Friday, November 14, 2008

Lynchburg Soccer Game - Lessons in Sports Shooting

Sunday afternoon Skyler had her last soccer game of the year and I was excited to be there to see it. Not only is Skyler on the team but the team is coached by her father, my brother-in-law Jake. I figured this was a good time to break out the Bigma and practice my sports shooting. A little known piece of history is that back in 1991, I made my first venture into photography sales shooting little league football. That was back in the film days and after this weekend, I'm surprised that I got any images back then that were reasonably good!

I forgot how difficult it was to follow the action, adjust for changing light, and attain sharp focus on the spur of the moment. The latter may have actually been easier back then because we had trained ourselves to manually focus lightening quick. The autofocus, at least on the Bigma, doesn't react that fast (although it is still impressive for the type of lens). If I had a split screen, I may have switched to manual but since I didn't, I decided to stick with the auto.

The next issue is focus hunting in continuous mode. While linear or solo sports are fairly easy to get a lock on and track, a bunch of 7-year old girls wearing like colors and running in a pack causes the focus to jump from person to person. I switched over to selective focus for a good portion of the shoot knowing that I was going to miss a few shots because the focus took to long to lock.

One of the keys to sports photography is knowing the game so that you can predict where the action will occur and be ready to focus on that spot. At first this doesn't sound like a big deal; however, when you are looking through a 400 - 500 mm lens, your field of view is super narrow and you cannot see all of the action on the field. The great sports photographers have mastered keeping there non-shooting eye open and trained on the field. I haven't mastered this ninja trick yet. Instead I follow the player that I believe, based on experience, will make the play.

A team of 7-year old girls absolutely wrecks this plan because the playbook gets tossed and anarchy generally overtakes the field as soon as the ball is in play. The good thing is that they are not that fast. The best plan of attack is to follow the ball. You can guarantee that they will generally converge in a pact wherever the ball ends up.

During the game, I made one major mistake and forgot to set my camera to shutter priority. I was still in aperature priority from some shots that I took before the game. I was also set to iso 200. Instead of shooting at an action stopping 1/800 - 1/000th of a second, I fired away most of my shots at 1/180th. It wasn't apparent until I got the images into post and the motion blur was prevelant. In hindsight, I would have bumped the iso up to 400 (it was semi-cloudy/strong sun mix) and set the shutter priority to 1/1000th sec.

Luckily, I did manage some keepers although I missed some awesome shots! Next game I'll be sure to go over my checklist beforehand. If you haven't shot a sporting event, you go down to the local rec field on a weekend and take a couple hundred photos. It is excellent practice regardless of the style of photography that you prefer.

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