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k1par Oct 3, 2006 7:13 PM

Canon Digital Rebel XT w/Sigma 170-500 Zoom (hand held)or Sigma 70-300 Zoom

ISO 400 Shutter/1.500 - 1/1000 F/ 5.0-8.0 Tv Mode

JohnG Oct 4, 2006 8:24 AM

#4 turned out nice. Really good action - crisp and background is not too distracting.

For the rest, timing is either a bit late (shots 1 & 2) or backgrounds are just too distracting.

What was on the other side of the field? More cars? or something worse? Your apertures can't open up more (well except if you were using f8 - if so, open up to 5.6) so the only way to help yourself with regard to backgrounds is by your shooting position. Was there something on the other side that looked worse than parked cars? If not, then try shooting from the other side.

Also, try shooting from behind the goal area - that way you have the entire field length as a backdrop - even with 5.6 you should get much cleaner backgrounds than with the angles here.

k1par Oct 4, 2006 9:38 AM

Thanks John,

All shots were taken from the end lines. #1 is taken on a high school field which is fairly open. The sun angle usually puts me on the same side as the cars. I wind up looking at either the grammer school, the baseball backstop or a housing development. The rest of the shots are taken at the university field and it's not the best. Sun angle puts me on the left side of the goals looking at all the cars and spectators. The university had requested that photographers do not work on the same sideline as the team benches and we honor it. Also on the same side of the field as the teams the field is lined by TALL trees so things go into shade real quick in the afternoon. Due to that I like to set my shutter speed around 1/800-/1000 and let the f stop vary as I go from light to shade.

I'll be honest, when I am taking sports shots my priority is getting good action for publication in my local newspapers (during the various sports season I average 5 published photos a week) and I don't pay much attention to how blurry or sharp the background is going to be.

Yeah I know timing is everything. Being a little late is usually due to time lag, not shutter lag. Time lag is the time it takes for the brain to engage and take the shot instead of just standing the and watching a good play develop:?

JohnG Oct 4, 2006 10:50 AM

k1par wrote:

Thanks John,

I'll be honest, when I am taking sports shots my priority is getting good action for publication in my local newspapers (during the various sports season I average 5 published photos a week) and I don't pay much attention to how blurry or sharp the background is going to be.

The only word of caution here is - that approach may be fine if you have no competition. Now another photographer comes along and does pay attention to that as well. Given a choice between two photos - both showing action - one has a nice blurred background and the other doesn't. Guess which one the editor is goiong to choose? It's also one of the reasons my shots get published more than the paper's staff photographer even though I'm freelance. It's also why my paper call me and another freelancerfirst - because we do pay attention to the details - it's not that they speak in terms of 'subject isolation' and such - it's just that they recognize the picture without the car looks better than the picture with the car in it.

So, given the fact you are selling your work I would think it's even more important to have a quality product. If you were giving it away to friends and parents then that's one thing. Selling the work is quite another. And it's tough to go back and make another impression - so when someone else does come into your area and pays attention to the details your left high and dry. So, I guess what I'm saying is: just because your published today, there are a lot of photogs out there investing the time and money and paying attention to detail. If you sit on your laurels and don't try to improve just because you're published today you could easily find yourself not being published tomorrow. I'm not trying to knock you. Just saying that using the published angle as an excuse to not improve is not a good excuse (saying, I'm only shooting for fun to get pix of my own kid is a better reason).

JohnG Oct 4, 2006 12:05 PM

just a follow-up. Please don't misunderstand my post. My intent is not to say "I'm a great photographer you need to be like me" - it is merely that you shouldn't be happy and not try to improve just because you're currently making money.

For instance, I'm curently making money but my work isn't anywhere near the level of quality of the shooters at the major local papers. Part of that is they get to use the big guns (400mm 2.8 lenses) but more importantly they've honed their skills to a higher level. So, I still seek as much feedback as I can get so I can take my photos to another level and quite honestly to ensure the business I am getting today doesn't disappear because someone new is willing to work harder than I am.

