Monday, June 13, 2011

Competitive Edge

By William Sawalich, Photography By Mike Powell Published in Shooting
Competitive Edge
Sports photography is one of those disciplines that can be practiced almost anywhere at almost any time. Whether you're covering the Olympics across the globe or your daughter's soccer game just across town, the principles—and challenges—have a lot in common. Photographer Mike Powell has 25 years of experience shooting sports for the likes of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, ESPN The Magazine, Stern and L'Equipe. Here, Powell shares 10 tips for making amazing sports images wherever the action may find you.

A shutter speed of 1/200 sec. is fast in most circumstances, but in Powell's image of Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, it makes a nice background blur while the subject stays sharp. Powell arrived early, planned his shot and tested exposures until he found the one that would work.

1. LONG LENSES AREN'T ALWAYS REQUIRED

You don't always need ultra-telephoto lenses for successful sports photography. In fact, wide-angle lenses can be a great way to show context—and that helps to tell the story.

"Of course, long lenses play an enormous role in a sports photographer's life," Powell says, "but once you put on a 300mm or longer lens, it becomes very easy to have your work start looking like every other photographer out there—so many are using the same lens. When an opportunity presents itself to get closer to the action and shoot a more three-dimensional image, I'm happier. Shooting with wide and normal lenses increases the importance of all the elements within the frame. They all have a place, and getting them to all work together well is a great feeling."

2. PANNING REQUIRES PLANNING

Panning the camera with a fast-moving subject is an ideal method for introducing a feeling of speed into a photograph. This requires a slow shutter speed—but the definition of "slow" is relative. The wider the lens, the slower the speed you'll need. A shutter speed of 1?200 sec. is fast in most circumstances, but in Powell's image of Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, it makes a nice background blur while the subject stays sharp. He arrived early, planned his shot and tested exposures until he found the one that would work.

"I had a chance to test shutter speeds on forerunners," Powell explains, "the skiers who test the course before the real racers come down. I started at 1/60th, but wasn't getting an image that was sharp on the racer's face. I moved up shutter speeds until I got at least one or two sharp frames out of a sequence of eight or 10—still a high-risk shot when you must get the shot, but worth the risk to get the motion in the snow."

Adds Powell, "When trying to do very slow shutter speeds to show speed, you have to look at what's in your background. Lots of patches of color, contrast and light sources work well. A focal point is very important, too—with all the blur making a background, something needs to hold your eye. It doesn't have to be pin-sharp; her face is sharp enough to be read and draw your eye in."

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