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Photography at a Multi-Sport Event

10/08/2014

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was a great experience - 7 sports in 4 days. Besides been a great sporting holiday, I used this as a photography opportunity, to capture the best images I was capable of.

What I found interesting was how the different sports had different requirements. Some are more unpredictable, more rhythmic, better or worse lit etc. The following are my notes on what I found....

I shoot with a Nikon D90 and the 18-105mm kit lens that came with it - decent kit but a long way from pro stuff and the 500mm zoom lenses I saw from the real photographers.

General Camera Settings

The sports are all FAST. Whereas a shutter speed of 1/80th second is plenty good enough for most things, you really want to push it to 1/160 at least to capture a dynamic frozen shot. In the pool I went to 1/400th to get the individual drops of water sharp:


I did keep experimenting with slower shutter speeds to get some exciting motion blur. For the most part these pictures were dumped for being terrible - handshake and too much movement. The only ones that were keepers were at the Netball where I was tracking a moving player to keep her static and the background blurry. This was taken at 1/13 of a second:


A large aperture is also desirable for a tight focus and exclusion of background. I usually went as large as my kit lens would go.

Shooting this fast means you need to compensate the exposure. I was on ISO 800 or more for much of the time. Then I would need large amounts of exposure compensation as well. This was the first time I've paid attention to the Histogram feature on the camera but it was useful for telling me when enough light was coming in to retain all detail.

Indoor games tend to have the action very well lit and the crowd in darkness. This makes for good, almost studio-like conditions and also means that you don't need to stress if the histogram is clipping at the dark end - the detail you're losing should only be the crowd anyway. You will see in the squash in particular I used that to good effect.

Squash



We had good seats, in line with the backhand wall where most of the action is. The sport is extremely predictable, you can follow the flight of the ball and anticipate the shot. This photo was at 1/160th and the player is frozen with a slight motion blur on the racket. The intense downlighting really emphasises the physique of the athlete (Joelle King of NZ).

In post processing I reduced the shadows to 0% (and applied this technique to most sports) as it left the action untouched and helped remove background clutter from the crowd.

Judo


Judo was a hard sport to photo. For one thing we were up in the gods, a long way from the action. For another, it was lit relatively dark so the ISO is pushed to 1250 - the grains are visible on this picture by the time you've zoomed in this far. The speed was 1/160 which left a pleasing blur from the guy about to get slammed!

The action is relatively unpredictable so you need to react to the twitches of the combatants - but you do have time to react. This does lead to a lot of photos of nothing where combatants feint or block an attack.

It is also valuable to understand the story behind the story and in this case it was the rapturous home town support for the Scottish judo team. This is Royal Marine Chris Sherrington saluting his fans with their Saltires:


Netball


The netball produced the best photos. For one thing, the press area was empty so I was able to bunk down and get courtside. It is fast, but not too fast, and predictable. You can see which way play is going. There are plenty of one-on-one confrontations to capture. It was well lit so you can go fast - this is at 1/250th with a large aperture.

Rugby 7s


This was hard. As it's outdoors, the lighting is poor and we were too far away - need a bigger lens! This image is exciting as you can see the biceps straining on the defender but at 1/125 it is noticeably blurry. I reckon if you have limited kit like mine the way to go is wider cropped images:


These tell more the story of the action.

Badminton


Obviously, having great seats helps! But so does been able to shoot at 1/200th on ISO 500. The crowd were reduced by eliminating Shadow in post production. The sport itself is rhythmic and predictable - shuttle goes up and someone is going to slam it. You will also inevitably get some motion blur.

Swimming


Was hard. For one thing, the athletes are 80% underwater. Some strokes are better than others - backstroke is rubbish as all you can see is one arm at a time. Breast stroke is best as the swimmer bobs out of the water predictable. From where we were at the end of the pool, the starts of the 50m races made for some good photos.

Boxing


Boxing was hard but rewarding. What I found early was that autofocus was focusing on the ropes, not the boxers, so I decided to switch to manual. Not sure if that was a good call or not. There were loads of out of focus pictures.

For another thing, this sport is fast and unpredictable. Punches come with no warning and land before you can trigger. The best results came from taking bursts of pictures and hoping for the best.

The ring is well lit and we had good seats so this was taken at 1/250th.