For instance look at the soccer posts of Frank Doorhoff - arguably I am using equipment better suited to shooting soccer but Frank's work is amazing because he works at it and has improved it over the years. Shell's volleyball pictures were an inspiration to me - they're the result of not only the right equipment but also putting in the work to make the best work out of that equipment. So, I'm just saying that if you're selling your work and there isn't someone there like a Shell or Frank to compete with now it doesn't mean someone like that won't be there shooting tomorrow. For the parent giving away photos it's no big deal - for someone tryiing to publish or sell once you lose your customer(s) to another whose willing to work harder it will be tough to get that business back.

I really hope you take this in the spirit in which I intend it - which is: there are things you can do as a photograher to get even better images than you're currently getting - don't sell yourself short and say "these are good enough I don't need to get better".

k1par Oct 4, 2006 12:52 PM


It's a good point and well written. I hope that we are not the only ones taking note of what is being said here. It is a good lesson for anyone who has a camera in their hands.

Now for a direct question. How do you shoot your outdoor shots? Shutter Priority? Apature Priority? Manual? I am a fan of shutter priority mode and that is why I most likely get the sharper back ground so maybe a change to apature priority is needed.

As for what is in the back ground, a lot of the time there is no control of the content. We can try to limit distractions by using different angles but that is not always practical but the word to the wise is think about what is behind the action and how it will effect the image.

A note to everyone else reading this thread:

I don't know about anyone else but I enjoy these exchanges. After 32 years of pushing the sutter button I know I am set in some of my ways but I also know I need to listen to the ideas of others. John and I have had several of these exchanges and willhave many more.

JohnG Oct 4, 2006 2:02 PM

k1par wrote:

I don't know about anyone else but I enjoy these exchanges. After 32 years of pushing the sutter button I know I am set in some of my ways but I also know I need to listen to the ideas of others. John and I have had several of these exchanges and willhave many more.

That's it in a nutshell and also what's great about Steves. Having different viewpoints makes us all better and almost always it's done in a constructive fashion unlike other forums I've seen where attacks get personal.

And, quite honestly, photography is more art than science. So it benefits everyone to have several different ways to choose from. My methods work for me but they may not work for someone else. Other methods can get just as good or better results. And, my methods change. Focus point is a great example - I've gone back and forth repeatedly regarding whether I get better results using single focus point or all focus points.

Which brings me to your other question - shooting mode. You've got 3 different modes to choose from: manual, aperture priority or shutter priority. In general, I dislike shutter priority because you lose control of DOF - and, as noticed here and elsewhere, DOF is an important issue to me. So, I'm left with either Aperture priority or Manual. Here's how I evolved after getting out of auto mode:

1. Shot aperture priority stopped down a bit (i.e. if 2.8 lens I used f4).

2. Forced myself to shoot wide open to increase subject isolation - the result was I had more OOF shots at first but my keepers with this method were better than my keepers stopped down. It also forced me to pay closer attention to my technique. So, now when I need to shoot indoors using a lens at 2.0 my focusing technique is better and I get more keepers than if I had gone from say shooting f8 outdoors and jumped to 2.0 indoors I'm guessing my keeper rate would be abismal - and this is just me because I remember how bad it was when I went down to shooting at 2.8. And, as with my argument above, the thought that was pounded into me by people whose work I admired was: If you have 2 images exactly the same - both sharp, good capture of action and good exposure/color. Image one has the subject isolated and image 2 does not - Image 1 is going to be better (assuming your intent is subject isolation - some shots require greater DOF - but typically most action shots look better with the blurred background).

3. Next step was realizing that faces were more important than uniforms. And realizing that Canon cameras were going to protect highlights at all costs so white jerseys usually resulted in underexposed faces. I found that using +1/3 or +2/3 EC usually kept highlights intact and I had better exposed faces. Occasionally uniform and sky highlights got blown but I prefered good facial tones to the white pants/uniforms. At this point I still avoided shooting manual - I argued that if I'm shooting manual and the sun goes behind the clouds or the light is different in one part of the gym my shots will get screwed up.

