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Photography Question 
Debbie Crowe

shooting sports

I keep reading different posts about shooting sports but have not yet found this answer. I am trying to shoot the typical kids soccer game or a motorcycle in a race. My question: regardless of what your settings are, do you only focus ONCE and then try to keep the camera pointed at the action? Or do you have to keep refocusing as the object runs down the field? I am just not having any luck getting a decent sports shot. I have an XIT, 70-300 IS lens - perfect for this kind of thing. Of course, I realize that harder to do in the early evening lighting but I will have an opportunity this weekend to shoot a baseball game in full daylight and would like to know if I need to keep refocusing as the child runs down the base.

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5/19/2008 10:54:12 AM

Oliver Anderson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
  you must refocus the lens in order to continually capture sharp images. Proper settings, lighting and proper equipment are crucial to ensure great photos. I'm not sure if your camera is the Rebel???? but if it is and you've properly done the settings to account for the light your in and speed/movement of your subject your camera will refocus everytime you press the shutter key 1/2 way. If the lens is the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 it is slow for some faster moving subjects in low light. Thats why the pros use the 70-200 makes a tremendous difference.

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5/19/2008 12:25:40 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  You won't get just one answer. Those that have to use auto focus have to depend on the cameras auto focus to keep up.(al servo, or some other name)
I follow focus. Where ever the ball goes, or what I'm trying to get a picture of, I focus as it goes.
But your motorcycle race you can pick a spot(landing side of a jump, berm exit, braking for a turn) and focus and wait.

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5/19/2008 1:07:59 PM

Debbie Crowe   thanks for the responses. Yes I have the canon XTI and 70-300 f/4 lens. I doubt Ill even bother trying to do that in low light again unless I get better at knowing what I am doing. It just seems that if I have to keep pressing the shutter1/2 way down to keep focusing, I have lost most of the guts of the play in a fast moving game, race, run, etc. For the motorcycle shot, I tried panning - I just held the shutter down and did numerous shots as it passed me and did not refocus (no time). some turned out, most did not. thanks.

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5/19/2008 1:29:10 PM

Bob Fately   Debbie, is it possible that there is another factor here, namely, shutter speed? You say your shots are not in focus, but is there also an issue of fuzziness due to too slow a shutter speed for the action involved?

That is, the two factors pertaining to the sharpness of the subject in the image are focus and shutter speed. THe others have discussed the focus issues, but it occurs to me that even if you have focused the lens at, say, 20 feet away, and the player or bike is exactly 20 feet away, but the shutter speed is too slow to "freeze" the apparent motion of the subject, then the image may be blurred - but it's not an issue of focus.

You don't mention what shutter speeds you are using (which relates to the available light, the ISO setting and the aperture of the lens). A reasonable "rule of thumb" is that the slowest shutter speed you should use hand-held is 1 over the (focal length x 1.5). The fact your lens is Image Stabilized has no bearing here - that only helps if the subject is stationery. When the subject is in motion, the IS process will not help reduce the blurriness induced of the motion.

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5/19/2008 2:09:11 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Hello Debbie,

Makes ya' admire the pro sports shooters; yes?

Ok, a fact you may not like to hear.
The XTI in continuous AF is not the best machine for fast moving subjects.
It works, though not as well as other cameras better suited to action shooting.
The 9 point AF system loses lock often.
I would not use it for fast moving subjects.

Ok..The good news: You CAN get great action shots. It is a matter of understaning a few basics and then practicing.

Soccer and Motorcycle race:
These two events require re-thinking HOW you focus.

Soccer is a slow game in comparison to a motorcyle race.

Soccer: HOW you shoot this depends on what you want. A goalie standing in the net is obviously an easy shot, yet can be a great shot. The moment of a scoreing kick can be trickier.
There are compositional elements in the decision making process. Do you want to isolate the kicker with the ball flying off the foot, or frame the defender AND the kicker.

Yeah, composition in sports photography plays a pretty large role in your focus strategy.

How about a scenario or two?

1) I want to capture the goalie in mid air as he tries to make a save; AND I want the ball in the shot too.

The very 1st thing I do is get a good exposure on the goalie while nothing is happening at the moment. I will set my camera on full manual and lock in the reading.
I try to choose a f/stop that will allow me the highest possible shutter speed. This gives me some lee way in DOF. Understanding soccer, I probably do not want a shutter speed below 1/250th if I want to freeze the moment of truth..ball & goalie. If I have to, I will raise the ISO.

Since we know that in this scenario the goalie will not be moving toward or away from us much, I PRE-FOCUS the anticipated area of action..(i.e) The goal mouth. Amateur goal tenders tend to stay close to the goal line in a one on one shot on goal..This is why they are amateurs. LOL

Pre-focus is a tried and true method still used heavily..even by the SI shooters. Pre-focus is also kown as "Trapping"

Use your highest frame rate.
The "Moment of truth" (ball & goalie) often requires some luck..a high frame rate will increase your chances of "The Shot."

The technique is great for any sports action when you KNOW where the action will take place. Understanding WHERE is pivotal in a great action sports shot..The pros know this well..and this understanding does not happen over night.

