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Sports photography | Best lighting – Tips and Techniques

Sports photography is full of action, capturing sports action is as much fun as watching it. Every sport has its own drama and emotion, and capturing the right moment of any sport is the true art of sports photography. How best you capture the moment largely depends on the lighting conditions of a sport. As we know sports are of indoor and outdoor nature, and so naturally they have different light sources. Capturing outdoor sports is in one way a relief to the photographer as the light is abundant and one doesn’t need to struggle much for tweaking with the light settings on the camera; but indoor sports are a different ball game altogether!
Photography in one sentence is “how best you capture light”, so lighting is the crux of any photography. Typically digital cameras have light sensors in them which capture the image; it was films in the past. So now, any image taken by a digital camera first makes an impression on the light sensors of the camera and the image is crunched onto it in the form of bytes (memory).
Before delving into sports photography or for that matter any photography it’s very important to understand few photographic terms of importance.

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  • Exposure – As mentioned, the image we shoot ultimately falls onto the sensors in the digital cameras, these sensors are made of silicon and the light sensitive points on these sensors are called ‘Pixels’, and there typically exist some millions of pixels on the sensor. These sensors in the digital camera have a particular sensitivity to light and the sensitivity of these sensors should be optimized so that the image captured will be of the best quality; this is achieved by controlling the shutter speeds which regulate the amount of light falling onto the sensors. Technically speaking the sensitivity of the sensors is fixed but its output can be modified by what is known as an ISO (International Standards Organization) setting.
  • ISO – is the sensitivity of the sensor defined by the International Standards Organization, typically a camera with a higher base ISO will be more sensitive to light. All the digital cameras now available come with the settings of ISO 50, 100, 1600, 3200 and 6400 at the maximum. Increase in ISO value in crude terms can be understood as aiding image capture at higher shutter speeds.
  • Shutter Speed – this is the speed at which the shutter of the camera blinks (analogous to our eye lids), this is critically important to understand while taking sports and high-action photography. Just bear it in mind that – faster the shutter speed, better it captures high speed action. A shot taken with a low shutter speed produces a blurry image of any fast action; whereas a shot taken at high shutter speeds captures the same fast action intact without any blurs.
  • White balance – normal light is just plain white and artificial lights such as fluorescent lamps, mercury vapor lamps etc., have their own particular wavelength to which the digital cameras are very sensitive. It’s for the same reason that one should take care while shooting in artificial lighting conditions – the best examples are indoor sporting events like basketball, gymnastics, table tennis etc., if one doesn’t adjust the white balance while shooting indoor sporting events, the images turnout in disgusting green and red hues under different artificial lighting conditions. Many modern digital cameras have auto white balance settings but it’s better to practice tweaking with the manual settings while pursuing sports photography, which will give you a better understanding of proper white balance settings under different lighting conditions. With this good grounding of the basic terms in photography, let’s get into what really matters for best sports photography.
  • Identify hot-spots – for any outdoor sporting events there usually exist some hot spots of action which you will definitely understand with experience. Have an understanding for those hotspots and keep your camera ready with the necessary settings; especially the white balance settings, so you can snap the action without missing it when it happens.
  • Burst mode – this especially is important for sports photography where you have to capture the action pretty fast and can’t afford to miss any frame! Burst mode is the ability of the digital camera to take a burst of shots automatically. Most modern digital cameras have the capability to take 15 shots continuously at the press of a button. With burst mode at your side, you are assured that you won’t regret for having missed that beautiful shot of your favorite sport star.
  • Prefocus – it’s very important particularly in high actions sports that you don’t want to miss any moment while shooting. So always be ready with your camera prefocused at the right spot and click it the moment the action is at the spot; this particularly applies to rallying and racing events where you are pretty much sure the car or bike is going to enter one particular spot – so get ready for the action with all your settings done and with the camera focused. Most of the digital cameras these days have autofocus – use it to your best!

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Eventually it’s very important to have a great sense of timing and the pulse for action in sports photography – else you will miss many great moments. And always bear it in mind that capturing emotions and drama of the sport is as important for sports photography as capturing the action. Sportsmen at stressful times and during the end of the game give you lot of opportunity to catch emotions – never miss it!

Would you like to share any more tips and techniques of sports photography? What were your sports photography experiences? We love to listen!

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2 Comments
  1. Marcia February 7, 2013 /
  2. IRG February 8, 2013 /