Taking Better Action photos By Bob Hubbard

Bob Hubbard

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Taking Better Action photos By Bob Hubbard

Taking Better Action photos
By Bob Hubbard

Ever been at a martial arts or other sporting event and taken pictures and not been happy with what you got? Were the eyes red and demonic looking, or did the subjects look like blurs or whispery ghosts? Here's a couple of suggestions to help you improve your shots.

1 - Know your camera settings.

Most people simply put their camera on "automatic" and hope for the best. This works in most cases, but action shots require a bit more knowledge to get right. Check and see if your camera has an "Action" or "Sports" mode. These settings use preset settings from the manufacturer to try and optimize your camera to capture fast moving action. While not perfect, it will usually improve what you do get.

2 - Use your Flash.

Yes, even in what to you looks like a nice and bright room, using your flash can help to "freeze" the action for your camera to catch it, and will add some pop to your shot.

3 - Enable Red Eye protection.

Many current pocket cameras today include a mode that ties to minimize those evil glowing demon eyes you get when using flash. Red eye is caused by the flash being too close to the lense, and the flash being "seen" in the eye. This is part of why professional photographers use those special grips and have the flash way up over the camera. If your flash is too harsh, try taping a little tissue paper over the light to soften it. Be aware that doing so will shorten the range and brightness of the light.

4 - Know what ISO your camera is set at.

Simply put, properly setting your camera's ISO will improve your pictures. A low ISO like 100-200 tends to be sharp, clear. High ISO's like 800-1600= ten to be on the fuzzy side, and grainy. So, why use a high ISO? The higher the number the more light sensitive your digital film is. Use a high ISO in low light situations.

5 - Take some test shots.

Digital cameras are great in that you can take as many shots as you want and not have to worry about bad ones. Before the event, take some test shots and preview them on the screen. Delete the ones that are really off, tweak your settings and try a few more.


Sports photography is a fun activity, but getting the best quality shots takes a little work. I hope that these tips help you enjoy your photography more.


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Bob Hubbard is a professional photographer specializing in martial arts event, nature and portrait photography. He is also the CEO of SilverStar WebDesigns Inc, a web design and hosting company specializing in martial arts sites, as well as an administrator on the popular martial arts communities MartialTalk.com, Kenpotalk.com and FMATalk.com. His martial arts photography can be found there as well as at his martial arts photography web site, martialphotos.com. He may be reached through these sites.
Copyright 2008 - Bob Hubbard - All Rights Reserved
Permission is granted to reprint this article on websites, blogs and ezines provided all text, links and authors bio is left intact.

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jks9199

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Two questions:

One: What is the "ISO" setting? (Yes, I'm baiting you a bit... but there are people out there today who won't have a clue!)

Two: What can you suggest if my camera doesn't have an "ACTION" or "SPORT" mode? It's got "CLOSE UP", "PORTRAIT", "LANDSCAPE" and a couple of others. (I think one is designed for the beach/snow where the background is very bright, for example.) I think there's a manual option, too...
 

Blindside

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Hi Bob,

I'm curious if you have shot many tournaments. Inside a typical poorly lit gym, with guys moving fast in kata or sparring, what do you prefer?

I'm usually at 1600 ISO with a 50mm f1.8 wide open, its hell on depth of focus and yes it is grainy, but grainy is usually better than blurry. I prefer to shoot with ambient light because it isn't as annoying and you don't need to wait for flashes to charge.

Just curious on your preferences.
 
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Bob Hubbard

Bob Hubbard

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Two questions:

One: What is the "ISO" setting? (Yes, I'm baiting you a bit... but there are people out there today who won't have a clue!)

Two: What can you suggest if my camera doesn't have an "ACTION" or "SPORT" mode? It's got "CLOSE UP", "PORTRAIT", "LANDSCAPE" and a couple of others. (I think one is designed for the beach/snow where the background is very bright, for example.) I think there's a manual option, too...

ISO: Film Speed or a measure of sensitivity to light. Higher numbers are more sensitive, but have a grainier image. Lower numbers are less sensitive but clearer. I prefer to shoot at 100-200 when I can.

Shoot manual. Try the following settings:
Speed - 1/100 This may be blurry, so you can go faster, if you have a good flash. 1/250 is usually good with flash
ISO - Try 200, then 400, then 800, then 1600, then 3200. You sacrifice crispness for more "light grabbing" ability.
Shutter Speed (F Stop) - This is how open your shutter is. The smaller the number the more open, the larger the number, the less open. In a low light situation (ie a gym) use as small as you can. You'll sacrifice some depth of focus on an SLR. Doesn't seem to matter much on an all-in-one.

Hi Bob,

I'm curious if you have shot many tournaments. Inside a typical poorly lit gym, with guys moving fast in kata or sparring, what do you prefer?

I'm usually at 1600 ISO with a 50mm f1.8 wide open, its hell on depth of focus and yes it is grainy, but grainy is usually better than blurry. I prefer to shoot with ambient light because it isn't as annoying and you don't need to wait for flashes to charge.

Just curious on your preferences.

I've shot a dozen or so. Took me a while to figure things out and find a balance that works for me. What I've found is, it really depends on what camera you have. I've had good luck with off camera flash units, built in flashes take too long to recharge and kill your main battery.

Nikon D50
ISO 400 F3.6 1/320 20mm
picture.php


Canon XSI
ISO 200 F5 1/125 24mm
picture.php
 

Big Don

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OK, Bob, I have a Canon A1000IS there is no sports setting, is the Kids&Pets setting the one I should use for action?
I paid $115, because my store isn't carrying this model anymore. I thought I did good, did I do good?
A photo forum is a great idea. Tips and tricks from the better photographers among us is even better.
 

