
2) ONE AT A TIME. Experiment with one unknown parameter at a time, allowing you to familiarize yourself with them one by one, seeing what kind of effects they have on the final result. Have fun.
Because most of the photos these days are taken in a digital format, the last personal mark from the original photograph artist is set in front of the computer, often with the help of Adobe Photoshop or similar software. However, try to achieve the ultimate photograph prior to post-production, never let the “I’ll fix that later in photoshop…” phrase be standard in your spoken vocabulary. However, perfection is hard to achieve, and most photos do not reach their full potential without the adjustment of white balance, colour (i.e. snow), skin tones, water etc. which most often have to be done. Post-editing is an essential skill to achieve the optimal result. Most photographs also choose to increase the contrasts and sharpness in the post-editing phase.
1) MARK YOUR PHOTOS. Remember to mark your photos well with meta-data and background info, that way it is easier to remember those essential details for future compilations / rider requests or similar.
2) ARCHIVE. Keep your pictures in a well-organized system, enabling you to find photos in a quick and efficient manner with a search phrase. It is also very important to take regular backups and storing your photos in different locations.
There are a lot of things to learn within the martial arts of photography, but practical experience and experimenting is the number one thing which will let your skills prosper. So, get out there today, try out alternating the four parameters mentioned previously (aperture, shutter speed, ISO value and white balance) and also try to play around with artificial lighting. But at the risk of sounding utterly cliché; the most important thing out there is having fun and honing your natural vision. Photography is all about personal expression, anything goes.
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