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Photographing Sporting Events

To keep it simple, here’s my summary recommendation for equipment and settings (note, you MUST NOT use flash (according to USA Gymnastics rules, for the safety of the gymnasts), so be sure you know how to keep your camera’s flash from firing!). Also, unless you are USA Gymnastics safety certified, you are NOT allowed on the gymnastic floor while gymnasts are performing…don’t argue with the officials…those are the rules!)

Camera: Canon 1D Mark III (or equivalent crop-sensor camera)…


Lens: Canon 70 – 200mm f2.8 lens or similar wide-aperture moderate telephoto prime lens.


ISO (light sensitivity): 3200 (stopping the action is probably more important to getting clear images than low noise). In a brightly lit gym, you might be able to get away with ISO 800 or 1600 if the light is bright enough (see shutter speed, below)


Aperture: f/2.0, Aperture priority setting on camera (Av) (or the “brightest” aperture you can use)


Shutter Speed: let the aperture priority setting pick the fastest speed available. You will want a shutter speed of 1/500 to 1/1000 or faster if at all possible with the light available to you. If you can only shoot at 1/250…it’s tough, but you will still get some good photos if you take them when the gymnast is motionless (reversing direction in a gymnastics move)


NOTE: Dimly lit gymnastics events are difficult to photograph with anything less than ISO3200 and f2.8 (or the equivalent combination…e.g. ISO1600 f2.0, ISO800 f1.4, etc.). I recommend “prime” (non-zoom) moderate telephotos because you can get a wide-aperture lens that isn’t huge. Note that the typical f/4 – f/5.6 telephoto zooms … typical “consumer” zooms, just don’t let in enough light to take good gymnastics photos in most gyms. If you have tried to take photos of your son or daughter using an f/4 to f5.6 zoom…getting poor quality images is likely the fault of your equipment, not you! In most gyms, you MUST use a wide-aperture lens and an SLR camera… the typical point and shoot digital camera simply isn’t fast enough to capture a gymnast at the right moment, and the small sensors used are often “high-noise” at higher ISO settings…and they rarely enable an ISO above 800 or so.


You may find using a monopod helpful, however, it is usually the gymnast’s motion that must be frozen. Neither a monopod nor an “image stabilized” (IS) lens will stop the motion of the gymnast. IS may help if you are shooting a long and hard-t0-hold telephoto.


For floor exercise, shut off your auto focus, and stand perpendicular to the direction of travel for the gymnast, so they stay the same distance from you. Prefocus your lens and leave it (unless you are using a camera like the Canon 1D MKIII that has 45 auto focus points). Otherwise, you run a high risk of focusing on the back wall rather than the gymnast when they move out of the center of your image! Floor is tough to photograph!

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Need a headshot for your web site?

Need a head shot for your web site? A good photo of the little one for your holiday cards? Taking good pictures of people can be hard, but don’t despair. An average digital camera can take great portraits if you keep a few simple guidelines in mind. No special equipment is required and the features discussed are widely available on most point-and-shoot cameras. Who knows, if you follow along carefully you may never have to pay for those expensive school pictures of your kids again.


Choose The Right Camera Settings

Portrait_mode.jpg Most digital cameras have a “portrait mode” built in. Activate it by turning the mode dial to the portrait icon (usually a person’s head). This setting draws attention to your subject by blurring the background.


Blur More? If your camera has a zoom lens, go to maximum telephoto and zoom in all the way. You may need to take a few steps to get subject in frame; step back and zoom all the way in. This makes the background blur even more, throwing your subject into even sharper relief. (No “digital zoom.” Optical zoom—or “real zoom”—is what you want.)


Flash Mode

Make the flash go off. Set your camera so that even in brightly lit places that your flash off in every situation. Do not just let the camera flash if it needs to, because it won’t; you’ll be shooting in plenty of light. You want to literally force the flash to fire. Doing this will soften the shadows on your subject’s face and add a gleam to his/her eye.


Forcing the flash is usually very easy to do and involves pushing the flash mode selector button until the flash mode indicator displays the “will flash no matter what” icon (usually a lightning bolt) as opposed to the “will flash if necessary” icon (a lightning bolt with an “A” next to it). On many cameras there will also be an option to force the flash in red-eye reduction mode (a lightning bolt plus an eye but no “A”). Do this if available.


More About Light


To take a great picture you need more than just the light from your camera’s flash. To get it, go outside in the daytime. Sunny or cloud. Indoor light is often insufficient for good photography, so do yourself a huge favor and step outdoors.


Once you’re outside, place your subject with the sun to the side usually works well. I find that the sunlight from the side, combined with the light from the flash in front, make for a pleasantly lit subject.


Bonus tip: If possible take your picture in the early morning or the late afternoon. The light at these times makes for the best photography.

Composing And Shooting


Frame your shot so you get just the subject’s head and maybe their shoulders. Really, the tighter you frame it the nicer it’ll look.


Remember to zoom all the way in and then compose your shot. You may need to take a step closer to your subject or maybe take a step back. Do not frame the shot by adjusting the zoom; leave it at maximum telephoto.


If you can, try to shoot where the background is as far away as possible. This also helps blur it and draw attention to your subject.


Now that your camera is set, you have good light and you’ve framed your shot it’s time to shoot. Hold your camera steady and push the shutter release button only halfway down. Pushing the button halfway down tells the camera to figure out the auto-focus and auto-exposure. Once the camera is done taking its readings, (a green light, a beep or both will notify you)then you can simply push the button. You could pause here and tell your subject a joke to make him/her laugh and then push it the rest of the way down, capturing that perfect expression.

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Understanding Aperture?

Aperture is ‘the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.’

