Yesterday I ended up taking photos of some motorcycle races. I would not call myself a sports photographer by any means, and my camera is not really up to the job in any serious sense. However, I did learn a few things…

Sports photography is all about timing. Having fast auto-focus and many shots per second helps, but it is still up to the photographer, and an awful lot of luck…

There are basically three ways to capture the action.

Freeze the shot

Choose a fast shutter speed[1]. Of course this means that you will have higher ISO (more noise) and/or wider aperture. Since a wide aperture gives you a more limited depth of focus, you have to be more accurate. As I said, auto-focus helps, but for something as fast as motorcycle racing, you may find your focus is slightly outside your intended target. This is where the technique of trap focusing works. Manually focus at the distance where you anticipate the action to happen. When your subject reaches your “focus zone” trip the shutter[2].

Blur the subject

If you choose a slower shutter speed (opposite of above) and keep the camera still[3]. The appropriate blur can impart a sense of motion.

Panning

This is a variation of blurring the subject, but instead of keeping the camera still, try to follow the subject while using a slow shutter speed. This technique takes lots of practice and lots of luck, but it can create a fairly arresting image.

When using any of these techniques, remember to tell a story. These are tools and means to an end.

Also remember the story of the event …

 This image shows the winner of the pro class crossing the finish line. While not one of the strongest images artistically, it is the story moment.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Of course the appropriate shutter speed depends on the sport. Motor sports like this needs as fast as you possibly can manage. Something like curling would not be so critical.
  2. Depending on your camera, there may be a lag between when you press the button and when the shutter actually trips. You may have to anticipate your subject moving into your focus zone. This is one area where luck enters. Take lots of photos…
  3. A tripod or monopod is handy, however for this shot I had neither, so I rested my camera on the fence surrounding the course.
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