Sports Photography; Tips and Equipment

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A large part of my personal work is shooting sports partly because I enjoy it and because my son is on a few teams at his high school, Desert Vista. The photos below are from this past football season featuring the JV team.

_MG_7762_600WI like to capture the emotion of the players and coaches. I shoot everything from the hardship of injury to the celebrations after great plays or victories. The collision below resulted in a concussion. The photo was used to show the doctor how it happened.

football 2 across_600WMany parents and students have a difficult time shooting sports indoors or at night. Cameras made for the amateur market do not have a high enough ISO to shoot in dim lighting nor do they come with fast lenses (F2.8 or even F4 for telephotos). Often the photos are too dark or they are blurry from too slow of a shutter speed. Videos may look good because video uses much slower shutter speeds (1/50 as opposed to 1/400 as in these images)

Equipment:
Here is what I use and how I shot the photos in this blog. My equipment was purchased for commercial photography not for sports. So I only capture about 4 frames per second and my telephoto lens is only an F4 (widest aperture). I use the Canon 5D Mk II. All these images were captured with a 70 – 200 F4 Lens. For an additional $1200 I could have purchased the F 2.8 lens. Stronger lenses (300 mm – 600 mm and up) for sports photography start at about $10,000 although other manufacturers sell less expensive telephoto lenses.
If you have $1800 for a camera and a few extra bucks for the lenses, Canon just came out with the 7D Mk II which has an ISO of 16,000 which can be boosted to 51,00. It shoots an amazingly fast 10 frames per second.
_MG_4753_600WCamera Settings:
Most of the less expensive cameras have a sports setting on the mode dial on the top of the camera. This is great for outdoor action but may not give you satisfactory results in low light levels.
At night games or for basketball I set the ISO to the highest setting, 6400. The aperture is wide open at F4. The shutter speed is 1/400 second which is barely fast enough to freeze fast action. I’m OK with a little blur on the ball or a runners feet because it shows motion but 1/800 of a second would give you sharper images. I set the image quality to RAW. (This requires Photoshop, Bridge and Camera raw to enhance the images. More on this below.) I set the white balance to Auto because the lighting transitions from late day sunlight to dusk to stadium lights. I don’t want to constantly be white balancing the camera manually during this period. Auto works quite well for sports images. Set the drive to multi so that when you touch the shutter button you will get multiple shots. Set the auto focus to AI Servo so that the lens will follow focus with the moving subject (“One shot” focusing locks on when the shutter button is slightly depressed.)

Timing:
Timing is critical. You must be following the action and hit the shutter button at the right moment. This requires some knowledge of the sport and you have to anticipate the action, both where and when it will happen on the field. Sometimes you can anticipate which receiver will catch the ball when you are zoomed in on the quarterback by watching his head and arm motion and you can pan quickly to get the shot of the receiver. That’s where you get players flying through the air.

football 2 catching_600WPhotoshop:
Well almost. Most of my sports photos don’t get opened into Photoshop. I use Bridge to select and rate the images with the star ratting. Only the best images are opened in Camera Raw, sometimes 10 or 12 at a time. I enhance the images for brightness, contrast and color in the “basic” tab and raise the “clarity and “vibrance sliders a little (12 to 25). Then I always go into the “Detail” tab to reduce the noise (a grainy appearance) by bringing the “luminance” slider up to about 43. First increase your image size to 100% to see the noise (grain). Click “Done” in camera raw and the settings are saved with the image. Or you can then convert them “Save button” to JPEGs.

With good equipment and a little practice you can capture some great sports images.

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