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Focus like a pro

January 4, 2010 - Michael Palmer
Today, lets talk about taking another step in becoming less dependant on our automatic camera features.

As part of the backwards evolution of the world, photographers shooting sports have opted for the “spray and pray” method of taking photos. I even saw in the Sport Illustrated ‘Photos of the Decade’ that one of the entries was taken by a remote camera that shot hundreds of photos from a spot above the basket at an NBA game. The photographer actually took credit for this security camera work.

This “machine gun” method is advantageous in capturing the image you need, but not necessary. If your camera does not have burst mode you may be a better photographer than the “professional” shooting your son or daughter’s game.

I have explained to parents or yearbook photographers that share the sidelines with me that the standard autofocusing lens may not always be up to par with your expectations and standards; especially in the low light of gymnasiums and stadiums. Even if you have a high speed motor in your lens, shooting only with autofocus isn’t always reliable enough to get the shots that you want. You think you have a good shot and then when you look at the screen the player in the foreground is in focus and the subject is blurred and that can be frustrating.

The solution is shooting without auto focusing, switching to manual and only relying on the focus ring on the lens.

If you have been working with your camera for a while, you most likely have become familiar with and know exactly where the buttons and control dials are that you need to use in order to manipulate the picture. Can you say the same things about your lenses? Can you twist the focus ring on your lens and know which way is going to bring your focus closer or further from your lens?

Here are some tips to make the job easier. We will use basketball because the action tends to take place under the basket.

Move your focus ring left and right with the net in the center of your frame until you get a sharp focus. If you also want to get floor shots I suggest standing in the corner of the court where you can use the pre-focused distance to find a spot on the floor where players will be in sharp focus when dribbling.

Check the illustration and you will see that the red is your sharp focus and pink a softer but usable focus. The pre-focus will give you good results under the basket for rebounds and can capture action in the areas of the court that are inside your zone of focus.

You can also practice focusing manually so that you can quickly adjust from your zone of focus to capture action further or closer to your lens.

Give it a try for a while, see how you grow and change as a photographer.


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