SPORTS PORTRAITS: A HOW-TO GUIDE
If you've tried shooting portraits of individuals engaging in sport before, you'll know that competitors stop for no one. Portraiture in all its glory is a branch of photography that takes real getting used to, but when your subject matter becomes one of speed, energy and unpredictability in his or her movements, we can have real trouble capturing that perfect sports portrait.
SPORTS PORTRAITURE: THE BASICS.
There are a number of basic and yet integral points that need addressing when we're looking to shoot any kind of portraiture. Movement should always be something any photographer is wary of when shooting, so it's important we either eliminate any chance of it or embrace it in our images. This will obviously vary depending on your brief, but generally, movement means motion blur and this can make or break an image. No amount of editing can rectify unwanted blur and focus fuzz - this is massively accentuated when shooting sports portraiture. So let's look at those all-important basics.
Your shutter speed should be as fast as it can possibly be. The faster we get our shutter speed, the more likely we are to capture a crisp image. It's generally accepted that anything faster than around 1/125 of a second is fast enough for a hand held shot, as it excludes any chance of camera shake. However, this doesn't necessarily account for the potential movement of your subject – particularly if shot candidly. Make the appropriate distinction between whether your subject is wary of you shooting them or not and this will inform how fast you choose to make that shutter speed. For example, a posed figure, wary of your presence and accepting of the camera is far less likely to make any involuntary or erratic movements in front of the camera than one shot unbeknownst to them. With sports, you're almost certainly going to be in the latter camp and you'll have no control over where your subject matter moves to and from, or even the light conditions there under. The shutter simply has to be as fast as you can possibly get it. If you want to learn more about how to change the shutter speed on your Lumix camera read our article.
There's no smoke without fire, and where the shutter speed is involved, so too is the aperture. Most portrait photographers will shoot with a lens which is capable of a much wider aperture than the average kit lens. This means lots more light entering the lens at any given time and as such, the ability to work with a much faster shutter. This wider aperture also creates a much shallower depth of field and so the classic portrait look is achieved, with subjects pin sharp and the background quickly falling into soft blur. A 1.8 or 2.8 aperture will have wonderful shallow depth of field and provide more chance of the fastest possible shutter, than one set at 4.5 with your zoom engaged, which, since we're looking more specifically at sports photography, is highly likely.
SO WHAT CHANGES FOR SPORT?
The first thing you really need to consider when it comes to Sports Photography, is the kind of sport you’re shooting and your light conditions. If it's a football or rugby match, or anything played out quickly an energetically in a specific space, where you'll be shooting from a set position, there's no question you'll be needing a zoom lens.
THE TELEPHOTO TERRITORY
The immediate introduction of telephoto focal lengths means a heightened sensitivity to movement from your own hand, so that quickly needs to be eradicated, usually with the help of a tripod or monopod. Where this isn't the case, it is always advised that you try to get your shutter speed at least double what the focal indication is. So for example, shooting at 250mm handheld, would require at least a 1/500 of a second shutter speed, in order to really cut out the chance of camera shake. However, although this is the best option there are certain compromises you can make in lieu of a lens that zooms to 5/600mm and still opens its aperture to 2.8. If you are fairly knew to sports shooting and you still don’t know which camera to choose read our article on the camera of choice, which explains the advantages of different cameras.
Your ISO is where that compromise lies. In ordinary portrait photography, a slight boost in ISO will really give you the hand you need to speed up the shutter, should you still be struggling to get the light flooding into your widest aperture. Remember, noise in an image is infinitely better than blur. Most modern day camera bodies will perform brilliantly at 2-4000 ISO and with very little noise, so if you don't have the cash for one of the bigger lenses with the widest apertures, the ISO will be able to provide at least a little help.
Zonal Focusing is a very smart way of preparing your scene ready to capture the perfect sports portrait. Where your camera body and lens will usually take fractions of a second to lock on to a subject perfectly, sometimes this is still too slow. By manually setting your focus to an area in front of where your subject or subjects will pass through, you can fire off rapidly as this happens. This means your chances of the perfect capture are very much heightened.