Sports photos can be a lot of fun to shoot, especially if you happen to have kids in the family that are active in a particular sport. And considering the long lenses that are available not only to DSLR shooters, but to a lot of point-and-shoot and zoom cameras, it's possible to get close to the action even from a relatively distant sideline. Some zoom cameras, in fact, have zooms with a 24x range and the long telephoto zoom setting is often over 400mm in 35mm terms--focal lengths unheard of outside of pro gear up until a year or so ago.
But while long lenses will get you close to the action, it still takes a few other skills to get great sports shots. Interestingly, one of the best skills sports shooters posses is patience--waiting until there is a peak of action. The more you know about a sport, of course, the more you can predict exactly when that peak will occur. In volleyball, for example, in almost every point there is a clash (and often several of them during a single point) at the net and waiting for that instant to shoot will provide great moments of action. I only had to watch this informal pick-up game at a local beach for a few moments before I realized that the net was where the action was taking place. In this shot the ball is at its peak and both players are completely off the ground.Knowing that the best action was repeatedly happening at the net helped me to visualize and frame shots in advance and then all I did was sit back and wait for the best shots.
All sports have some kind of action highlights and, again, predicting where and when they will happen is just a matter of knowing the sport. If you've sat through a few hundred kids' soccer matches in your life, you know that most of the exciting action happens in and around the goal. Focusing on the goalie will provide you with much better chances to get a good action shot than trying to snatch random bits of action in a huge field. You might spend more time waiting than shooting (especially with soccer), but you will probably get a higher percentage of exciting shots. In baseball the bases (especially first and third bases which are closer to the sidelines) are good places to concentrate your attention.
Waiting for peak of action also has a benefit when it comes to freezing motion, too. In most forms of action--a diver at the peak of her upward momentum, for example--there is a brief lull before the speed of the motion increases again. By timing your shots to capture that peak of action you can use much lower shutter speeds and still get very sharp results. One little game that I play when I'm watching sports on TV is trying to imagine when I would shoot if I were photographing the action with a still camera. I actually sit there and say (out loud) "click, click, click," which is why I rarely watch sports in a bar. If you visualize those moments and plant that sense of timing in your head you'll find yourself getting a much higher percentage of great action photos.
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