When you hit the shutter release button of your camera a hole opens up that allows your cameras image sensor to catch a glimpse of the scene you’re wanting to capture. The aperture that you set impacts the size of that hole. The larger the hole the more light that gets in – the smaller the hole the less light.


Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’. You’ll often see them referred to here at Digital Photography School as f/number – for example f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6,f/8,f/22 etc. Moving from one f-stop to the next doubles or halves the size of the amount of opening in your lens (and the amount of light getting through). Keep in mind that a change in shutter speed from one stop to the next doubles or halves the amount of light that gets in also – this means if you increase one and decrease the other you let the same amount of light in – very handy to keep in mind).


One thing that causes a lot of new photographers confusion is that large apertures (where lots of light gets through) are given f/stop smaller numbers and smaller apertures (where less light gets through) have larger f-stop numbers. So f/2.8 is in fact a much larger aperture than f/22. It seems the wrong way around when you first hear it but you’ll get the hang of it.


Depth of Field and Aperture


There are a number of results of changing the aperture of your shots that you’ll want to keep in mind as you consider your setting but the most noticeable one will be the depth of field that your shot will have.


Depth of Field (DOF) is that amount of your shot that will be in focus. Large depth of field means that most of your image will be in focus whether it’s close to your camera or far away (like the picture to the left where both the foreground and background are largely in focus – taken with an aperture of f/22).


Small (or shallow) depth of field means that only part of the image will be in focus and the rest will be fuzzy (like in the flower at the top of this post (click to enlarge). You’ll see in it that the tip of the yellow stems are in focus but even though they are only 1cm or so behind them that the petals are out of focus. This is a very shallow depth of field and was taken with an aperture of f/4.5).


Aperture has a big impact upon depth of field. Large aperture (remember it’s a smaller number) will decrease depth of field while small aperture (larger numbers) will give you larger depth of field.


It can be a little confusing at first but the way I remember it is that small numbers mean small DOF and large numbers mean large DOF.


Let me illustrate this with two pictures I took earlier this week in my garden of two flowers.


The best way to get your head around aperture is to get your camera out and do some experimenting. Go outside and find a spot where you’ve got items close to you as well as far away and take a series of shots with different aperture settings from the smallest setting to the largest. You’ll quickly see the impact that it can have and the usefulness of being able to control aperture.

Some styles of photography require large depths of field (and small Apertures)


For example in most landscape photography you’ll see small aperture settings (large numbers) selected by photographers. This ensures that from the foreground to the horizon is relatively in focus.


On the other hand in portrait photography it can be very handy to have your subject perfectly in focus but to have a nice blurry background in order to ensure that your subject is the main focal point and that other elements in the shot are not distracting. In this case you’d choose a large aperture (small number) to ensure a shallow depth of field.

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Sports Photography – Myrtle Beach Photography Tip

1. Watch for action and movement. Sports like Basketball and Volleyball are consistently fast paced. Your job is not simply to capture the event, but also the connection between players. This takes some skill and anticipation.

2. Set your camera to a high ISO setting. Most recent SLR cameras will now allow you to shoot on 1000 ISO or even 1250 ISO. These options will reduce your concern for noticeable film grain (from ISO 1600). At the same time, your camera’s sensor will be more sensitive to what little available light you have.

3. Shoot with a fast shutter speed – at least TV/200 if you can. Once again, because you need to capture movement, a fast shutter speed will freeze the motion of the athletes, giving you a clear photo. [And if it comes down to it, settle for an underexposed image in camera. You can always adjust a sharp photo later].

4. Use a lens with the lowest aperture possible, say f4.0 to f2.8. Because you don’t have much available light, and you are working with a faster shutter speed, a wide aperture is your best friend in this setting. A wider aperture will increase the intensity of the light hitting your sensor, maximizing the available light.

5. Look for expression. Anger. Aggression. Rivalry. Teamwork. Excitement. Victory. You cannot successfully shoot any sport without watching, waiting, and capturing the emotions and relationships of the game. You will win at the end of the day if you have an emotional picture that isn’t completely sharp.

6. Shoot in RAW. The likelihood that you will achieve perfect coloring in camera is slim. Gym lighting is as notorious for green tinted lighting as it is for low lighting in general. Shooting in RAW will enable you to fix the colors in your post processing.

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Things To Remember When Photographing Your Family Vacation

Tell the story of your vacation. Think how your prints will look when you show them to your friends and relatives. You’ll be narrating a story at the time so take shots to illustrate your story. Take photos of your traveling companions before you leave home, while traveling to the airport, and when you get back. Hopefully you’ll see a change in your sun tan! Photograph yourselves in front of “Welcome to…” signs to use as “chapter headings.”


Take a Small Camera

Despite having a lot of large ‘professional’ equipment, the camera I use most often with friends is a small, “compact” camera. I have a really tiny model that I can slip easily into a pocket and carry around with me. That way, whenever something unexpected and fun happens, I’m ready to capture the moment.


Photographing People

The most useful tip for photographing people is to get closer. Try and fill the frame with just the faces. Ask your subjects to stand or sit closer together, so there’s less “wasted” space in the photo. Turn the flash on, even when you’re outdoors, to highlight the faces.


Understand Your Flash

I often see people trying to photograph a live show or concert. Unfortunately this is almost impossible to do with a normal camera. Most on-camera flash units are only effective for about eight to ten feet – anything further away will just appear black on the photo. Whenever you use a flash indoors, make sure that you’re between two and eight feet from your subject.



Don’t Forget the Fun!

Many of the fun times occur between sights. Capture these with “ordinary” shots – checking in, waiting in line, at the shops, having dinner with friends, with people you meet.


Don’t Forget You!

The problem with being the photographer is that you don’t appear in the photos. Stand your camera on a wall or table and use the self-timer feature, or ask someone else to take the photo. Chances are they’ll have a camera too and will ask you to return the favor!

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