Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Outdoor Sports - Get In Focus!

Okay, so you're out watching your kid play an outdoor sport, say lacrosse, and you are all excited to catch the action with your camera. Then in a flash your kid (#33 in this case) enters the action. You point your camera, autofocus kicks in and you shoot.

Now thanks to digital technology you look at the camera viewer to make sure you captured the shot. Got it! Later that evening you go home and download the picture onto your computer. Ahhh, there it is, the once in a lifetime shot of your son defending, arguably, the best offenseman in the state (okay I made that one up). Next you zoom in to take a closer look (that's your queue to click on the picture) and d#%@*^&, it's blurry.

This is an all to common scenario that often just can't be avoided. What you really want is to be able to follow the action all across the field and at the same time keep your subject in focus. To be honest this is not a trivial task and can be challenging even for the 'pros'.

In my experience, one of the biggest assets of a camera can also be one of the biggest pitfals. What is it? Auto-modes.

Here's the situation; when shooting sports you want the maximum light to achieve a reasonable shutter speed (around 1/500th sec for most sports with human participants). You would also like to have a reasonable aperture setting (I like f8 or greater) so that you attain a nice depth of field. Auto-modes, although pretty effective about 70% of the time, often make inaccurate assumptions when shooting moving objects, especially in situation where lighting is inconsistant.

So here's four tricks I've learned that might help:

1) Go Manual - I use the manual setting so that I can control both shutter speed and aperture. General rules of thumb for sports, shutter speed > 1/200th - Aperture >6.5.

2) Use Continuous Focus - if you've got it, use it (for sports). This will help your camera stay in focus as the subject is in motion.

3) Use Auto ISO - as dusk approaches or if shadows are a problem, Auto ISO will allow you to maintain your preset shutter speed and aperture by simulating the use of a faster speed film (in the 35mm days). Caution - when using this feature there is a point where your picture will degrade and become grainy. Find that point on your camera (around 800 for me) and manually re-adjust your shutter speed or aperture to keep below that point of degradation.

4) Use a tripod or monopod. This is especially important with zoom lenses as it is harder to hold the longer zooms steady.

As a bonus tip, use your continuous shooting mode liberally. Believe me, the pros don't rely on a single shot to capture the action. I shoot around 150 shots in a 1 hour game. The good news is by using these techniques over 95% of my shots are keepers.

Think about these tips at your next sporting event. Let me know about your success or failures. Also, if you have a tip you like to share, make a comment.

Until next time - keep shooting

PS On May 22nd I'll be riding in the Tour de H2O. A bicycle ride to support the effort to provide clean water to impoverished areas of the world. Check my Facebook page for more details and help if you can! Thanks!

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