Basic #2) Lateral movement is far easier to hold focus than objects moving toward or away from you. So try positioning yourself to the side of the action, not in front or behind.

Problems to overcome:


When zoomed in heavily, the problems of focus on moving objects is greatly enhanced.
Attempting to zoom in at 300mm from 75 yards across the field with amateur lenses is usually met with disappointment. Why?...a couple reasons.

1) Lens is too slow. f/5.6 just doesn't allow much light to enter your camera..result; slow shutter speeds and or camera shake. Yuck.
Watch a NFL game on TV..ever see those photogs on the sidelines? 600mm lens @ f/stops many of us lust after! LOL Great if one can afford it!..AND, although many do not see it, these people DO have strobes..they're just not attached to their cameras. :)

2) Following the action. Very hard to track the action at 300mm..and guess what?..If you track too far, the light is changing, not to mention the focus.

In essence,

Use as small a f/stop as possible; yet maintain the highest possible speed.
Raise the ISO as needed.
Pre-focus (trap) as often as you can.
Stay away from AF with the XTI.
A mono pod can really help steady the camera platform...You essentially are taking away the up & down camera movement and only have to worry about side to side tracking.

Use manual focus at times if you must track...Yeah...Manual focus.
Before the days of AF, many of us followed the action and focused continuously with great just takes practice and lots of it!

Hope that helps a tad,

all the best,


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5/19/2008 8:12:06 PM

Oliver Anderson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
  Well said Pete, although I have to disagree with Amateur soccer goalies hanging buy the goal, in my daughter 8&under league the girls hang out near the pretty white flowers...which drives the Coach NUTSSSS!
Motorcycle racing is very difficult but a blast to shoot, they do 27-30 laps at the races and the pros usually attend Friday to scout the track, claim our ground and scout the pits (and check out the Umbrella Girls). One of my AMA photos has a complete description of the settings I used. I usually shoot 1/250+, f/2.8-f/9, ISO 200+. I always talk to the oldtimers (most have covered races for 15+ years) and they're always willing to answer questions or tell me cool crash stories. Ask these guys they'll share their knowledge.

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5/19/2008 8:47:56 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Strobes at an arena game, not at an NFL game.
If you depend on the way of focusing on a spot and keeping the button down then you will have most shots come out off.

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5/20/2008 5:47:31 AM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  "Strobes at an arena game, not at an NFL game."

Sorry Greg, you are 100% incorrect.
I have been to 2 NFL stadiums on the sidelines with more than one pro sports shooter.

Indianapolis Colts stadium & Cincinnati.

BOTH have high powered strobes mounted in the over heads AND several along the sidelines. They are highly focused and steerable.
They are owned by the staduims and rented by the agencies who employ the photogs.


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5/20/2008 10:10:58 AM

Oliver Anderson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
  I did see pocket wizard at the Warriors game and saw them at a Dallas game. What do you think they'd say if I brought my own PW to the Warriors game and tried every

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5/20/2008 10:47:17 AM

Debbie Crowe   Thanks everyone. Lot of stuff to absorb. Printing this whole thread out. You are right, I do see what a big job the sports photographers have but I also see they have a level of eqc I will never own! HA.

thanks so much for all the info here.

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5/20/2008 1:32:08 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Ceiling strobes in an out door stadium? And as much as the Colts were on tv, you'd see the strobes going off.
What was the name of the pro shooter?

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5/20/2008 2:30:56 PM

Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005

You proceed from a faulty position and a lack of understanding pro sports staduim photography.

First, a couple names since you seem to require proof, as if I am being untruthful.

John Iacono
Damian Strohmeyer

Do you also require the name of a very good friend of mine who works full time with Nat Geographic?

Next, The RCA dome in Indy is NOT a open stadium..They actually have a roof.
Paul Brown stadium in Cincinnati IS open air, the high powered strobes are located high above the top level seating.

No; you do NOT see the strobes go off in a brightly lit stadium as they are used as (fill), NOT the primary light source.

Do your own research before making assumptions; please.
Look over many still frames of a pro NFL game....look hard enough and you will see the obvious shadow change when a strobe was going off.
I did not say the strobes are used for every shot.


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5/20/2008 5:27:34 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  Duh, no kidding the colts play in a dome. Talking about bengals.
Don't need any names from national geo, cause I wasn't talking about national geo. But if I do, I'll let you know.
So try not to get your ego bent out of shape every time somebody ask you for some more info on something you state sounds like it doesn't add up. Something like somebody's claims of success not matching up with what they can actually do.
But thanks for names, I'll look into it. Which, since you did say do your own research, just so happens to be the reason why I asked for the names.
And you actually did infer that they were used for shooting the action of the game. So blame yourself for that.

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5/21/2008 10:51:17 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  And even fill light adds light, which means it makes a scene brighter. So, as you said the shadow change is obvious, the light change should be obvious.
So unless it has something to do with using them for areas other than where the play is going on, it should still show in video and instant replay.
But I'll do some more research into that.

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5/21/2008 11:27:27 AM

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