It will allow you to continuously monitor the athlete moving in space, without losing the image sharpness.
In Nikon digital cameras, the continuous focusing mode is highlighted as AF-C.
In the AF-C mode, the camera will continuously focus on the selected focus point.
Tip #1: Use the 3D Tracking Mode
However, one focus point is small, and the photographer can’t always keep the focus point on a fast moving object.
So, what then?
In all modern Nikon devices there are two very useful functions: Dynamic AF-Area and 3D Tracking mode.
Dynamic AF-Area Mode (“AF Point Expansion” in Canon) allows you not to lose the object in case it went beyond the initial focus point.
Automation will independently search for an object, focusing on neighboring focus points.
3D Tracking Mode is the one that uses a special scene-recognition system and allows your camera to automatically activate as many focus points as needed to monitor subject movement.
In a nutshell, 3D tracking mode will use all the focus points available to track the object you are trying to photograph, whereas Dynamic mode divides the focus points into separate “zones”, activating only the surrounding focus points (as many as you selected).
Tip #2: Select “Shutter Priority” Mode
However, simply correcting the autofocus is not enough to get a sharp image.
To ensure that your photo isn’t blurred, you also need to set the proper shutter speed.
For fast-moving athletes, it is better to use shutter speeds that are shorter than 1/250 sec.
The faster the athlete, the shorter the exposure is needed for a clear fixation on the photo. Therefore, the optimal mode for shooting sports is “shutter priority” (S) mode.
Tip #3: Make a Compromise Between ISO and Shutter Speed
Let the camera to automatically deal with ISO and aperture.
At such short exposures, the ISO will be very high, and we will have to find a compromise between the shutter speed and the ISO value.
It will not be so easy to set the shutter speed to 1/4000 s: the ISO will then have to be raised to a completely crazy level, and the frames will drown in digital noise.
Therefore, when shooting one of the tasks of the photographer – to find a reasonable compromise between the length of exposure and photosensitivity.
Real Life Example
I have a friend who shot figure skating competitions on an indoor ice rink.
Obviously the lighting was artificial and not very bright.
This made it challenging for him to find any balance – either ISO was very high or the shutter speed was slow.
After playing a bit with it, he decided to shoot at shutter speeds in the range 1/160 – 1/500 s and at ISO 1000-3200.
This is just an example that sometimes you’ll have to find a balance between the two in order to achieve the sharpest image possible.
In slow phases of movement, you can use slightly longer exposures.
When you increase the shutter speed length, you decrease the ISO level.
Decreasing ISO means decreasing the image noise.
And the decrease in noise means that you will have a higher image quality.
Do you see how that works?
When shooting complex technical elements in sports, whether it is a jump of a figure skater or catching the moment in a hockey game, the exposure should be reduced.
Additional Comments on Sports Photography:
Continuous Shooting & The Use of Flash
Obviously, not always will an athlete look good when performing sports-related tasks.
For example, at the time of complex jumps, you can’t really control your facial expression and overall this is not the time when you will get the most picturesque poses during rapid movements.
Continuous shooting is what will help you capture one’s best moments. After shooting, in that series of frames you will be able to find the best one.
It is unlikely that you’d have the same level success with single shooting.
Now, the attentive reader would probably notice that I didn’t say anything about the use of the flash.
This is because using the flash when shooting sports is not always appropriate.
1) First of all, most often the subject we are shooting is at a very great distance from us, so the flash won’t be helpful anyway.
2) Second of all, it doesn’t really work out with the continuous shooting because the flash will take too long to charge. As you already know with sports we need fast focusing and a high frame rate.
This leads us to the following question: “Which camera should I choose for sports photography?”
What Is The Best Camera + Lens for Sports Photography Today?
So, we figured out why during sports it’s important for the camera to have quick and accurate focus, fast continuous shooting, and an adequately-running auto mode system.
The ability to quickly adjust the necessary parameters such as shutter speed is also important.
Frankly, any modern DSLR will be suitable for these needs.