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How Can I Get Better Sports Photos?

I have the Nikon D3100 with the 200 lens that I received with my camera when I bought it.

I love taking photos of my sons—both play rugby—one is playing for the Maties this year, so it is difficult to “get close to him”. I want to go on a course this year to learn more tricks of the trade and to know my camera better, but at this stage—what setting can you advise me to put my camera on when I have the long lens attached, for all my photos at this stage are blurry!!! I know settings are very!!! Important, but do not have the time or money now to go on the course and I have to take GOOOOD photos now!

Is there a better lens that is not that costly that you can prefer for this exercise—are there camera shops out there that will maybe rent lenses?





Thanks for your question and congratulations on your son getting to play with that team!

Sports photography, especially outdoors at night can be very difficult to photograph. The primary issues that sports photographers deal with are fast action and often poor lighting conditions.

It is important in sports photography to keep your shutter speed high enough to avoid motion blur from camera shake as well as to freeze the action of the sport being photographed. That typically means you need to keep your shutter speed above 1/500 of a second or faster.

Chances are the 200mm lens that came with your camera is a variable aperture zoom lens. That means that as the lens zooms in the largest aperture (lens opening) is reduced from say f4.0 to f5.6. Because the aperture varies as the lens zooms more light is needed because the largest aperture is smaller at 200mm than it is at 70mm. Therefore as your lens zooms in it requires more light to properly expose the image due to a smaller lens opening. This can present a problem depending on the lighting conditions you are shooting under because if your lens has a smaller opening your shutter will need to open longer to allow the right amount of light to the image sensor to properly expose the photo. This results in a slower shutter speed which can result in motion blur from camera shake or too slow of a shutter speed to “freeze” the action of a fast paced sport.

Investing or renting a “faster” fixed f2.8 lens will allow you to maximize your shutter speed at all focal lengths and is the best type of lens for sports photography. While these can be quite expensive they are worth the investment if you want to get the best possible sports photos under the difficult lighting conditions you will often be faced with. Depending on the area you live in there could be a local camera store that rents lenses suitable for sports photography that would fit your Nikon camera. There are also online lens rental companies if you choose to rent a lens for a special match or game.

No matter what lens you are using I highly recommend you use the aperture priority setting on your Nikon camera. This setting will allow you to set your aperture (lens opening) to the largest opening (smallest number) such as f4.0/f5.6. Your camera will then adjust your shutter speed up or down to get the proper exposure. Depending on the lighting conditions you will need to adjust your ISO to a higher setting in order to keep your shutter speed above 1/500 of a second or faster.

By controlling your lens opening (aperture) and light sensitive of the image sensor (ISO) you will be able to control your camera and maintain the fastest possible shutter speed for your lighting conditions.

As you increase your ISO settings you might start to notice some digital noise showing up in your images. When that happens you should invest in one of the many digital noise reduction software packages that are available today. These do an excellent job of “cleaning up” higher ISO images and result in a better looking photo. Again the key to good sports photos is keeping your shutter speed high enough to avoid those blurry pictures you are getting now.

Best Regards,
Practical Photography Tips

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