AF Area Modes
Robert Beck is a Sports Illustrated contract photographer with over 25 years experience shooting all manner of sports events. He's as comfortable applying his skills to his son's flag football game as he is to prowling the sidelines at the Super Bowl. We recently asked him to share some tips from his A-list of sports shooting advice.
- The first thing I look at is the background. Whatever the action is, the background will complete the picture. I don't want a busy background—a lot of fences or light glaring off a fence. A lot of people in the stands are okay, but I don't want one person walking by or just standing around. Some sports are good with the bench as background, like lacrosse or football, with coaches and players behind the action. Shooting Little League is trickier. The field is an odd shape, and I try to crop out distractions. I shoot the batter so the bench is in the background as opposed to two parents and otherwise empty aluminum stands reflecting light. The rule of thumb: real clean or real real.
- The first lens in my kit is the 70-200mm zoom lens [AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED]. Very sharp, very fast, and if I have to shoot through a fence, I shoot wide open and the fence won't even show. It also offers me a lot of flexibility in composing; too tight, I zoom out, too loose, zoom in. My next lens is the 200-400mm [AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED]; fabulous for any sport, just perfect.
- I'm shooting D3 right now almost exclusively. I also have a D700 and a D300. Focusing is quick on all, but the D3 is a little faster in its burst. But I suggest you don't get caught up in shooting sequences. In reality the high point of action is really one or two frames, especially in sports where a ball is struck. The ball is only going to be in there for one frame, and if a kid is fielding the ball, the ball's only there for three frames. Generally, five frames per second is fast enough.
- The truth is that professional sports are almost easier to shoot. The younger the kids, the less you can anticipate—they don't have a sense of timing like the pros or older kids; the young kids are all a little bit off the timing. Be prepared.
- Some parents go to a game and just follow their kid. In soccer or football, that's kind of hard because it means they are not in tune with the game. Just follow the game and shoot the ball and the flow of the game; you'll get more good pictures, and when the ball gets to your kid, you'll be on it.
- When people see a great pro sports shot in a magazine, they don't realize that picture was culled from 600 or 700 images. You may not get a good shot of your kid in one game; think in terms of a season and hope for ten or 12 good images. If you get one or two good