The batter in still life pose (ISO 250)
If only every sports photo could be as easy as this one! The only movement might be from the wind; otherwise, the batter is so easy to keep in focus. Sharp pictures would be, dare I say it, a breeze!
Michael moves toward second base for the force out. (ISO 250)
But that’s not reality. Sports photography means action, usually, and plenty of it. The trick is to capture that action in focus, which is hard when the light is fleeting and the players are on the move. A point and shoot camera can’t handle the challenge, but a digital SLR definitely can if the photographer remembers one simple rule: Your shutter speed should at least equal the focal length of your lens.
So if you’re shooting with a 70-300mm lens zoomed out to 300mm, your shutter speed needs to be at least 1/300 to stop the action. This isn’t set in stone, but it’s a good rule to follow.
Seamus is ready for the pitch. (ISO 320)
The tricky part occurs when you’re shooting around sundown and later. As the sunlight lessens, so does the amount of light allowed in by the camera’s aperture (the f-stop). You can widen your aperture (go to a smaller number, like f/3.5 or f/2.8), but your shutter speed inevitably also will drop. And that means you’ll unintentionally blur your photos.
Cole throws towards first base in time to get the runner. (ISO 400)
I thought about this problem while I was shooting Little League baseball a couple days ago. A parent came up to me and said he couldn’t get sharp action photos of his grandson. I asked him what his ISO was set on, and he replied 400. Easy solution! I told him to increase his ISO all the way up to 1600 if he had to. If he had enough light, he then probably would have a fast-enough shutter speed to stop the action.
Nick gets a warm welcome after a home run. (ISO 400)
So what is ISO? Back in the day, we would buy film by its ASA number—the lower that number (e.g., ASA 100), the less grainy (better image quality). ISO works the same way, except you can change it in the camera (a big plus!). Depending on your camera, photos taken at ISO 200-400 should look sharp. But once you get to the upper numbers, say, ISO 800-1600, pictures can be noisy. That’s where noise reduction software, like Noise Ninja, which is what I use, comes in handy.
Andre catches the ball in centerfield. (ISO 800)
So the basic ISO tradeoff is a faster shutter speed to stop action in exchange for noisier (grainy) photos. But with the newer digital cameras, the noise may be hardly noticeable. If you’re going to shoot sports photos and can’t use a flash, as the sunlight dims, you need to open up your aperture (low f-stop number) and increase your ISO. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of blurry photos to delete.
Griff lays down a bunt. (ISO 800)
Is this football or baseball? Griff is out at first base. (ISO 800)
I took these photos of our local Little League’s 11-year-old all-star team from 7-8:15 p.m. When I hit ISO 1600 and felt I probably had enough quality photos, I put away my camera and enjoyed watching the action from the bleachers.
Cole and Harry look out of the dugout. (ISO 800)
And as much as I really enjoy trying to capture memories with my Nikon D300 and my beloved Nikon 70-200mm lens, I still like rooting for our boys among their parents.
Andrew readies to throw a strike. (ISO 1000)
The best part of taking photos of our 11s all-stars? I got to record how much sweat, effort, and heart they put into beating a long-time rival twice out of three games to advance to the next level of play. Looking back on these pix always will remind me of this young team that thought it could win and did. Glad I raised my ISO so I could document that sharp effort!