Sport Photography

Its full-on winter here in Kelowna and so that has me thinking about Snowboarding.  Snowboarding gets me thinking about capturing some great images.  So if you plan to try out some photos this winter with your SLR, here are a few things to consider when shooting.

Aperture: I usually keep it shallow, ensures highest possible shutter speed, and the athlete has the prime focus in the image.  Wide angles used with lots of depth (or smaller apertures) can be popular because they show the athlete, and then their beautiful location, like beautiful vistas.
Communication:  You need good communication between athlete and photographer. Without it, you don't know where to be, or when to shoot. Line of sight is important to keep. Last thing you want is your subject surprising you over the lip of that jump, and you catching the shot half-way through.  Short range FRS radios are a great help particularly in winter time, when distances between photographer and subject can become very large. Alternatively, keep a middle man who can see both photog and athlete and communicate through them when line of sight is broken.

Distance:  generally sports happen fast! To get a good feel of whats going on, sometimes you need to get your shot in closer than what you would normally have. Use telephoto lenses from afar or get in real close with a wide angle for distorted views
Location: where is the action going to happen, this is where knowing the sport your photographing really helps.  For instance; shooting park riders at your ski resort, you know that they will be doing their 'trick' or other photo-worthy maneuver either on that rail, or just passed the lip of that jump.  Compose your shot before they physically occupy that space. Generally, I will go so far as to pre-focus and lock it.  This can avoid problems where your camera focuses on something behind your athlete, leaving them a blurry mess. 

Exposure:  Snow can cause some strange responses in your camera when dealing with exposure. It frequently has your camera underexpose the rest of the image to make the snow a neutral gray (or even exposure) when it should be approaching a nuclear white. A way to counter this is expose for the snow. How? Look at some snow through your viewfinder, that is similarly lit to the snow that will be in your sport frame. Set to manual exposure and make the EV reading +1 1/3. Now compose your shot, without changing your exposure and you should have a relatively well exposed winter image. This does not suit all conditions, but if you are having trouble, its a great help. Just remember, snow is not grey, so keep it from looking that way in your photos. 

Speed: high shutter speed freezes action, shutter speed low can blur the athlete. Alternatively pan with the athlete to show their movement across the background. Usually to freeze action, you want your shutter speed to be three times the reciprocal of your focal length. (Math warning)That means you shoot at 70mm focal length on cropped canon body @ 1.6 = 112mm = 112/1 = reciprocal 1/112 x 3 = 1/336", round that off to the nearest stop and you can use 1/320 or 1/400.  Dont forget crop factors for your body, because your 70-200 on an XTi or 50D is not the same as a 70-200 on a 5DMkII.  Also there are no rules set in stone. The factor that affect the blurriness of your athlete most is their speed/velocity relative to their size in the camera frame.