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Tag Archives: high school sports
This is the time of year that high school soccer starts getting serious in Georgia. Soccer is one of my passions because it’s such a beautiful game when played well. My son plays Goal Keeper for his high school team so I have the benefit/luxury of shooting each of his games from the sidelines. I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying and experimenting with camera settings to achieve good results. If you’re interested in taking great pictures of your child’s sports activities, then you may find the following sports photography tips useful.
In my experience, a camera body capable of a higher FPS (frames per second) rate and AI Servo focusing helps generate a higher rate of potentially better shots. I currently shoot with a Canon 7D that can achieve 8.5 FPS. FPS though is dependent on high shutter speeds to achieve maximum FPS. I’ve also shot with a Canon 50D which shoots a maximum of 6 FPS. It’s not necessary to have the fastest camera body. If you’re shooting sports in the lower light levels of a night time stadium event you won’t be shooting at shutter speeds that enable you to achieve 8.5 FPS. The typical DSLR can shoot at a maximum FPS of 3.5-4. This is definitely usable for daytime shooting. AI Servo focusing allows you to lock focus on a target and stay focused because the camera constantly refocuses as the subject moves about in the frame as you track them.
If you’re shooting in the previously mentioned low light stadium event you’ll want/need a “fast” lens. A fast lens is one in which the maximum aperture is larger than the typical zoom lens max of f/5.6 when zoomed out. You can shoot in most lighting situations during the day with a lens of that nature. However, in stadium lighting conditions, a larger maximum aperture i.e. f/2.8, is going to allow you to use a higher shutter speed to stop action. My current favorite lens mated with the Canon 7D is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. It has that large maximum aperture and allows me to have the proper reach on the field with the 7D’s crop factor of 1.6 giving me an effective focal length of 320mm.
One last item to consider is your memory card. If you have a camera body capable of decent FPS then you’ll need a memory card that allows the camera to empty the buffer more quickly as you rattle off photos.
- Camera Setup
It helps to have your camera/lens set up properly before you arrive at the event.
1. ISO: Setting the ISO on your camera, based on the available light, allows the camera to take the other parts of the exposure equation, aperture and shutter speed, and give you an exposure that allows you to stop action. In night time stadium events I typically shoot at ISO 6400. During the day, I’ll shoot at ISO 400 to get higher shutter speeds.
2. Camera Mode: I typically shoot in Aperture Priority mode so that I can guarantee that my aperture stays at f/2.8. By setting the aperture as a constant the shutter speed remains the only variable in the exposure equation and can fluctuate based on the variations in lighting on different parts of the field. At night, in a stadium, I can typically achieve as low as 1/250 and as high as 1/800 of a second, depending on where the subject is on the field of play.
3. Focus Mode: It’s absolutely key that you set this up in AI Servo mode so that you can track moving subjects. If you have the option of setting a focus point, choose the center point. Better yet, if you have Zone Focusing, use that instead. Zone focusing tells the camera to pick up the subject and lock focus in a small, defined area within the viewfinder. When trying to focus on a fast moving subject, zone focusing allows me to catch and lock on that subject and then track accordingly.
4. RAW or JPEG?: I typically shoot my other photography subjects in the RAW format. However, due to the size of most RAW files, when shooting sports I use JPEG format to allow the camera to run a higher “burst” rate. In other words, when I shoot in RAW, my camera only allows a burst of 6 frames before it has to stop to write to the memory card. JPEG format allows my camera to capture a burst of 60+ frames at a time. Coupled with a fast memory card like the Sandisk Extreme Pro, the camera is able to shoot and write to the memory card at the same time allowing me to achieve continuous shooting.
One of the benefits of the 7D is the ability to set up Custom Functions. This allows you to anticipate possible shooting situations and have multiple setups saved in the camera for quick adjustment on the field.
- On the Field
1. Positioning: Finding the best place to shoot from on the sidelines can be challenging. You want to capture as much action as possible but where’s the best place to be on the sidelines? When shooting high school soccer, I have never been restricted on where I can be on the outskirts of the field. I tend to float until I’m satisfied that I know where the bulk of the action will be. My favorite spot is behind the opponent’s goal so that I can catch the team as it drives the ball downfield towards that goal.
2. Shooting: The key to “capturing the moment” in a sports event is to focus on the desired subject and then keep shooting as you track that subject, i.e. “the guy with the ball”, down the field. Also, anticipating where the ball may go helps you set up for possible shots too. You’ll be caught off guard less often when you anticipate. Oftentimes, the action is so quick that if you’re not focused early then you stand a good chance of missing the shot and/or the overall play. Keep in mind that you’re shooting digitally so your only limitation is the size of the memory card(s) with you.
If you engaged in the “continuous shooting” mode mentioned above the result will be lots of photos. I’ll end up with anywhere from 1000 to 1500 photos after a typical game. Once you upload these to your computer, you need to be brutally honest when evaluating the photos. Are they sharp? Are they properly exposed? What about composition? If you shot a sequence of a soccer play and in one of the frames the player has his leg cut off then it’s probably not useful. Delete all those photos that don’t meet your standard or you’ll fill your hard drive quickly.
Once I’ve narrowed the photo set down, then I add a rating to the photos so that I can sort the best from the rest. Once that’s done, I’ll typically apply a batch noise reduction to the photos to reduce the noise from shooting at ISO 6400. Lastly, I upload the photos to the team web site for parents, players and coaches to view.
I tell people that I have the best seat in the house when I’m on the field. It’s a blast being so close to the action!