Most high speed photography is going to be around sporting events and activities. Though some people like to photograph moving water or other “active” items, for this discussion the focus will be on the techniques and equipment required to master high speed sports photography.
What are the basic considerations of shooting high speed photographs? Shutter speed, ISO, shooting mode, a zoom lens and creativity will be the photographer’s primary concerns.
What about lighting? While most scenarios allow a photographer to have some measure of control over the lighting in their images most sports venues will not allow much control over ambient light. For example, inside an arena and outdoors at a baseball field requires the photographer to work with the situation rather than trying to modify or alter it.
This is the reason that the primary focus is on shutter speed. Of course the higher the shutter speed the more affect on the light entering the camera, and this is dealt with through ISO – our next subject. Where shutter speed is concerned however, the photographer will need to determine what their desired image is going to be. Will it be a single player pulled out from a blurrier background? Will it be the instant the ball meets the bat? Will it be an intense close up of a goal keeper at the moment of defeat? Each of these situations requires a different shutter speed and camera settings.
For example, that ball meeting the bat will be frozen at about 1/4000th of a second, while the single player can usually be caught at around 1/500th of a second.
In order to meet the lighting needs of the high shutter speeds the photographer must adjust their ISO. The trouble of adjusting ISO comes from the digital “noise” created when creating a print of the image. This is a graininess that reduces the overall quality of the image. Currently there are software programs most photographers use to eliminate noise from high shutter speed/high ISO images. It is a good idea to begin with an ISO no lower than 400 for high speed photography, though many photographers actually increase their ISO to 800 or higher.
Additional considerations in high speed photography concern the “burst” mode of a camera. Because the digital cameras usually have cripplingly long “lag” times between images, the burst or continuous mode is absolutely critical to capturing the drama, action and emotion of any sporting event. Some cameras are able to record from three to twelve frames per second in this way.
Finally, many high speed sports photographers like to use a zoom lens to really get into the middle of the action. This allows them to record facial expressions, important details and unique images.
Just as in any other photographic method, experimentation is the key. Photographers are encouraged to adjust settings and test editing software to see what the best results are for their preferred sport!
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