24th Feb 2005

Digital Photography Sports Tips

Taking great digital photography sports shots with an analog camera is challenging enough, but when you factor in the additional issues of using a digital camera, then it is critical that you understand some of the basic challenges that you are going to encounter..

Like any photo shot, it is critical that you are close enough to the subject to capture it clearly, or have a zoom lens that is able to compensate for the distance, and that there is enough available light to take the shot.

The ability to get close enough depends up whether you’re shooting your child’s Little League game, or you’re at an NBA playoff. Unless you’re employed by Sports Illustrated (in which case, you don’t need this article), it is unlikely that you are going to be up close and personal while the professional players are doing their thing, and you might not even be able to get up too close at an amateur or school sporting event. So, the key is to make sure that you have a good zoom lens. Even then, if you’re in the nosebleed seats, there isn’t a digital camera made, or an analog camera that the average person can afford, that’s going to get the shot for you.

Zooming In on Great Digital Photography Sports Shots

There are two types of zooms that are available on digital cameras: Optical and Digital. Optical is by far the best choice. It works exactly as the zoom does on an analog camera and provides the most clarity, magnification, and detail. A digital zoom, on the other hand, plays games with the pixels to simulate actually zooming in for a close-up. The resulting picture is nowhere near the quality of an optical zoom’s image.

Setting Up the Best Digital Photography Sports Shot

When you arrive at the event that you’re going to be shooting, look around for some good positions that you can shoot from. Sometimes, at amateur and school events, you can make a deal with the coaches to trade them some team and action pictures in turn for some good real estate from which to take your shots.

No matter where you end up standing, never interfere with the players and don’t block the view of the coaches, umpires or refs, or the spectators. You’ll soon find yourself unwelcome if you do.

Don’t run around and chase the action, let the action come to you. Otherwise, not only will you wear yourself out, and look like an amateur, but you’ll usually find yourself in spot “A” when the action is in spot “B”, and visa versa.

Make sure the Lens cap is removed, or the shutter cover is open! Lots of great digital photography sports shots have been foiled by that little oversight, and make sure the camera is turned on! Keep in mind that digital cameras need a few moments to “warm up” when they are first turned on. Don’t lose a good shot because your camera isn’t ready to take it.

Digital Cameras Eat Battery Life

Keep an eye on your battery life. Digital cameras eat energy like a herd of locusts eat wheat. The over-the-fence home run, that your kid just banged out, won’t end up on your living room wall if your batteries are dead. By the way, you can have all the juice you’ll ever need but it won’t make a difference if your memory storage device is full!

Is your camera built for Sports?

As a minimum, your digital camera should come equipped with at least a built-in 3x OPTICAL zoom lens, or longer, if possible. A Digital zoom lens is worthless. Some cameras come with a special sports setting, or at least an option for selecting fast shutter speeds to freeze action. Some digital cameras can even mount accessory telephoto lens adapters made by the camera manufacturers or third-party suppliers. .

No Rapid Fire Shots

Be aware that a digital camera cannot “rapid fire” like an analog one can. Because the camera has to process the digital image, and store it to its memory device, it takes a moment or so before it is ready to shoot the next image. This is a definite drawback if you need to shoot a rapidly changing series of images. Many digital cameras do not have a “continuous focus” feature and some that do don’t perform well when attempting to shoot fast motion.

Beware of Camera Lag Time

Another potential hurdle to achieve a great digital photography sports shot is the fact that there is a lag time between pressing the shutter release and the camera actually recording the image. Depending upon the quality of the camera, this time can range from 1/4 of a second or more. In a fast changing action scene you might miss the ideal shot by the time the camera actually fires. There is also a tendency for the image to become blurred due to normal hand shaking or other movement.

I’m not trying to talk you out of digital photography sports shots, it’s just important that you realize where the potential traps are so you can defend against them.

Digital Cameras Are Still the Best

Having a digital camera at any sports event beats not having any camera by a fair margin! One last thing to remember — Regardless of the camera type you choose, flash photography is almost always prohibited inside of sports arenas and during outside night events. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the one that caused the High School team to lose the division title because my flash startled the center as he was stuffing the ball in the last seconds of the game.

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