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Sports Photography Tutorial Pt. 1

Just like anything else with photography, the art of sports photography can be somewhat of a mystery for some folks.  When I first started getting serious about photography a couple of years ago, I only wanted to shoot landscapes.  A few months later, I saw an opportunity to shoot a baseball game and I took it.  I knew by expanding my horizons, I would also expand my knowledge and my skills when it came to photography.

So how does one form a baseline to start from?  It’s pretty simple really.  I was already registered at a great photography forum, Photography On The Net, so I began there.  I surfed into the sports photography sharing forum and began looking at images posted by photographers that have been doing this a lot longer than I have.  But that wasn’t the only tool I used.  I added a right click EXIF menu option to my web browser.   With this little tool, if the EXIF information was still embedded in the image, I could see what settings that photographer used for grabbing the shot.

F/4, 1/2000 sec, ISO 400

What I learned fast was shutter speed was the key.  I was seeing shutter speeds in the neighborhood of 1/1600 to 1/2000.   Shutter speed in this area allow the shooter to freeze the action, which is what the shooter wants when it comes to the stick and ball sports.   After I started shooting baseball and football, I decided I wanted to shoot some motorsports action; so I followed the same plan.  I started looking at race photos and checking out the EXIF information to establish my baseline.

One issue with motorsports is the shooter wants to freeze the action, but wants the image to appear to be in motion.  There are a couple of techniques that allow the shooter to show this motion; shutter speed and panning.  These two techniques actually go hand in hand with each other.

SHUTTER SPEED 1/160 sec

In the preceding image, you see that I slowed the shutter speed down to 1/160.  If you look at the ground, you can see it conveys a little motion to my image and if you look at the tires, they are almost a blur.  The rest of the image remains fairly sharp. 

SHUTTER SPEED 1/1600 sec

Now in this image, you see that my shutter speed was set high.  Looking over the image, you can see there’s little to no spin to the tires, background foliage is pretty much still and the only portion of this image that conveys movement is the dust.   I fell victim to the awesome lighting and instead of adjusting my aperture to meet the lighting conditions, I adjusted the shutter speed and came out with an image that me personally, falls below a high quality motorsports image.

When I arrive at a site to shoot sport, I have my baseline shutter speed already dialed in.  I also usually have my aperture dialed in, then I’ll shoot some test shots and get my ISO dialed in.   If you shoot JPEG, you definitely want your settings dialed in.  I shoot RAW, so I have a little leeway with under or over exposed shots, but in the end, you want to be dialed in at the track or on the field and you will be left with less post processing after your done.

It goes without saying though that during the event, check your histogram on a regular basis.   You might go an entire event without changing light conditions, but sometimes the light will change on you and you need to be ready to adjust accordingly.

Remember, shutter speed is the key to shooting sports.  Research photography forums and what settings other shooters are using for the particular sport you plan on shooting and use those settings as your baseline starting point.

In future editions of this series, I will talk about equipment, composition of the shot, shooting positioning and safety.

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