I am not ready for this cold weather! This past Friday I was shooting a night high school football game in New York. The temperature was barely above 20 degrees, but it was great being in the center of the action. Shooting sports is a lot of fun but can be very challenging. Typically lighting, especially at the high school level, is always difficult unless the game is outside in the sun. Fields are never bright enough. The lighting in gyms isn’t much better and varies from town to town. And for a parent, it is often tough to get close enough to the action to get a great shot. That’s why, when my kids were playing sports, I became the team photographer. It gave me full access to the fields, courts and rinks, and a lot of great shots for the memory books. But what makes a great sports shot? In my opinion, it is capturing the “peak of the action”. What does that mean? How is it done? What is the secret?
Well, here is the way that I do it. The concepts that I will be talking about apply to all levels of photographers and gear. So stick with me and dig in. Let’s take a look at the following 2 photographs. The photo of Xander Bogaerts was taken in February 2017 in bright sunlight. The photo of the woman in Barbados was taken in February too, but in 2016, also in bright sunlight. What do these 2 images have in common? One is obviously a sports shot. And, one is obviously not.
The answer is not very obvious. Here’s a hint: I used different cameras, with different lenses, with different settings. There is one common element. Here’s another image that may help you figure it out.
What is the common element in all 3 images? Still stumped? My photography mentor Joe Baraban says it best, quoting Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Eddie Adams: “When you get lucky, be ready”.
Being ready, being prepared, and anticipating the moment is the main ingredient for just about every one of my great images. Whether I am shooting sunrises or sunsets, or sporting events, or portraits, or traveling, or simply walking down the street looking for a great shot, I have done my research, I have prepared, I am ready to shoot, and I am anticipating the moment for the best shot so that I capture the peak of the action – the most interesting moment. Let’s analyze each shot.
Last February, I purchased a front row seat at Jet Blue Park for a Red Sox spring season game to get as close to the action as possible. I was anticipating that the starting lineup may not play the whole game, so I was feeling a sense of urgency in getting some great shots of Xander, Pedroia, Mookie and JBJ. I knew that I would need a long lens, longer than what I had with me, for some of the shots I wanted to get. So I had to improvise. Notice the planning that was already running through my mind before the game even started. To get technical for a moment, I used my Canon 7D camera which has a 1.6x crop sensor. This means that a 50mm lens on a normal 35mm film camera or on a full frame digital camera is equal to 80mm when on the Canon 7D-longer reach. The longest lens I had with me was a 70mm – 200m zoom. I also had a 1.4x extender, so effectively I had the equivalent reach of a 448m lens if I needed it (200 x 1.4 x 1.6). I wanted a photo of Xander fielding a ground ball. So, I configured my camera settings, composed the shot that I was envisioning, kept the camera pointed in that direction holding it close to my eye and waited. When the ball was hit, I simply had to squeeze the shutter button and ripped off about 6 shots. I was lucky that the ball was hit just out of Xander’s reach and I was ready for the shot: 240mm (x 1.6 = 384mm); F7.1 @ 1/500; ISO 100. The camera was set to shutter priority so that I could determine the shutter speed to freeze the action; the camera determined the F-Stop. Focus was set to AI Servo which means that the camera tracked Xander as he dove for the ball. And the camera was set to high speed continuous shooting to get the multiple images. The ISO was set to 100 because it was very bright. I shot a few test images, and then waited. I was ready and got lucky.
For the woman in Speightstown, Barbados shot, the camera, lens, and settings were all different but my process was the same. I determined that I wanted a shot of a person just as they passed the white strip in the wall to create a figure ground image taking advantage of the shadows contrasting the bright light. I set up my camera, pre-focused, took some test shots to make sure I got the image right, and waited. After about 10 minutes, a woman came out of the bakery just to the right and walked past the white wall. I was able to take 1 shot: Canon 5DMK11; 17mm-40mm zoom lens @ 40mm; F16 for increased depth of field @ 1/200; ISO 100. Again, lucky but ready.
The third image is of my son playing in the Thanksgiving Day football game his senior year at Tyngsborough High School. Understanding the game, I anticipated a screen pass. I positioned myself for a clear view of the play before the ball was hiked. My camera settings were locked in, I pre-focused and waited. I followed the play while in high speed continuous shooting mode. Lucky but ready. Canon 30D; 70mm – 200mm lens @ 95mm (x 1.6 crop sensor = 152mm); F6.3 @ 1/500; ISO 800.
Whether you are shooting with a smart phone, point-‘n-shoot camera or a more sophisticated DSLR, the most important components in taking a great photograph is understanding how to operate you equipment, envisioning and anticipating the image, preparing for the shot, and being ready to click the shutter just at the right moment. Take a look at these images that were taken with a point-‘n-shoot camera and an iPhone camera.
In all 3 images, the sun was moving quickly with just moments to spare to get the shot. I envisioned what I wanted to capture, prepared, and then waited. At the “peak of the action”, the moment when the sun was just right, click! Lucky, but ready!
Join me for a tutoring session to learn how to shoot better images. All skill levels with any type of camera-even a smartphone. Holiday gift certificates are available.