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Monday, April 27, 2009

Interesting Ideas for New Sports Photographers

By Tony Forrester

If someone wanted to create a photo gallery of human emotions, he or she would be well served to hire a sports photographer. Photojournalists who cover sporting events may even be able to capture an impressive range of emotions on a single afternoon. Anyone who reads Sports Illustrated or the sports section of a daily newspaper that has a talented sports photographer on board has seen stunning photos of anguish, determination, elation, despondence, confusion, anger, frustration, surprise, and bewilderment on the faces and in the body language of athletes, onlookers, referees, and coaches. In fact, these images routinely win awards in big-stakes photo competitions. And many sports photographer pros have no interest in the sporting events they cover. After all, its not about sports " its about permanently suspending an intensely focused soccer player in mid-air as she sends home the winning goal or capturing a pitchers outstretched arm as he winds up to deliver the decisive fast ball.

Anyone can learn sports photography if it interests them. Advice from the pros is plentiful on the internet often accompanied with dramatic photos to demonstrate the value of their opinions. Unfortunately, these recognized photojournalists have advantages that usually are not available to their less experienced counterparts. For example, they usually have direct access to the playing field or press box of the event. Joe Lightbox, on the other hand, will need to have a few extra tricks in his camera bag for when he finds himself restricted to the stands. Zoom, speed, and light levels will all be very different for him.

What the pros want to tell Joe is this: You need at least a 7x or higher optical zoom when using a digital camera. You need an SLR camera " digital or 35 mm. Lighting at sporting events is usually less than ideal, and youll have to deal with it.

How does Joe deal with it?

Shutter speeds of 1/250 to 1/500 work best to achieve sharp action shots. If possible Joe needs to get to the event early so he can adjust his shutter speed to match the event lighting; a faster shoot requires more light. If the lighting is good an aperture opening, or f-range, of 8-11 is allowable (more about aperture shortly). A faster shutter speed requires a larger lens aperture to allow more light. (Note: Larger apertures usually make for a heavier and more expensive lens)

It is recommended that Joe have a couple of different types of photography camera lenses for varied shots.

Telephoto lenses are usually described by their focal length, in mm, and their aperture, which is an f number: The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8-32 for example. A smaller f number translates to a larger aperture opening and a faster lens, because of the reduced exposure time. Another example is the Nikkor 200mm f/2 and the Nikkor 70-300mm f/4-5.6. With the different situations that are encountered while shooting a sports event one pro photographer covers all of his bases by using three lenses: an 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5, a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6; and a 50mm f/1.8. These allow him to snap fast clear action shots and the lower activity ones as well.

Digital cameras zoom lenses typically have a maximum aperture (again, minimum f-number) of f/2.8 to f/6.3. A very fast zoom lens will be constant f/2.8 or f/2.

To help compensate for low lighting levels, Joe should increase the ISO " the measurement of a cameras sensitivity to light " to 200 or even 400. Unfortunately, the higher the ISO, the grainier the result. However, a very fast lens can somewhat reduce the ISO. Shooting at f/2.8 or f/4 will give him a lot more leeway as far as shutter speed and ISO.

Shutter lag time is something else that Joe needs to understand. Basically, shutter lag time is the amount of time that elapses between the time Joe presses the button to the moment the picture is actually snapped. Auto focus can be a great resource at times, but it can significantly increase shutter lag time. For action shots it may be necessary for Joe to use manual focus mode if it is an option on his camera.

Also Joe should contact the venue ahead of time to make sure picture-taking is not against their policy. If Photography is prohibited he could be banned from entry if he has his camera, or he may be forced to leave his camera in a back room. Leaving expensive photography equipment under the care of someone else is seldom a good idea. Also, there may be restrictions to camera size or flash that might be posted. If any of these situations occur it could be a painful disappointment for Joe.

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