I often get asked by parents what the best camera settings are for getting good action images of their kids. After all, sports are often a big part of our lives and it is great to be able to capture those special moments as they progress and grow over the years. Of course, as they get older they get faster and catching the action at that decisive moment can be quite tricky. Here are a few settings and tips to get you started:
- Get out of Auto! If you have a camera with manual controls, like most DSLRs have, put it on ‘Shutter Priority.’ For Canon users it’s the Tv on your mode dial and S on Nikon as well as many other manufacturers. (see image below) This setting allows you to control the shutter speed (how fast the camera’s shutter opens and closes). The higher the value the faster it opens and closes and the better chance you have of ‘freezing’ that moment. As the action speeds up, a faster shutter speed is required. A good starting point is 1/800th of a second. Take a couple of shots and see how they look. If you are getting unwanted motion blur, take it up to 900 or 1000 or even up to 1/1200. Younger players will be slower and you’ll be able to get away with slower speeds. Middle school and high schoolers definitely gets faster.
- Use a specific focus point(s). Most DSLRs will let you choose one focus point, a pattern of points, or, all of them. If you can pick one focus point, or a small pattern of them and follow the player with those points you will get the best results. Using a single focus point is often referred to a ‘single point auto focus.’ Do a quick Google search to figure out how to set this up for your particular camera model. Letting the camera choose focus points will be frustratingly inaccurate when there is potential for several kids in the same frame. As you may have discovered... sometimes it works but most of the time it does not. It will take time and practice to get good at tracking your subject but once you get it , 65-80% of your shots will be in focus.
- Anticipate the Action. Knowing where the action is going is critical. Anticipating action will vastly increase your chances of getting that killer shot of your son or daughter. Here are some examples: 1) Follow the ball and anticipate when it will be received. Once it reaches your son's feet, press the shutter button. 2) If your daughter is open and has her lacrosse stick is up to receive a pass, point the camera towards her in anticipation of her receiving the ball. 3) Once the basketball is in the air, anticipate your son going up for the rebound by pre-focusing below the basket...when he's in the air about to grab the ball, fire away. To do this, it certainly helps to understand how the sport is played but that will come with time.
- Crop the Image. Once you get your images off of your camera and on to your computer or phone, simply ‘crop’ (digital zoom) them in any photo editing tool so that you better fill the frame with your son or daughter. Close-up action shots are almost always better (see comparison below) so don’t be afraid to crop an image in order to look them like you had a long lens. Some will argue that you lose resolution when you crop...this is true and unavoidable. However, for sharing these memories on Facebook or Instagram or even a 5.x7 or 8x10 print you do not need the highest resolution image. Keep in mind, if you want to blow an image up to a 20"x30" or poster size you will need that extra resolution. TIP: I do recommend a 200mm telephoto lens and ideally up to 300mm or 400mm. Get what you can afford and what you need...remember you’re not making a living doing this. However, you can still get great images with less expensive gear.
5. Be cognizant of your background. If there is a porta-potty or an overflowing trash can behind your daughter, it can ruin the image. Simply make sure where you are standing relative to your target subject that you can avoid those distractions. It can often be as simple as moving 10-20 feet either direction. Or, go to one end of the field or the other for a different perspective and background.
6. Go to where the action is. If your son or daughter is playing the Attack position in lacrosse, they will be on one end of the field...go down there to get closer to their action. Most refs will let you go behind the goal so don't be shy. Taking images strictly from the sideline can be limiting and the images will start to look the same over time.
I should note that indoor sports are much more difficult to shoot because they typically have poor lighting. Basketball gyms or pools are notorious for poor lighting. Because light is essential for taking photographs, the less you have, the more challenging it can be. For that discussion we need to introduce the concepts of ISO and Aperture values. More on that in a future post.
TIP: Don't be afraid to take plenty of images.. Most of them will be throw away but all you need is one or two keepers.
Like all things, this takes practice and you'll only get better over time.
Let me know if you have any questions or comments.
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