This week’s “How To” is about sports and action photography, which has a whole list of other issues compared to shooting live music (last issue of “How To”). Once again, the type of lens you use is of the utmost importance, more so than for live music or basic portrait photography. Your DSLR plays a major role as well, but this time more because of rapid fire than sensor size.
Every sports photographer has a telephoto lens, whether your sport-of-choice is football or motocross. It’s the same way that every samurai has a sword, every hunter a rifle. Most serious sports photographers have at least two, usually one that goes to 300mm, like Nikon’s 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 VR, and one that goes much further like Sigma’s 150-500mm or a fixed 400mm f/2.8 (which runs upwards of $10, 000 – YIKES!!!!). Now don’t let those numbers scare you; keep in mind that sports photography is about reach. It’s about being away from the action so you don’t get smacked while capturing that touchdown or that upper cut. You don’t have to spend $1,000 on a telephoto lens, either. A good one starts at $400-450 brand new. It’s the ones designed for low light (like Canon’s 70-200mm f/2.8) or the mega zoom lenses (like Nikon’s 200-400mm VR) that cost you so much. A Sports photographer shouldn’t have to spend as much on his lenses as a wedding photographer, because glass quality is not the ultimate goal… unless you’re a lens snob – in which case I must commend you. Sure, some telephoto lenses are sharper, but sports photography isn’t always about sharp. It’s about reach and passion and motion…and you can’t always get sharp with motion. It just doesn’t work that way – that’s more for wedding photographers.
Now, as for burst-mode photography, every DSLR has rapid fire capability (shooting multiple frames in a row in a significantly small amount of time), but some are better than others. If you’re a weekend warrior and you only shoot your son’s Tee-Ball team, then any DSLR will be able to keep up with your lil’ champion. However, once you move up to varsity sports in high school or college sports (or even pros!) it’s time to invest in a better camera. You don’t have to go out and buy a $3000 full-frame sensor DSLR – in fact, I don’t recommend full-frame sensor cameras for sports enthusiasts period – BUT if you spend a little more on your camera than you would a Canon Rebel or a Nikon D3200, you can find a significant jump in your camera’s rapid fire. Beginner DSLRs typically start with rapid fire modes that cover 3 to 4 frames per second…which is not bad – that’s just fine for chasing the kids around the yard or watching your toddler’s soccer game. But once you spend up to $900 or more on a DSLR, the rapid fire goes up to 6 frames per second, or sometimes even 8, 9 or 11 frames per second! With that kind of speed, you can go out and shoot the Olympic games and get professional results.
The other function you want to take advantage of is your auto-focus motor. This tells the camera whether you’re shooting someone/thing that’s sitting still or moving fast and it changes how your camera auto-focuses. For sports and action, you want to set your DSLR’s auto-focus to “AF-C” (in Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax cameras) or “AI-Servo” (for Canon cameras). This function will continue to re-focus on your athlete as he/she moves through the frame, and you’ll get sharper pictures. Now every DSLR has this function, but if you can spend $900 or more on your DSLR it will auto-focus faster and smoother. That’s very important if your shooting Formula One racing, or boxing, or UFC, or the NFL. The faster your athlete or sport of choice, the faster you need your camera to be. Still not sure which camera or lens best suits you? Give us a call. Our sales staff have decades of photo experience and will happily point you in the right direction, or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, Happy Hunting.