4. One major flaw I found with AV mode was that if you have 2 players, one has light jersey on and the other dark - the camera could meter as much as a full stop difference between the two jerseys - but guess what - if it's the face that was important to me, the 'correct' metering for the face remained unchanged. So, I couldn't really adjust my EC on the fly based upon the jerseys in question. So I decided to give manual a try. I take some test shots in a given lighting condition and check both my test images on the LCD (to look at faces and their exposure) and most importantly my histogram. I try to target my exposure so the histogram is pushed to the right or at worst centered. Once that criteria is met, the next question is: is the face properly exposed? if it is I stop. If it isn't I'll adjust up or down. Now, the drawback to this is - when lighting conditions change I have to change my setup. So, when I change field positions or when I see light conditions change I start checking my histogram after every few shots. When I see it start sliding I adjust my exposure. So, it's more work on my part - but not too bad, after all there's always down time between the action. And the benefit is, the uniforms don't screw up my metering. Whether the player is wearing the black jersey or the white I still get the face exposed properly. The only time you really run into problems with this approach is on bright sunny days where a player has a hat or helmet. Especially African American kids in a football helmet. Sometimes it just isn't possible without flash to get a properly exposed face and not blow a lot of highlights - my camera just doesn't have the dynamic range to deal with that.

But, indoors I always use manual. Outdoors I use manual 90% of the time now and only use Av if the field is cut by light in the area I'm shooting (i.e. if I'm shooting from the goal area and the left half of the field is in shadows and the right half is lighted - well both halves are likely targets for me so I use aperture. But if one goal is in shadow and one in light I can't go anywhere and get action from both goal areas (sorry don't have a 600mm lens) so I don't have to worry about the action I'm following crossing this 'light barrier'.

At the end of the day, I wanted what I believed to be the best approach so that when I do have a keeper it's the highest quality my equipment and skill will provide. It also means that I throw out shots that are sharp and in focus now. Why, because they don't show either the peak action (types of shots I like to post or submit to the paper) or don't make a good sportrait (I've got plenty of these shots because parents seem to like shots of just their kids). And, I always try to find work from people who are in the same equipment bracket and try to use them as a standard. Of course I view work from photogs using 1dMkII N and 400mm 2.8 primes but in my mind I always think - how much of that is their skill vs. the equipment (note: the real answer is it's more their skill but my ego doesn't like that answer ;)) - but when I look at examples from people shooting with equipment similar to mine, my ego can't state "it's the equipment". So, what are they doing to get such great shots when mine still look like crap.

So, that in a nutshell is where I'm at regarding what settings I'm using. Not saying it's the only way or the best way. Not even saying in two months time I won't be saying something completely different. Oh, and for the record, right now I'm using single focus point only - a month from now I may be back to using all focus points. Who knows?

So, that's about it. Moral of the story? Keep practicing, keep posting, keep discussing. It's how we get better. When I look at shots of mine from just a year ago that I thought were really good, I cringe. So, I'm hopeful that next year when I look at this year's shots I'll cringe again

Dunner Oct 6, 2006 10:52 AM

These are good points that are applicable to any shooting situation. I shoot alot of hockey games (inside obviously) and lacrosse (in and out side). I'm somewhat of a newbie at photography but have done enough shooting to agree that you have to challenge yourself to get better shots regardless of your equipment. I shoot some games with the challenge to myself to get the best body check shot or the best goalie save. It's always a challenge to get a great face shot since the players all wear helmets and face cages. I find that these challenges also allow me to test various settings that will give me great results (although I'm still waiting for the great results!).

JohnG Oct 6, 2006 11:06 AM


Great points. I also think you've got the right mindset for good sports shooting. A common misconception is that sports shooting is about capturing the action as it happens. That's really a very small part. The really great shots come from PLANNING - anticipating the action and just like you said, having a vision for a specific type of shot and waiting for it so you're ready when it comes. It also keeps you thinking. Great points and thanks for sharing!

k1par Oct 6, 2006 12:33 PM


Great comments and glad you jumped in. I have never had the chance to shoot either of those sports but I think it would be a blast to do so. Some day maybe. Keep shootingand have fun.

John and I do have some difference of opinions and I have come across one that I tend to feel differently about.(the nice thing is we both respect each others opinions)

JohnG wrote:

A common misconception is that sports shooting is about capturing the action as it happens. That's really a very small part

I disagree with this statement. I feel that in sports photography is capturing the action. When I am doing a game I look for the action and want to that "WOW" shot of it. Although I agree with both of you that there is definitely planning no matter what shot you are trying to get but for me at least the action is the main reason for shooting the photo. Again only my opinion and what works for me.


I have a soccer game tonight, will probably use my 170-500 set at f/6.3 apature priority and see what happens. Will postsome and see what you (and everyone else) thinks.

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