Tutorial: Sports Photography

The decisive moment

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

It might be the moment a runner dips for the line, or the instant a tennis player brings the racquet to the ball. Some photographers take advantage of the continuous shooting mode of their cameras to try and capture the moment.


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 a blur can give the impression of movement in a still photograph. The shutter speed needed will depend on the:
   • Speed of movement in the subject
   • Distance between the subject and the camera
   • Amount of blur you want to see. 
Set the Mode Dial on your EOS to Tv (Shutter-priority AE) 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.

If your lens has Image Stabilization, depending on the lens there may be a switch on the side of the barrel which can improve your panning shots. Normally the switch is in Mode 1 which offers stabilization in both vertical and horizontal directions. Switch to Mode 2 and stabilization is then given only in a vertical direction only; perfect for panning action shots.

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