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Sports Photography Tutorial, Pt 2

In Part 1 of my Sports Photography Tutorial, I covered some basic settings and how I came about learning them.  With this section, I’ll cover the topic of equipment.  Now please remember that this tutorial is from my viewpoint and what works for me in my short time shooting sports.

First off is a given, the camera.  I’m a Pentax shooter, but I’m not a Kool-Aid drinker when it comes to camera brands.  Even though I run a beginner level camera, I do pretty good with it and at this point, I’ve got more game than the camera does, so at some point in the future, I’ll be moving on up to a better model and yes, I will stay with Pentax.

Some of the things you want to look at in a camera is the continuous drive rate(how many frames the camera will shoot).   An easy place to find this information is at Digital Photography Review.  This site has hundreds of reviews and camera specifications.  You can also pick out several different models of cameras and compare their stats side by side.  Now your mileage will vary with this number, and my limited experience between what’s stated and real world is in the real world, you will get another shot or two more if you turn off some of the in camera post processing.  For my KX, the continuous drive rate is listed at 2 f.p.s., which is a true statement if I leave some of the in camera post processing turned on.   If I turn those options off, and it’s not a big deal with me anyway, the f.p.s. will go up by several shots.

Why is the continuous drive rate important?  The higher the number, the more shots you will be able to rattle off before the camera has to enter into buffering mode to write those images to the memory.   In sports shooting, the shots are not posed and you’re not telling the subjects of the image where they need to be.  You’re following the action and clicking the shutter running up the number of images in hopes of getting a good shot, which if you know the sport and can anticipate and/or follow the action, you will be rewarded with a great shot.

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F/8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400

In that shot, I didn’t even know I got that shot until I drove home for 3 hours and started downloading memory cards from the event.    I was setup watching a mud hole on the track and when a car would come out of the trees, I would hold down the shutter and pan across the track with the vehicle.

The best thing you can do for keeping up shooting speeds outside of turning off in camera post processing is buying quality memory cards.  I could fill up an entire blog entry or three just on the subject of memory cards, but I won’t.  Several words of advice though, DO NOT BE A CHEAPSKATE when it comes to memory cards, especially when shooting sports.   The memory card you use will need to have fast write times so the camera can continue shooting.

When one looks at memory cards, there is usually a lot of numbers printed on it.  There will usually be the brand name, model, memory size, write speed and a number that is encircled.    The first four is pretty self explanatory, but that last number might be a mystery to some folks.  Simply put, that number is the Class the card is in, whether it be Class 4, 6, 10 or some other number.  Those numbers, usually the higher the number, the faster the card, but there is a catch.  If you look at a performance chart such as those found at Tom’s Hardware, you can find Class 4 cards performing at the same speed as a Class 10 card.  User beware, not all cards are the same!

I went the same route when researching cards that I do just about everything else, I looked on the Internet.  When surfing photography forums, I found that SanDisk cards have a real good reputation for performance and reliability.  SanDisk cards also have a price tag to match.  For sports shooting, my primary cards are the Extreme 30MB/s Class 10 and 20 MB/s Class 8 cards.  I also have some 15MB/s Class 4 cards as backups just in case.  I only have those because I needed more cards and I cannot find high speed cards locally, so I have to buy online.    I wouldn’t hesitate in using Lexar or Kingston cards either if I had to.

I will throw out this little warning when it comes to buying memory cards online, stay away from EBay.  I only purchase my cards from Adorama, B and H and Amazon.  Memory cards are easily counterfeited by any Joe Schmoe and EBay being EBay, the place is flooded with counterfeit memory cards.

Let’s talk lens for a moment.   I won’t spend much time here, but you need to be aware of a few things when it comes to choosing a lens or three.  You can surf around the web and see different shooters using different lens, but when it comes to outside sports such as football, racing and baseball, you will usually see a big honking lens on the end of the cameras the pros use.  You need to have reach.  You cannot be behind the catcher at home plate shooting the pitcher, and you definitely can’t be standing in the center of the start/finish at Daytona.   You need to have reach.  Your indoor sports are somewhat different and I see lens in the range of 28mm-70mm being used.

I started shooting sports with an old Sigma 75-300mm that I bought off EBay.  I shot baseball, football and off road racing with it.  It worked and worked well.  I recently picked up a new Sigma 70-300mm and it will work just fine for what I do.  Now if you are like me and like to see what other people use, feel free.  I’ve seen pictures of shooters using 400mm prime lens and the other night, listening to a podcast featuring F1 Racing Photographer Darren Heath, he listed a 600mm prime with a 2x teleconverter in his arsenal. WOW!!!

If you are outdoors, during the day, you don’t need to run F/2.8, but if you can afford a lens in that category, by all means go for it.  That will give you more flexibility.  My primary lens at this point goes to F/4 at 70mm, and goes down to F/5.6 when I’m zoomed out.

Some of the other things I have in my arsenal include a 67” Targus monopod I found at Wal-Mart for about $15.  A monopod is great for sports shooting because it allows you to be somewhat free of the weight of the camera, while giving you the ability to get yourself and gear out of harm’s way fast if need be.

I also recently picked up a little zip up bag that allows me to carry extra batteries and memory cards in one little package.  A lens cleaning rag is always helpful since dust is usually present in outdoor shoots.  I also recommend having a rain bag for your camera.  The first race I did, it rained.  I did not and still do not have a rain bag.  At that time though, I did have some empty Wal-Mart bags and a roll of masking tape.  It worked but I don’t suggest using something like masking tape on good gear.

In the next edition of this series, I will talk about positioning yourself to get those great shots.  Feel free to comment if you have any questions.  Thank you for your time.

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