Autofocus is a feature that many of us take for granted. Today’s cameras can capture the action and focus even on moving objects extremely well. I cut my photographic teeth back in the old film days when autofocus wasn’t even available. I was thrilled when it first came out and I am an even bigger fan of it now with the current digital cameras. My Nikon D300, for example, has fantastic autofocus accuracy.

Some photographers look at a photograph and wonder why their main subject or the subject they were trying to focus on is not in focus. Several contributing factors could be the culprit in this situation. One possibility is that the camera’s autofocus may have tracked on to a different subject in the frame. One of the problems I used to see happen frequently was in composing a photograph. The photographer focuses on a subject but then wants to re-position the frame for a more pleasing composition. If the shutter release is not kept pressed down halfway, the camera may re-focus on a different subject.

This is why I like to use separate buttons for focusing and exposure instead of having the shutter release do both. A simple change in the camera’s menu can set this up properly. On my D300 I use one of the buttons on the back of the camera as the focusing button. The shutter release still sets the exposure. I like this because I can focus in on a subject by pressing the back button. When I release this button the focus stays locked on that subject. I can then re-position the frame to get the composition I want. Of course I only release the back button if the subject remains still. If not, I can keep the button pressed, track the subject, and keep it in focus.

Separating the focus and exposure by using two different buttons can take some time to get used to. I recommend trying this on a free day when you do not have an important photography shoot planned. Just experiment with it but stick with it at least for one full day. Eventually you will get the hang of it and the technique will become second nature.

Frames per Second

Sports photography presents some unique challenges. The action is sometimes fast and furious. This requires a quick mind and a mastery of the camera in order to get the shot you want. Preparation is important and knowing the game or sport inside and out are extremely important.

One camera feature that is overlooked is fps: frames per second. This demarcation represents how many frames can be captured for each second the shutter release is held down. My old D70, for example, featured 3 frames per second. This wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very good when the speed of the action picked up.

Now enter my recently acquired D300, which features 6 frames per second. I anticipated an improvement, but the actual results blew me away. It was impressive not only to hear the rapid succession of the frames being recorded within each second, but the amount of action I could freeze with the camera was amazing!

I am planning on adding the vertical battery grip, which will up the speed to 8 frames per second!

Speed isn’t everything, but sometimes it is very nice to have a camera doing better than keeping up with the action.

Fading Light

What do you do when you are at a great location taking photos and the sun begins to go down? The decreasing amount of light that is lost in a situation like this happens almost exponentially. Working in such a situation requires quick thinking and some resourcefulness. You obviously cannot stop the sun from fading into the horizon, so what do you do?

I remember an old television commercial where a father and his son were sitting at a beautiful location watching the sun set. It was a gorgeous scene and just as the sun was fading into the horizon, the dad said, “Going… going… gone!” And with that the sun completely disappeared. The little boy looked up at his dad and said, “Do it again, daddy!”

No, we can keep the sun from fading into the western skyline, so what do we photographers do as the sunlight gives out?

I was in this situation this past Friday night at a baseball game. Baseball requires a pretty fast shutter speed and with my 1.4x teleconverter attached the fading light affected me rather quickly. I was able to keep shooting by adapting some settings on my camera both in the computer menu and physically.

First, I could change to a higher ISO. This is the equivalent to a faster ASA in the old film days. By using more sensitive film, the photographer could use the limited available light a little longer. The same can be accomplished by changing to a higher ISO. With today’s modern cameras like my Nikon D300, we can shoot at higher ISOs and still not experience much noise in our photos. This is a great option, but it does have some limits and eventually we are going to get into such high ISOs that the noise is noticeable.

Another option I had was to remove the 1.4x teleconverter and shoot without it. This provided one more stop of light for me and wasn’t a bad solution since I was right by the dugout. This location allowed me to continue shooting the infielders and batters without too much lose of distance. A simple thing like removing a piece of gear like this can sometimes be a very good option.

Another option for me was to use the exposure compensation option on my camera. This works pretty well in Aperture Priority and I use it often to get rid of those troublesome blinkies. This option can help in darkening situations, but again only to a limit.

Dealing with fading light is not easy, but it is definitely worth the struggle. This is, after all, labeled the “golden hour” for a reason!

One remaining option can sometimes be to keep shooting after sunset, depending on your subject. This is not possible for sports photographers, but the sky can reveal brilliant and fascinating colors that can captured well with your digital camera. Try with those big puffy clouds in the sky as the setting sun casts beautiful rays of light throughout the skyline.

There are ways to deal with fading light and having several options in your bag of tricks can keep you shooting longer.

Big Print Action

Today I picked up some 12″ x 18″ photographs that I had printed. They are baseball action shots, most with the ball frozen in place. These larger prints sure are nice! They allow some details to be seen with incredible clarity. The larger size allows for proper hanging on a wall so that passers-by can enjoy viewing the photographs.

Action shots are some of my most favorite subjects. There is one of a base runner attempting to steal a base, while the fielder is catching the ball and about to put the tag on. Portraying action in a flat photograph is not an easy proposition. This challenge is one I enjoy very much. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Many just don’t have the patience to work a subject or wait long enough in a game to capture these kinds of shots. I am learning more and more all the time and seeing these larger prints was a great step in this learning process.

I am liking larger prints more and more. Bigger is sometimes better and I think prints fit this category nicely.

These prints will be on display at The Lehigh Valley Baseball Academy walls where many players and parents will be able to enjoy them. I am hoping that they are received well and enjoyed by all those who take the time to look at them.

In the meantime, I will keep going out to the field and try to hone my action photography skills. I have so much more to learn!

Passion and Desire

What drives you to be out there with your camera? What motivates you to keeping going behind the viewfinder? Why do you keep taking photographs?

People have a lot of passions that drive them to do a variety of different things. Passion is defined as “intense emotional drive or excitement” in Webster’s Dictionary. You can spot someone with passion a mile away. It comes pouring out in obvious ways that cannot be missed.

Passion is what drives you when the going gets tough. Passion keeps you up late at night figuring out how to do better what drives you so much. Passion is what keeps the fire burning.

Too many photographers give up after they have a great start. But passion will keep us going.

There nothing quite like being behind the viewfinder when the action is in full swing. This weekend I photographed 3 baseball games. I cannot believe that some people honestly believe that baseball is a boring sport. The action is quick and if you blink you are sure to miss the shot. Anticipation and preparation are definitely the name of these games–both baseball and sports photography.

As a baseball coach, I learned to instruct the players to always be ready. They could blow bubble gum bubbles or whatever in-between pitches, but when the pitcher was about to go into his windup each player was to take a prep step and present their glove to the ball, thereby being in a totally ready position.

Photographers must be equally prepared and ready for the next action shot. Knowing when and where the action is about to take place can go a long way in helping to capture the action shot desired. There is nothing I like more than freezing the ball in place just as it is about to fielded by an infielder, or as the ball is about to be hit by a batter!

The next action is out there ready to be captured by your camera. The only question is will  you be ready to capture the action?