Tutorial: Sports Photography

The decisive moment

In sport, more than most other subjects, capturing the ‘decisive moment’ is important.

Master the half-press technique on the shutter release button which allows the camera to pre-focus so that you are ready to capture the decisive moment.

It might be the moment a runner dips for the line, or the instant a tennis player brings the racquet to the ball. Many current PowerShot and IXUS cameras also feature High-speed Burst (or High-speed Burst HQ) which lets you take a burst of pictures in quick succession. Alternatively try the Super Slow Motion Movie feature to see all the action, frame by frame. Check your Instruction Manual for details.


Goal, © Torben Andresen 2011, Canon EOS-1D Mark IV

Even so, there is great satisfaction in capturing the decisive moment with a single shot. The secret is to anticipate the moment and the best way to do that is to practice. Get a friend to bounce a tennis ball on a racquet and see how many times you can capture the ball in contact with the racquet. Then move on to more difficult situations, such as someone kicking a football. Can you capture the moment the boot comes into contact with the ball?

Freeze or pan?
When photographing action subjects, it seems obvious that fast (short) shutter speeds are needed to ‘freeze’ the movement. An image shot with a shutter speed of 1/1000 second will appear much sharper than one shot with a shutter speed of 1/100 second.


Panning, © Enrico Bogetto 2011, Canon EOS 30D

However, do you want a ‘frozen’ image? It can look lifeless and lacking in emotion. Introducing motion blur can give the impression of movement in a still photograph. The shutter speed needed will depend on the:
   • Brightness of the subject and of the scene
   • Speed of movement in the subject
   • Distance between the subject and the camera
   • Amount of motion blur you want to see. 
If you own a PowerShot SX, S or G series camera, set it to Tv (Shutter-priority AE) shooting mode and experiment with different shutter speeds. Look at each image as you shoot to see the effect.

Another way to ‘freeze’ the image is to use a relatively slow shutter speed (1/30 second, for example) and swing the camera to follow to movement of the subject. This is called ‘panning’. The aim is to keep the subject in the same place in the viewfinder so that it appears sharp. Panning of the camera blurs the background, giving a strong sense of movement.

Cameras with Intelligent IS automatically detect when you are panning and will help you to achieve a panning effect motion blur. If your camera doesn’t offer Intelligent IS, then go to the Image Stabilizer menu and select the Panning mode.

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