Tips for Action Shots

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Tips for Sports Photography and Fast Action Shooting

Family outings can be great sports photos.

Spring is a great time to get action shots, whether the sport is youth T-ball and baseball, soccer or skateboarding. Here are some simple tips to get print-worthy action shots.

Warm-up is Important

Get to the game early to photograph the players warming up. It’s a good time to test your settings, check the light, and pick out your vantage points for the game.

Check out the Light

The quality and direction of light is the most important ingredient to action photography. If outdoors, keep the sun behind you. If indoors, try to pick a sideline spot where there’s plenty of light. In either case, you want to use as fast a shutter speed as possible. (In a compact or zoom camera, this probably means using the “sport” or “action” mode.) Also, open up the aperture to the widest setting possible; this will let in the maximum amount of light for that lens.

Finally, if indoors, set the ISO to 400 or 800. This makes the camera more light-sensitive, so you can shoot at faster shutter speeds. (Don’t set it too high, though, because this can mess up the color and add grain.)

Ready, steady, go!

Most pros use a single-leg tripod — called a monopod — on the sideline to steady their camera. Monopods can cumbersome in crowds, however, so look for a fence or a post to lean on. You won’t have the mobility of a monopod user but it will help keep your lens steady.

Become an expert

Anticipating the action is one of the keys to great sports photography. Know where the athletes are going to be by learning the sport. Is the batter left or right handed? This will determine where you stand. Also, heed the words of the famous hitter, Wee Willie Keeler: “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” Or, more accurately, anticipate the action by predicting where the action is going to be.

Know your turf

In bright sunshine, an LCD screen can be hard to see. Prepare by setting your camera in the shade before the game so you don’t have to do it on the sidelines.

Shoot B-roll

Think like a movie director, and shoot b-roll! What does that mean? B-roll are the backup shots filmmakers use to make cut shots and fill-in segments. For this purpose, B-roll can be crowd shots, scoreboard shots, piles of equipment on the sidelines. These make great backgrounds for collages and for photo-book pages.

Camera Sports Scene Mode
Sport Mode or No?

Most cameras have a “sport mode” designed to automatically stop action. Basically, this mode sets the camera to the fastest shutter speed possible, while still allowing for a good exposure. This is a great place to start, but after some time, you may want to get more creative. (See the next step).

Aperture Priority is your Friend

Another setting on the dial, called "Aperture priority", is indicated by "A" or "Av". This lets you set the aperture - or lens opening -- while the camera selects the corresponding shutter speed. Set the aperture to its widest setting (5, 5.6, etc.) to allow the maximum light in, and shoot away.

Set your Shutter for Speed

Another setting on the dial, called "Shutter priority", is indicated by "S" or "Tv". This adjusts the amount of time the camera sensor is exposed to light. For fast action sports shots, you want to use a higher number to ensure you capture a “Stop Action” image. The camera will automatically adjust the aperture for you to ensure proper exposure. Set your camera at 1/250 or 1/500 and take a few shots to make sure you are capturing the action without blur. If your subject still appears blurry around the edges, try moving the shutter speed up and try again until you are satisfied with the shot.

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