Any camera on the market can take a fine picture. Finding the right camera for your needs is where the challenge comes. Do you need a large lens, or a small one? Does it need to zoom? How much zoom is too much? Do you need to pay for the extra storage?
For sports, this is even more difficult to discern. Are you shooting inside a building, or outside on a field? How much sunlight is just right for photography? Which side of the field is better to shoot from? What exactly should be in your photo? What settings do you even start with?
Once you know these specifics, you need to figure out which camera will fit your style. Here, I will help you understand which settings you need to look for, which ones you’ll need to change, and how to decide what to change and when. For this example, we will look at the Nikon D3400.
This camera has mostly the same specs as its predecessor (the Nikon D3300), with the only noticeable difference on paper being the amount of storage, which is elaborated below. Both are around the same price point, and can use the same accessories. However, don’t let the paper explanation fool you: the Nikon D3400 packs a punch in quality and lighting systems. Let’s break it down.
One of the main tips all sports shooters know is to never use the automatic mode, regardless of what camera you use. Instead, you should look for one that has a semi-manual mode for beginners, or a fully manual mode for experts. The only difference between the three modes is how much freedom you have.
The Nikon D3400 has both a semi-manual and a complete manual mode, so you can feel comfortable with it no matter how experienced you are – a one-week user or a year-long photographer will both be able to settle into it easily.
Don’t get the wrong idea: the automatic mode is great, and was made specifically for new users. The quality is mostly the same as any manual mode, and for still photos, it’s structured exactly for what you need. The settings will pinpoint the most likely figure you’re trying to focus on, adjust to the light levels automatically, and work at an average shutter speed.
For sports, travel, videos, or anything else that isn’t a still photo, automatic just can’t keep up for three main reasons, which are highlighted below. Those reasons are the burst/shutter speed, the lighting, and the focusing styles.
If you’re new to sports photography and don’t know where to begin in manual mode, that’s fine! You can leave most of the settings as is while you fiddle with them and learn what the terms really mean. You’ll find that, even with the suggestions given here, there will be times when you’ll want to use auto’s settings, or when you’ll want more manual than usual. Part of learning photography is figuring out what you like, and learning how to capture those moments just the way you want.
For you go-getters, the most important things you need to learn about manual photography are detailed further on for when you’re ready to take that leap forward!
Use Burst Always
Once you’re in semi- or- fully- manual mode, you may find that you need to adjust your ISO and shutter settings. In automatic mode, these are set for still or slowly moving photos. Why is this bad? If you plan on photographing sports, you’re rarely ever going to get a moment where everyone is still and expecting your photo. To capture fantastic sports pictures, you’ll need to adjust your camera’s shutter speed to match (as closely as possible) the speed of your targets.
Keep in mind that a little blur isn’t a bad thing. In fact, sometimes that little blur can add a lot of depth to your photo, like when a tennis ball is fuzzy against the player’s racket. In sports with quick-moving items like tennis, you likely aren’t going to be able to keep up with those speeds – for professional players, some hits are over 80mph!
The Nikon D3400 has a great burst mode, which can capture photos at 5 fps. What does fps mean? Well, for all electronics that have graphical capabilities, they also have an fps, or frames per second, that lets the users know how many frames can be captured or projected each second. In our case, this means that with the Nikon D3400, you can take up to 5 moving photos in burst mode every second. This is great for anyone who is picky about getting the photos just right.
One of the most frustrating aspects of any photographer’s job is lighting, and this is because sometimes you have no control over it. If your gig is out in the open during a sunny day, you’re set. Lighting is going to be most affected by indoor sports; even if there’s plenty of lighting, it may be artificial, or there may be too much or too little for specific areas.
The Nikon D3400 has a great ADL (Active D-Lighting) system that shoots in JPEG format. It works very well where there are exceptionally strong brights and darks, like the final match of a wrestling tournament, where all of the lights are focused on only one mat instead of 2, 4, 6, or even 8. So much bright light can make the darks too dark, and can create funky color schemes and blurry targets.
The ADL in this camera is perfect for balancing shadows with lighting and accentuating the natural (or artificial) highlights created by the lights. With this camera, your shots will have the perfect contrast with relative ease.
It also has a good built in flash for low-light situations, albeit slightly weaker than the Nikon D3300. It’s also worth noting that the light has a tendency to flash unnecessarily, so in situations where you won’t need it, you’ll want to disable it completely.
Auto-focus is especially important in moving photos. In still photos, you can take your time to ensure the frame is focused where it should be; but when the game is in full swing, and one blink can cause you to miss a score, keeping the focus on your target is important.
Auto-focus is most affected by lighting. The Nikon D3400 has a great kit that focuses better in both pictures and videos than the previous model. The auto-focus setting is best used in the completely manual settings with viewfinder, but for those who aren’t interested in spending their energy on the finest details, live-view still grabs great pictures to use.
This camera has great auto-focusing for well-lighted situations, so if you’re shooting a soccer game or tennis match, you’re set. If you’re shooting a basketball game, though, you may need to suck it up, switch to the viewfinder mode, and finagle the settings a bit more before auto-focus is truly on your side.
The biggest downfall of the Nikon D3400 as far as focusing is concerned is in the ease of focusing – specifically, the screen. This model does not come with a touch screen as seen in the previous version. The touch screen makes it especially easy to focus, as it is more sensitive to quick reactions for beginners and experts, and may push its users to use the slightly-lesser-quality live view more.
If you’ve followed all the steps above and have your camera set in battle mode, you’re going to be blown away by the quality of your photos. Under the right conditions, your lens will never fail you with the Nikon D3400’s system.
The colors are very vibrant with the 24MP sensor used in both this camera and its younger brother. You’ll get great, print-ready photos almost every time, and those that aren’t quite perfect can be edited easily within the camera itself – and unedited if necessary!
You’ll also have the option, through the app, to choose the size of your file when you transfer it. This makes it easy to transfer for your exact needs: smaller file sizes for phones and wallet pictures, or bigger files for scrapbooking or full-size photos. The only downfall of the camera’s transferring is that it often struggles with the Bluetooth connection.
The Nikon D3400 also has lots of storage to store more high-quality photos, almost twice the amount of storage of the D3300. You won’t have to make as many trips to the laptop + USB set up between gigs! You also won’t have to sacrifice storage space for higher quality.
All in all, the Nikon D3400 is great for taking pictures during any sporting event. Whether indoors or outside, capturing an 80 mph tennis ball or a dribbling soccer player, there are settings that will make your pictures glow in all the right ways. It’s also got all the settings both beginners and experts need to use it efficiently for a good price point.