Technique explained: Dynamics in Sport
You will probably recognize it, I suffer from this too, so you are not alone: if you are going to take pictures, you actually want different pictures than everyone else is taking. You always want to keep growing and always get better.
Last days I was a photographer at a training camp for football players with the aim of laying the foundations to reach the first division. Given the high ambitions, the matches went fast. And I wanted to capture that.
I chose to shoot parts of the match with a slow shutter speed and not to freeze all the action but to give the action much more dynamics and speed. Photos that are different, that stand out. And that give you a feeling of speed in your stomach.
Because photography is emotion, just like sport. And that combination is rock solid.
In this mail I explain what I do and how I achieve the dynamics in the photos. Unfortunately, photography isn't just applying a few modes to your camera, it's trying, experimenting and then achieving real results.
We start with a basic principle of photography. Because we are going to work with blur and there is 1 rule that is essential here: if you have blur in your photo, you must also have sharpness somewhere in your photo, where your eye can go. If there is no sharpness in your photo, your eye has no rest and the photo is often seen as a failure.
On the other hand, if you have action in your photo and everything is frozen then sometimes that is very nice but sometimes the photo is not good.
Have you ever watched the Perfect Picture? In this season as well as last season, helicopter shots (this year with the rescue brigade and last year with the army assignment) were seen as less successful, because the blades were frozen and showed no movement.
I have used this principle with the football players, but then we go a step further than with the helicopter photos.
Let me explain how I went about doing this:
In the first place I set my camera to autofocus continues or AI servo. I have fast running football players where the distance from my subject to my camera is continuously different. So the autofocus really has to keep following the football players when I keep my shutter button half-pressed.
I would like to shoot a number of photos at the same time / one after the other during an action. So I also set my camera to continues high (taking pictures in quick succession while holding the button).
In addition, I have to decide for myself how fast the shutter speed is. I need to find the 'golden' shutter speed here: fast enough to freeze my subject, slow enough to blur everything else with movement. However, there is no standard shutter speed for this, but this is purely trying and experimenting.
Here's how I did it: I used my telephoto lens (70--200) to get a little closer to the action. Of course I'm not allowed to walk into the field. Then I went to have a look. I want to apply the technique of measuring. What is this?
Tracking involves tracking your subject's movement from left to right or right to left. I know this won't work if a subject is coming towards you or moving away from you. Also diagonally towards you is very difficult. So preferably from left to right or vice versa.
I started with a shutter speed of 1/100. And first start to see for myself how it feels. I've set my autofocus here to 9 points, 1 main point and 8 auxiliary points around it. And I try to keep the main point on the football player on the ball, I keep the button half-pressed (back button focus is also allowed, but if I have to use 2 fingers during fast sports I get an error in my head).
And I notice that my camera gets a workout, keeps adjusting the focus and keeps my subject sharp. That's going in the right direction.
It is essential to follow exactly the speed of the player with the camera. So I keep my focus point exactly on this player (challenge). However, if the player suddenly jumps, I know that I am getting movement because I am going from left and right, but also going up at that exact moment, that doesn't work, then I am always too late.
And then it's time for the first series. I look around and wait for a player to accelerate from one side to the other and...click...click...click...click...click. The first series of photos is on it.
Now it is important to check the sharpness. I look at the player that was the focus. I see out of focus, out of focus, out of focus, out of focus, out of focus. I know I have to throw away most of the photos because the players don't have fixed patterns and are therefore quite often out of focus,
In my All about photography In the workshop I will show this technique extensively in the video lesson at Schiphol and at a car race. There the planes and the cars always have the same route and I can predict exactly how they will go. There I know that I will come home with many more perfect photos.
I always check the sharpness at 100% zoom in on my display, because without zooming in everything is sharp....until I get home and then everything is out of focus. Recognizable?
The solution: zoom in and check.
I repeat the series one more time with 1/25 and the result is almost the same. When I go faster I have more sharp football players but much less dynamics of the movement. If I go slower, I don't have a single photo in focus. So I quickly found the sweet spot of 1/100 or 1/125.
I keep shooting series and I'm happy with the result. I don't have to supply 10000 photos, if I supply 10 photos for the football magazine that contain a lot of dynamics, then the client is satisfied.
I alternately use this technique in a number of competitions, so the magazine has the choice between completely frozen or very dynamic photos. Mission accomplished.