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Sports – Customizing the AF Function to Capture the Right Moment

Indoor sports photography requires photographers to handle the vigorous movements of the subjects to capture the right moment. Let's see how professional sports photographers operate their equipment's to capture the decisive moment under conditions that are far from friendly. Here we will take a look at their shooting settings and some tips for us to try out. (Reported by: Yusuke Nakanishi of Aflo Sports, In cooperation with: Tokyo Cinq Rêves (bj League) and Saitama Broncos (bj League))

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EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 170mm/ Manual exposure (1/800 sec., f/2.8) / ISO 10000/ WB: Custom

A shot of two players competing to win a jump ball. I composed the shot while predicting the how high the ball would be thrown up. It would not have been possible to capture this photo without the accurate AF performance and speedy response.

Customize AF-related functions

When taking photos of indoor sports, you need to handle the vigorous movements of the subject under lightings that are far from being bright. While the shooting conditions are harsh, the subjects also make the ideal choice for testing the shooting capabilities of the EOS 6D. There are a few points that I looked at to gauge the ability of the EOS 6D in handling sports scenes.

First of all, by customizing AI Servo AF, the most important feature in sports photography, I was able to respond flexibly to different scenes. The AF sensors tracked the subject accurately, and the camera matched excellently with f/2.8-class lenses. Judging from the above points, I was convinced that the EOS 6D is also capable of capturing sports photos.

3 Tips on Sports Photography

Predict how the game unfolds
・Put AI Servo AF to active use
Employ different lenses to widen scope of expression

EOS 6D Recommended Feature

Acceleration/ Deceleration Tracking

There are many instances where the players in a basketball game speed up suddenly, so I set [Acceleration/ deceleration tracking] to [+1].

Tracking Sensitivity

The movement of players in a basketball game is random, so I set Tracking sensitivity to a negative value to prevent the focus from being shifted away from the main subject inadvertently.

Technique 1

Customize the AF Point Settings If You Need to Change the Camera Orientation Frequently

EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 200mm/ Manual exposure (1/800 sec., f/2.8)/ ISO 10000/ WB: Custom

A shot in the vertical orientation. Here, I made active use of AF points other than the center one to enhance the flexibility in composing a shot.

EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 200mm/ Manual exposure (1/1,250 sec., f/2.8)/ ISO 6400/ WB: Custom

I composed the shot while predicting the movement of the player as he tries to dribble through the opponent toward the goal. Here, I used the AF point to the right of the center AF point.

Registering different AF points for vertical and horizontal shooting

At scenes where you need to change the orientation of the camera frequently, you can customize the AF point settings to save the hassle of having to move the AF point each time. By using the convenient “Orientation linked AF point” feature, the camera automatically detects the orientation (vertical or horizontal), and moves the AF point to the one that was last used according to the orientation each time it is changed. Doing so allows you to concentrate on shooting once you have changed the orientation of the camera.

By setting “Orientation linked AF point” to [Select different AF points], the camera switches the preset AF point automatically according to the camera orientation.

Technique 2

Capturing the Entire Venue with a Wide-angle Lens

EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Manual exposure (1/1,600 sec., f/2.8)/ ISO 6400/ WB: Custom

To capture the battle that unfolds under the goal, I chose a wide-angle lens. To express the height of the jump boldly, I took the shot from a low angle.

Compose a shot with a bold angle

While many may think that sports photography involves the frequent use of telephoto lenses, it would be too dull to use them only. Since the EOS 6D is equipped with a full-frame sensor that eases expression using wide-angle lenses, you are encouraged to make good use of wide-angle lenses as well. Many sports arenas have a unique design, so by paying attention to the ceiling lights and the excitement of the spectators while composing a shot, you will be able to capture moments that you have not noticed before.

Technique 3

Capturing Scenes without players

EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 200mm/ Manual exposure (1/1,250 sec., f/3.5)/ ISO 6400/ WB: Custom

Here, I focused on the instant when the ball swished through the net. From this photo, you can imagine the expression of the player who released the shot as well as how the game unfolds.

EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM/ FL: 160mm/ Manual exposure (1/1,250 sec., f/2.8)/ ISO 6400/ WB: Custom

A whiteboard for conveying the tactics to the players. From the tense fingers, viewers can tell the expression of the coach and players who were listening carefully.

Stir up the imagination of the viewers

When taking sports photos, you are also encouraged to challenge yourself with shots that do not include the players. It is possible to produce images that characterize a particular sport, even if the players do not appear in the photo. In fact, such shots are more effective in stirring up the imagination of the viewers. This is particularly important such as in story photography where a particular sport is the theme.

Yusuke Nakanishi

Nakanishi was born in 1979, and graduated from the Department of Photography under the Faculty of Arts, Tokyo Polytechnic University. After working with a publisher, Nakanishi joined AfloSport in 2005. He is the official photographer for the "bj League," Japan's professional basketball league, and a member of the SanDisk Extreme Team.