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Photography Question 
Jessica Milligan

Shooting Action Shots - Keeping Things Sharp

I very recently moved from a Minolta 35MM SLR using film to a Canon 20D. While at a basketball tournament this weekend, I snapped about 100 pictures, and none are really that great due to blurring. I tried several different modes like action, then full mode and even moved into the scary "creative zones" with P and TV (trying to adjust speeds) and still couldn't get very crisp shots. Needless to say, I'm a little frustrated with the way my photos turned out - do I just need more practice or am I doing something wrong? How can I improve my action photos? I'm sort of in a panic mode, because I take a lot of action photos between basketball, cheerleading, and fast-pitch softball with my kids. My Minolta was great for action shots ... but I haven't quite figured out this Canon. Please help!!

Also, are there any good books out there that I should check out? I don't want to read millions of pages, but I am interested in learning more about photography and how I can get better images, etc. Thank you!!

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2/27/2005 10:33:01 AM

JAMK  Photography
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/13/2004
What was your shutter speed and type of lens? In order to minimize the blurring, you need a fast shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec or more. You need to bump up your ISO with that high shutter - especially with a poorly lit gym. Try using the Shutter Priority mode if you don't want to go manual - I think it's TV mode with Canon. Also try putting the camera on continuous focusing if you have it. Also, a fast lens might help.

PS: Try Jim Miotke's Digital Photography Unleashed DVD - it's pretty informative and you don't need to read anything. He covers action shots, panning, etc.

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2/27/2005 12:39:39 PM

Jessica Milligan   Steve, thanks so much for the quick feedback! I will look into each item that you mentioned ... including the DVD! Also, I looked through your gallery and thought your photos were absolutely beautiful! You are a gifted photographer ... I can only hope to be as good as you someday!! Thanks again!

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2/27/2005 2:48:48 PM

Andrew Laverghetta
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/13/2004
  Yeah, check the manual about a continuous focus mode. You should even be able to just hold the shutter button down halfway and move the camera around a room and watch the focus change pretty quickly as you focus on things close and far from you.
Try using the fastest lens that you have, and I would actually try setting the camera on AV mode as well as previously suggested TV. AV will let you select the largest aperture/smallest number, and that will give you the fastest shutter speed that your camera can take a good picture at. Again, try to use a higher ISO. If you need to, use a -0.5 or -1 exposure compensation, and then maybe you can correct it in Photoshop - similar to push-processing film. Hope this helps!

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2/27/2005 2:57:15 PM

Luis Curran   Jessica - Try AI Servo on the 20D. It's best for moving action shots.

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3/1/2005 11:06:15 AM

Ron Burgis  
The first thing you need to shoot in poorly lit gyms is a "FAST" lens: F2.8 or faster. The cheapest option is a 50mm (normal) f1.8 for about $100. A zoom lens with fixed apertures of f2.8 (35-70 or 80-200) will be a good investment.

A high ISO is essential for gyms (800-1600) to keep your shutter speed at least 1/125 second (for 35-70 zoom) or 1/200 second (for 80-200 zoom). This also helps keep the background from going black.

Fill flash can also help. I usually keep it -1 to -2 stops.

Sometimes none of the above works very well. Then all you can do is set your camera to the fastest shutter speed for flash, the largest aperture, and use flash and let the subject be well-lit but the background will be dark (it looks like you took the picture in the dark). Experiment with the ISO; sometimes 400 ISO with a dark background is better than 1600 ISO with a lighter background if is too grainy.

On the bright side, Baseball Season is coming soon!!!!

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3/1/2005 12:11:38 PM

Ron Burgis Editor's Pick   Dribble Drive
Dribble Drive
Nikon 80-200mm lens @ 80mm. F2.8, 1/180 second. Fill flash (-1 stop). 1600 ASA

Enhanced in photoshop with levels.
© Ron Burgis
Nikon D100 Digital...

I forgot to include this picture as an example.


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3/1/2005 12:14:00 PM

Cookie Serletic   Just one more thought, I shoot horses a lot and had some sharpness issues with action shots. The Canon 20D also has a "camera select focus", where it decides your focus point - "selective focus," I believe. I turned this OFF as I was never happy with where it found its focus. I use the center, point focus, center-weighted metering, mostly. And AI servo for my action shots ... usually in TV shutter priority. Or Aperture priority mode with a high shutter speed. Or manual in bad lighting. I have had good luck with 800 and 1600 ISO in indoor arenas. I also have a 70-200 2.8 lens.

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3/2/2005 6:20:29 AM

Ron Burgis   You have two big problems with shooting action indoors. First is the camera's ability to track a moving object in low light. The second is the slow shutter speeds needed. This is especially true when you at full zoom.
One thing you can do is choose where you shoot from. Get as close as you can where you can predict some action. You can prefocus an area and shoot when something enters it. Where the horses enter the arena is usually fairly well lit. I'd start there.
Don't forget the flash. You need an external flash for the extra power you need.
The bottom line is that the conditions will dictate what pictures you can successfully take.
I hope that helps.Ron

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3/2/2005 6:45:51 AM

Justin S.   I've never shot with a digital SLR before, so I'm not sure if anything I say will help (the newfangled lights outside of the film world are so bright and scary). Anyhow, on your low-light action shots, I'd break out the faster ISOs - like 800 and up - especially with telephoto lenses where the slightest shakes and movements are increased. Flash can be good wherever permitted also.
That's all the advice I can give you I mostly do youth baseball and extreme sports, so the majority of my stuff is outdoors. I've done one basketball game for a friend at work and used fill flash and continuous AF ... with large apertures ... and they came out great (but I was also courtside and close to the action). I've done 2 skating competitions indoors (using the same method as the b-ball game), which is a little harder and only about 50 percent came out satisfactory to me out of four rolls.

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3/4/2005 10:37:30 PM

Ernesto Dos Santos   Hello Jessica:
You have the best help in all the recently responses. Those are better than a read a book.
I only want to add that in action shoots like sports or dance, etc, the fotographer has to studied first the movements and the main actions on every specific game. Some time that improve you in a 70 % on the next game.
Good luck in your next try.

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3/8/2005 6:34:54 AM

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