Signalling the end of an era in the NBA, Michael Jordan – one of the game’s most dominant players ever – stole the ball from the Utah Jazz before dribbling down the court and landing a game-winning shot for the Chicago Bulls.
Imagine the suspense with only 5.2 seconds left in the game.
Now imagine the suspense of the photojournalist gripping his camera, finger hovering the shutter, to capture the several exact moments comprising the shot.
A couple of seconds and the moment was over.
Sports photography – with all its fast-moving action and varying movements – is known for being highly intense.
Whether capturing expert basketballers skidding across a court, or a crucial moment at your weekend sporting event, nothing will stop you running the side-lines seeking that next-level shot.
With the 24-megapixel A9 camera, the ability to shoot lively and exciting sports photography anywhere and anytime is not only attainable, but enjoyable and well worth the effort when you catch those outstanding sporting moments.
The mirrorless Sony A9 uses a stacked full-frame image sensor to capture 20 photos per second – all shot with a completely silent electronic shutter. Boasting 693 phase-detection Auto Focus points and fast maximum shutter speeds of 1/32,000s the Sony A9 allows for accurate and responsive AF tracking of even the fastest-moving targets.
Here are 5 tips for how to best utilize the Sony A9 to achieve the sharpest sports photography.
Ensure Your Batteries Are Charged
Anticipating the shot begins before you head out to the field or venue and includes the boring preparation that people too easily forget.
It is something a lot of us have had to learn the hard way, but turning up to an event and feeling ready to shoot, only to find a blinking ‘low battery’ signal on your camera, is enough of a lesson to avoid this situation forever after.
As an advantage, once the Sony A9’s NP-FZ100 battery is fully charged, it will last up to 450 still frames using the Viewfinder and approximately 650 shots on the LCD monitor on one charge, meaning you can last a full event without running out of power or needing to swap out the battery often – so your foresight and preparation will not be in vain.
For further peace of mind, if you happen to have two camera bodies, make sure to pack your old one for each event. A back-up body can literally be ‘death-deferred’ for the professional or serious amateur and allow your work to continue when the unexpected arises.
A backup camera body can also provide the advantage of conserving the shutter on your main camera and minimizing the shutter count.
Whilst shutter count does not matter as much on mirrorless cameras like the Sony A9, due to its electronic shutter, it still can affect the camera life span when the internal mechanical shutter is continually used.
Hand in hand with ensuring equipment is functional and fully charged, the comfort and ability to endure throughout the sporting event is also a crucial factor in achieving consistent, high-quality sports photographs.
As any photographer that handles a camera for several hours a day will appreciate, comfort and ergonomics in setting up, and in a specific camera model, goes a long way in achieving a successful shoot. The Sony A9’s body is comfortable in this respect, with lots of external control and good ergonomics, for smooth and more instinctual control.
Also important in a resilient and enduring setup, is considering the weather. In terms of outdoor sporting events, which are often held in all-weather, the Sony A9 comes with environmental sealings, which block out the elements – such as dust, water and humidity – that may harm the electronics.
The camera body may be protected from the conditions, but it’s still important to be prepared in other ways. Wearing appropriate clothing according to the weather will enable you to settle in for longer shooting and minimize irritations and adjustments throughout the day.
Shoot In Manual Mode
A third essential element in preparing for capturing the drama and excitement through sports photography is making sure to set up your camera properly before the event begins. When the action kicks off, you can forget about your settings and zone in what’s happening.
Switching to manual settings and adjusting what is called the ‘exposure triangle,’ combining shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, means that all these factors remain the same throughout the shoot.
Manually fixing these three settings can also minimize the troublesome phenomenon of ‘Flicker,’ which commonly occurs when a camera automatically adjusts its settings due to the smallest of changes in frame-to-frame exposure.
Continue reading for Sony A9 specifics on shutter speed, aperture and IOS for sports photography.
Shutter speed is the first and most effective setting when it comes to action-oriented photography. If too slow, the result will be too blurry, while slightly slower speeds can produce unique results such as highlighting athlete movement with atmospheric background.
When it comes to sports photography, a good place to start off with would be a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second and adjusting from there. For extremely fast sports like motor racing, it is common to use speeds of 1/1000 or greater.
Amazingly, with no physical shutter curtain or DSLR mirror to get out of the way between frames, the Sony A9’s electronic shutter can reach speeds of 1/32,000, which equals that of the fastest mechanical shutters quadrupled.
Aperture controls the amount of light that can pass through your lens, and thus can determine a shallow or deeper depth of field to gain various effects.
In sports photography, where most photos contain close-ups of athletes or competitors in the middle of an action, it is often desirable to separate the subject from unimportant elements and background.
By shooting in the Sony A9’s aperture priority mode, you can gain full control over aperture, with a wider aperture revealing a sharper, crisper subject. A good rule of thumb is around f/2.8 to f/3.5 for sports photography.
When you are using a fast shutter speed, and have an aperture set fully open, the final option in order to brighten the scene and fix underexposure is to increase you ISO speed.
The best advise is to use the lowest ISO setting you can, but in certain situations where there is a toss up between a blurred scene and a noisier one, you may need to raise the ISO.
Regardless of whether a switch to manual position is achieved, the Sony A9 has an anti flicker feature, reducing the effect of flickering lights in photos. Although this can generally reduce the maximum continuous shooting speed, it may be used sparingly to avoid situations when more flickering light is produced.
Fix Your Focus
Trying to focus on a fast-moving target or in a fast-moving environment is difficult, so you want to set your camera up with the best possible settings to focus on what’s important.
The Sony A9 comes with an abundance of autofocus modes, useful for a wide-range of sporting situations whether tracking an unpredictable and randomly moving race car to a shot focused on a player on the opposite side of a busy scene about to take a shot. For the sports photographer, it is essential to identify the best possible AF mode for ideal tracking of competitors.
To begin, switch from multi-point to single-point focusing, and use the Center Lock-on AF option. This will ensure that whenever you are pointing for your shot, the camera will focus on the centre of the screen, instead of aimlessly trying to focus on everything.
To avoid the “one-shot” focus mode, where a half-press of the shutter button focuses a subject, only for movement to throw the focus off, switch to a continuous focus mode. In the Sony A9’s Continuous AF (AF-C) selection, the camera will continue to focus and track a moving subject when the shutter button is half-pressed.
As a side note, with a little time and tweaking, you can set up a back button focusing function on the Sony a9, allowing you to use one of the rear buttons as the trigger for acquiring focus. This means that if you accidentally lift your finger off the shutter when about to capture a shot, your camera won’t completely re-focus and lose your target.
Shoot With RAW Images
The commonly asked question of whether to shoot in RAW or JPEG images has plenty a division created. When it comes to sports photography, there are reasonable cases for either side.
It is generally accepted that shooting in RAW will provide higher quality images, which can then be further adjusted using photo editing software. This allows for much greater freedom for post-processing of images to be shared and published however you desire. With the Sony A9, it’s two SD memory card slots allows for the storage of thousands of images, and a wired internet capability to quickly share them.
Whilst RAW images will provide a better quality and control over the end-product, there are advantages in using JPEG also. The JPEG mode lets you capture more pictures at a time in what is known as burst mode – a useful thing when it comes to fast sports and action photography and the increased likelihood of capturing that flawless shot.