Tez3

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Meerkat for Bob

Camerakat


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About:

With lens longer than lemur tail, camerakat could easily be taking picture of you right now. Later picture will be developed in dedicated red room. Camerakat will always use film camera. Digital is for mongooses.
This meerkat can often be found on Miami Beach perfecting squat thrust technique or discussing sunglasses straps with training partner.



www.comparethemeerkat.com
 

Bill Mattocks

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The 'Sports Setting' on some cameras does several things for you.

First, it emphasizes shutter speed over f-stop. That means that all things being equal, when taking sports photos, the camera will try to use a faster shutter speed (to freeze action) and a wider-open lens (f-stop) to let more light in. This is supposed to mean less blurriness due to movement, at the expense of slightly less-sharp photos and perhaps less depth-of-field. You could do the same yourself, but this does it for you.

Second, if the camera has the ability to use a higher ISO (light sensitivity of the recording sensor), it tends to kick it up a bit more than it ordinarily would. This is because a higher ISO means more sensitivity to light, but at the price of more digital 'noise' (often compared to film's 'grain'). Many who have digital cameras that have ISO settings all the way up to ISO 3200 and even ISO 6400 have found that these settings are nearly useless in real life. Yes, you can use them to take photos indoors in dim light without a flash - but the images are so degraded in quality that you may not want them.

Things to look for with compact digital cameras if you intend to take action photos of martial arts matches:

1) Anti-shake. There are two types of anti-shake, optical and electronic (every manufacturer has their own name for it). Optical anti-shake devices actually move either the lens or the image sensor based on your hands shaking, which it detects. Electronic anti-shake also detects your shaky hand movements, but it responds by turning the ISO up, so that a faster shutter speed can be used, which can reduce the appearance of shakiness.

I prefer optical anti-shake, as do most people who are serious about photography. Some cameras combine both methods, which is fine, as long as you can turn the electronic AS off, or at least tell the camera to 'prefer' to use optical AS.

Lots of manufacturers use AS now, so that's great.

2) Good high-ISO capability. There are some digital compact cameras that have better high-ISO capability than others, and certain models are considered better in that regard. New advances are coming at a rapid clip, but manufacturers often claim high-ISO capability that in reality isn't so good, so you have to depend on personal experience or trusted reviews to see what the actual performance looks like.

I prefer to refer to these for reviews:

http://www.steves-digicams.com
http://www.imaging-resource.com/DIGCAM01.HTM
http://www.dpreview.com/
http://www.dcresource.com/

Another nice tool to use is Flickr, the free (or membership if you want it) photo respository owned by Yahoo!. They have a camera browser feature that you can use to look at photos other people have taken with the camera model you're considering using. You can see for yourself what kind of photos 'everyday people' take with that camera.

http://www.flickr.com/cameras/

3) Other considerations...

The digital camera market is flattening a bit now, so manufacturers are competing with each other on features. This is good news for consumers. Some features being tried are silly, some sublime. Some are useful only to certain groups of people, while others are useful for all kinds of reasons.

A couple recent innovations you might consider are high-frame rate cameras from Casio. They have a series of cameras out now that can take photos so fast, it's even better than stop-action. I can imagine a trainer using them to take photos of action sequences to break them down later, like a football coach or a golf swing doctor.

Super high optical zoom. Newer cameras are offering up to 24x zoom, which lets you really zoom in on your subject. Tripods or monopods are a necessity with such things, as camera shake becomes a major issue when using a really long lens!

RAW capability. This is not easy to explain to someone not 'into' cameras, but consider it this way. When you take a photo, a lot of information is gathered by the camera, but it throws most of it away as it internally processed the photo. It uses the lighting balance it thinks is right, the sharpness and saturation settings, and so on. It also compresses the image to take less space on the memory card, and then it stores it, usually in 'JPEG' format.

That is usually OK, but once information has been thrown away, you can't get it back again. In borderline shots between good and bad, no amount of photoshop type work might help you get it back to 'good' from 'bad'.

Storing a photo in 'RAW' means the camera just stores all the information it has, and you'll have to use a photo editing tool to make the photo look the way you want it to look later on, before printing or sharing it. It takes time, and usually cameras are slower to store RAW files than JPG files when you're taking photos. Is it worth it? Up to you, really. Depends on how much you feel like taking personal control over the finished product.

You can also find some newer digital cameras that let you set the 'white balance' for your photos, depending on the lighting in use. We've all seen those orange shots taken from gymnasiums and wondered why. The culprit is the lights.

Most people do not realize it, but light has a 'temperature' and it is measured in 'kelvin' (like celcius or farenheit, but a different scale). White light is generally considered to be around 5500 to 6500 K. However, incandescent bulbs in your home are around 3200 K, which makes them more reddish than whitish. We 'see' them as white because our brains tell us that they are white. But the camera is not fooled - it sees the light as what it is, not what we think it is.

However, cameras have built-in white balance calculators, which generally work pretty well these days. You set 'auto white balance' on your camera, and it tries to guess what 'white' is going to be for any given shot. Usually works pretty well.

But gymnasiums can confuse even the best camera, so you end up with odd color casts that are due to the camera's confusion as to what 'white' is supposed to be. The sodium or metal halide lights used in many gyms is just awful - for cameras. Humans see them as white, but they're not.

So some advanced cameras have the ability to set a custom white balance. This lets you take a photo with the 'custom' feature turned on, and it then calculates a white balance, and if you agree with it, it saves and uses that custom white balance for the remainder of your shots. Since the light in the gym isn't likely to change, you're all set. Note that if you do RAW photos, this is not necessary, because you can control white balance AFTER you take the shots, during processing. For JPG, the white balance value has been stored and 'extra' data thrown away.

Hope you find this helpful!
 
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