Find your trainers, hydrate like crazy and don’t forget to pack your PE kit because it’s sports month at OLYMPUS. Everyone in the building has been briefed: whether it’s your local five a side team or a world-class event, anything less than gold-medal winning pictures will be dropped on the also-ran pile.
But if you’ve never shot anything more ambitious than a landscape, or are more comfortable with food photography, where should you start? It’s not enough to find decent access to a sporting event; you’ll need to understand how some of your camera’s more technical modes work to bring home impactful shots. So, to take you from the subs bench to the starting 11, here’s our quick-hit guide to how to get better sports shots with your OLYMPUS kit.
Use continuous mode
Continuous mode – holding the shutter button down and the camera shooting as many frames as it can, as fast as it can – is often the key to successful sports photography. Don’t confuse using continuous mode with simply hoping for the best, though, as you still need a keen sense of timing to bag the perfect shot, as well as understanding things like shutter speed, composition and managing the background of your shot. But using continuous mode properly does mean you maximise your chances of nailing the perfect facial expression as your runner crosses the line, or uses their last ounce of effort.
There’s good news for OLYMPUS users here – recent OLYMPUS cameras throughout the range have exceedingly capable continuous modes. The PEN E-PL8, for example, can shoot 8.5 frames per second, and the flagship OM-D E-M1 Mark II shoots a cheetah-like 15fps.
If you’re shooting continuous mode it may be worth considering whether you really need to shoot in RAW, as your camera will shoot more frames continuously in JPEG mode.
Know your sport
Most sports photographers start out photographing something they love: high-end motor racing photographers almost always started out as high-octane addicts, so your best chance at getting decent shots is going to be finding a sport you know a bit about and are passionate over. As ever in photography, having an idea of what might happen next is often key to getting the shot.
If it’s a sport you’ve never photographed before – good for you, fortune favours the bold. Hit up YouTube for some recent highlights for the best chance of bagging a decent frame or two.
As useful as the sports mode on your camera can be – if you have one – we’d suggest a more direct approach to getting images that have the sharpness you crave. Flick your camera to shutter priority (S on the mode dial) and set a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second. This should produce pretty sharp images in virtually all sports.
Still, sharp images are not necessarily the only sign of a great day’s photography. Shooting cycling? Start shooting longer and longer exposures and moving the camera to keep your subject in the same place in the frame – panning can produce some really eye-catching results. The slower your subject, the longer an exposure you’ll need to make something interesting, but in the beginning set your shutter speed to 1/50th and see what happens. Keep shooting continuous mode, by the way!
Sports are a great place for using continuous autofocus, right? Mostly, yes – as your subject gets nearer or further away from you a decent autofocus tracking system will help keep things sharp. But there’s also much to be said for using single-shot autofocus and pre-focusing your lens where you think the action is going to happen. This is easier in some sports than in others: basketball, for instance, where you can prefocus on the rim; or motor racing, where cars take more or less the same line around the race track every time. When it comes to autofocus, a mix-and-match approach is best.
Shoot, a lot
You know what will improve your sports photography? Doing it! Get out and shoot as much as possible (and look out for our blog on getting started next week), make mistakes and look out for opportunities to improve on things that have gone wrong before.
Use Pro Capture mode
If you have an OM-D E-M1 Mark II, what you essentially have is a portable supercomputer with a lens on the front. In Pro Capture mode, your camera takes advantage of its electronic shutter – that is, it isn’t slowed down by the physical movement of the mechanical shutter. That way, the camera can shoot at up to 60fps, but that’s not all. Keep the shutter button halfway down and the camera is constantly buffering 14 full-resolution frames. Press the button all the way down and the camera captures the last 14 frames, as well as shooting while you keep the shutter button pressed. That means even if your reactions are a little off, you still stand a great chance of capturing the decisive moment.
Nabbed a gold medal in the photography Olympics? Prouder than a sprinter with a sub-10 second 100 metre time? We want to see your sporty images? All month, tag us with #OlympusUK on Instagram and we’ll keep an eye out for the best action pics you send. We’re also on Flickr – head to our group to add your pics. Ready? Set? GO!