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DSLR Guide News - Action Photography Tips and Tools
May 20, 2012
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DSLR News - May 2012
In This Issue
This issue is all about action photography.
Action photography is - by far - the most demanding style of photography, requiring specialized gear and LOTS of practice.
The key ingredient that you'll need is a basic one: light.
The less light you have available, the more difficult action photography becomes.
Styles of Action Photography
There are two ways you can use your DSLR camera to capture action shots:
The first is more common: images of professional sporting events are always sharp and clear, regardless of how fast the subject was moving.
How do you get pictures like this?
It's simple (sort of). You must use a really fast shutter speed. The faster the subject, the faster the shutter speed you'll need to eliminate motion blur. Example: for the image above, the shutter speed was 1/2000th of a second.
Keep this in mind for now — we'll come back to it shortly.
For now, let's take a moment to talk about the second style of action photography, where motion blur is not only acceptable, it's encouraged.
To get photos with intentional motion blur, you have to slow down your shutter speed and then pan the camera to keep up with your subject.
If done correctly, you'll get a nice clear subject with a background that's a complete blur which clearly illustrates to the viewer that your subject is moving.
How to Get Fast Shutter Speeds
There are three variables that will affect the shutter speed you can use:
Since we're looking for maximum speed here, here's how to get more speed from each of the 3 variables:
Simply put: the ideal situation for action photography is a bright sunny day (or a sports arena filled with REALLY bright lights).
If there is plenty of available light, then you can get fast shutter speeds even with moderately narrow lens apertures and low ISO values.
However, as the available light decreases, you have to leverage aperture and ISO more to increase your shutter speed.
How to Get Sharp Action Photos
In situations where you want to make sure your subjects are clear without having to pan the camera, choose the following settings:
Continuous autofocus ensures that the camera constantly adjusts the focus point to track your moving subject. The alternative is called "one-shot" autofocus which is less effective — by the time the camera locks focus, your subject is long gone.
If your DSLR allows you to select a single focus point, always select the center one for action photography, since this is the most accurate and locks focus the fastest.
Setting the drive mode to continuous is so that you can fire off a burst of shots every time you press the shutter release button. Every DSLR has a maximum speed for continuous photo capture.
In Aperture Priority mode, you get to select the lens aperture while the camera chooses a matching shutter speed based on the amount of available light.
Once you have your camera in aperture priority mode, select an aperture that is the widest your lens will allow. This is called the maximum aperture of the lens.
Remember: the key to sharp action photos is getting a shutter speed that's fast enough to freeze the motion of your subject.
Here's how to do it:
NOTE: once you have your lens at its widest aperture, two of the three variables that affect shutter speed won't change: the available light and your aperture. This is why the ONLY way to increase shutter speed is to bump up your ISO.
EXAMPLE 1 - DAYLIGHT
When there's plenty of available light, getting fast shutter speeds doesn't require a lot of work.
Leave your ISO set to 100, set your lens to its maximum aperture and fire away.
EXAMPLE 2 - CLOUDY DAY
For this example, let's assume that it's a pretty overcast day which is limiting the amount of available light.
You've set your lens to its maximum aperture and ISO to 100, but your shutter speed is a mere 1/60th of a second. Most of your shots are looking blurry.
By increasing the ISO to 200, your shutter speed goes up to 1/125, but an increase to ISO 400 gets a shutter speed of 1/250. This speed is better for ensuring clear shots.
EXAMPLE 3 - NIGHT SPORTS
Trying to take sharp photos of action at night in dimly-lit arenas or inside gymnasiums is the most challenging of all.
Even with your lens at its max aperture, you'll find that you shutter speed at ISO 100 is quite slow, maybe 1/10th of a second.
While you can increase your ISO, you may find that even at ISO 6400 you're still only getting a shutter speed of 1/60 or 1/125.
These speeds are OK for non-moving subjects, but subjects on the run will still turn out blurry.
In this case, you really only have two options:
How to Get Blurry Action Photos
If you'd like your action photos to illustrate the speed of your subject, only one setting will change from the other style of action photography:
The reason to choose Shutter Priority instead of Aperture Priority is because you want to force the camera to use a SLOW shutter speed.
If the camera picks a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, that will freeze all motion and won't create the desired effect.
Best Action Photography Lenses
I've left the description of gear for the very last, since I believe that with the right combination of light, aperture and ISO you can get great action shots with just about any lens.
Having said that, there are certain circumstances where having a better lens will make a difference.
You'll want to look at some of the lenses below if you often take action photos in low-light situations. For example, if you're always taking shots of your son's soccer games at night or your daughter's basketball games in a gym then you need the extra light these lenses let in.
What makes these lenses better than the "standard" lenses is that they all have wider maximum apertures. The wider the max aperture, the less you have to rely on boosting ISO to get the shutter speed you need.
You'll also notice that these lenses have longer focal lengths: this lets you zoom in on your subject even if you are on the sidelines or up in the bleachers.
Other Photography Sites
Great Photo Blogs
After a long period of silence, several new digital SLRs have recently been announced.
The good news - if you're a beginning SLR photographer - is that all the models are entry-level cameras. The better news is that cameras with less "pro" features cost less.
Included in the crop of new cameras are the Nikon D3200, the Sony SLT-A37 and the Canon T4i 650D (rumored, but apparently coming soon).
If you're still trying to find the best digital SLR, wait a few months. I'd hate for you to get a camera now, only to find out that the newer model is better.
Until the next issue - happy picture-taking!
--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide
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