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Five tips for taking sports photos

Capturing the successes and excitement of a sports match can be tricky, but with the right tools and know-how you can take that winning shot.

3 min read

Capturing the successes and excitement of a sports match can be tricky, but with the right tools and know-how you can take that winning shot.

Ever gone to take a photo but the delay between pressing the button and the camera snapping means you miss the shot? That's shutter lag. Most digital cameras have a shutter lag ranging from half a second to two seconds. But how do you know if your camera will be able to keep up?

Alleviate shutter lag

Runner track
(A Start of a Runner image by Michal Zacharzewski, royalty free)

The best way to find out how quick a camera can snap a photo from button press to final image appearing on the LCD screen is to test it out before you buy it, or check reviews to see which camera is quickest. Ideally, a compact camera will have a shutter lag of less than 0.5 second to keep up with fast-moving subjects. A digital SLR will be even faster, offering near-instantaneous image capture.

If you already have your camera and want to find out how fast it is, make sure your camera is ready to take an image, press the shutter button, and time how long it takes for the image to appear on the screen.

If your shutter lag is particularly long, you can pre-focus to help lessen the delay. Pre-focusing is a technique where you depress your shutter button halfway before you get ready to shoot your subject in action. This means you point directly at your object while at the same time pressing the shutter release button down halfway. Doing so, you can save time and snap your picture much faster as you are already halfway through the process.

Be continuous

Most cameras will have a few autofocus modes available. The most useful one for sports photography will be continuous autofocus, which predicts where a moving subject will be and adjusts the focus accordingly.

To capture a burst of frames in one go, useful for a sequence of shots like showing the start or end of a race, change your camera to continuous shooting mode. This will tell your camera to capture a rapid fire succession of photos as fast as the camera can process them.

Change your format

Larger files take longer for the camera to process, which also increases the wait time before you can take the next shot. When it comes to sports photography, it would be best for you to employ compressed formats such as JPEG. Most compact cameras will only shoot in JPEG, but digital SLRs will be able to shoot in RAW as well (which is a larger file). Always remember, shoot at the highest quality when you have plenty of time for each photo. Otherwise, lower your quality to enable faster snapping.

Go with the blur

(Woman Jogging Blur image by Ariel da Silva Parreira, royalty free)

Sometimes, a bit of blur in an image can add a sense of dynamism to a shot. Using a technique called panning leaves your subject mostly in focus, with the area around it blurred with motion. This can take a bit of time to perfect, so practice lots before using it on a crucial shot.

Move your camera at the same speed as the subject you are trying to photograph, and while you move it, press the shutter button to take the image.

Review your result on the LCD screen. Cameras with manual controls for shutter speed adjustment will work best for this technique, as you will ideally need to adjust the speed in relation to how fast the subject is moving and how much light is on the scene.

Flash it

The memory card you use in the camera plays an important role in the photo processing time. A card with a higher speed rating will perform faster than a lower-rated card.

Finally, using flash in your shots means it takes some time for your camera to recycle, or "recuperate", before moving on to the next shot. This results in wasting a few seconds, so to speed things up, turn your flash off when you do not need it.