Fully Automatic Sports Mode
So you want to start taking photos of your family and friends playing sports. You have a camera and the camera has a fully automatic setting called Sports Mode. Boom! You are now a sports photographer. Well...while the Sports Mode does help you get closer, there might be more to it than that.
For starters, let's take a look at how camera manufacturers came up with a Sports Mode and what it is really doing with your settings. Camera manufacturers are in business to make money. Nothing wrong with that. Their challenge is to manufacture a quality camera that will allow people to take beautiful pictures while at the same time making the technology accessible to the masses. Makes sense. In order for you to get some perspective, let me do a super fast history lesson. When cameras first hit the commercial market, photography was a hobby for only those individuals who took the time to learn the principles of photography. It wasn't until the 1970's when technology finally made it possible for camera manufacturers to begin simplifying the settings. With the advent of automated camera settings, manufacturers could now broaden their base of potential customers. Now jump forward to today's photography industry and you would be hard pressed to find an adult that didn't own at least one camera. Why has the camera industry exploded at such an amazing rate? Simple... Automation. Today, anyone can walk into a store, buy a camera, put in a battery and memory card, set their camera on Auto Mode and start snapping pictures with relative success. Presto! Instant photographer! Automation at this level has been an exciting advancement for budding photographers everywhere.
So as a new photographer, why can't we just leave the camera on Auto Mode forever and call it good? This is a option that many people take. However, as soon as you want to improve beyond taking snapshots, you will need to understand what those Auto Modes are doing and how you might want to override those automated decisions to get a better quality photo. Sports photography is one of those areas where you may need a bit more control. Let's begin by talking about the automated setting called Sports Mode or as some people call it, The Running Guy. On your camera, you will have a selection of full and partial automatic modes to choose from. Today, we are going to discuss one of the fully automatic modes called Sports Mode which is illustrated by a hieroglyphic of a running figure.
What are we trying to do when we shoot action photos? In essence, we are trying to freeze a moment that is happening in real time with amazing quickness. So much so that it is hard for our minds to hold the image. Let's use a football example. The running back takes a hand off from the quarterback, plows through the defensive line, spins, dives and falls over the goal line. Touchdown! Our brains can remember the general shape of the play and might hold on to a few images for a short period of time, but if you wanted to really freeze one of those moments, you would need to take a photo and stop the action. This gives our brains a chance to really take in the beauty of the moment. The emotion in the players' eyes, the amazing physical contortions and the wonder of the athlete body in motion. And not just any athlete...your athlete! Now you can truly absorb that amazing moment and hang it on your wall or to share it with friends and family via the internet.
So what does this have to do with Sports Mode? You are looking to freeze a moment and in photo terms, that means a fast shutter speed to stop the action without blur. That is what your camera is attempting to do when you put it in Sports Mode. You are telling your camera that there is a fast moving figure in front of you and you want it to freeze the action. Your camera in turn responds by giving you a fast shutter speed and will also make decisions about aperture and ISO. Pretty cool huh? This gets you closer to what you had in mind. However be aware that your camera is making decisions that you may or may not like. What ISO did the camera choose (this will make a difference in how grainy your photo is)? Did the camera think a little blur is OK? How much of the shot is in focus? Are there tricky lighting patterns that might fool the sensor (bright white jerseys with a pitch black background)? Sometimes your camera will make choices that are pretty good and other times it is fooled by lighting conditions. If you wanted to lock in your settings and not make it such a crap shoot, you would need to take the camera off of Sports Mode and move into a semi automatic or manual mode.
The moral of the story is to learn to harness this amazing technology but not become a slave to it. The Sports Mode is a wonderful tool but at the end of the day it is only a computer chip making mathematical decisions. Take the time to read some of my other articles about the principles of photography. You will be amazed at how quickly you start to make choices that will improve your photography by leaps and bounds. Digital photography has really given us the option to take risks with no extra costs for film and processing. Take advantage of this technology, take a risk and have a blast!