Take Control of your Action shots with Shutter Priority!
I often get asked for suggestions on getting a camera for basketball/football games and fast moving children photos. This bit of insight may help.
Basketball games that are played in a gym doesn't always give you the best light to work with. The natural tendency is to think, "Well, I'll just switch it to night mode so my photos will not be too dark." That's true. Your photos may not be too dark, BUT, the algorithm on night mode on most cameras is to slow the shutter speed down to acquire more light, thereby making fast action shots blurry. Same with football games played at night where the field isn't well lit. Even in auto mode while shooting in darker conditions, the camera will slow down the shutter to get the amount of light it needs to make a correct exposure, again, making any fast moving subjects blurry. In addition, the flash may fire in auto mode, but it more than likely will not have enough power to reach the subject, unless that subject is 5-10 feet away.
Those modes are fine for landscapes and stationary subjects, but if you need a camera that does a little more in the way of these action type shots, but are not looking to purchase a DSLR, look for a good "bridge" camera that has MANUAL controls or SHUTTER and APERTURE priorities. That is the key to getting these shots sharper. They cost a little more than your average point and shoot, but are less than most newer DSLRs.
If you are not familiar with adjusting the shutter for the type of shots you want, (via the shutter priority I mentioned earlier), think of it like this: You are watching 30 seconds of motion on the court/football field. A full 30 seconds without closing your eyes. There's a lot happening there. A LOT of motion occurs in those 30 seconds. Let's say you watched the action for 15 seconds. You just cut the amount of motion in half that your eyes took in. How about 1 second? That's a LOT less motion that 30 seconds. How about opening and closing your eyes at 1/400 of a second? (Now we're talking). With that amount of time, you may have caught what seems like just a "still frame" in your mind. Hardly any motion at all.
This is the exact same concept the shutter speed of a camera uses. The less you keep the camera's eye, (shutter), opened, the less motion it's going to retain and make your images freeze and look a lot sharper. That's in direct contrast with the night/auto mode we talked about earlier, which keeps the camera's eye/shutter opened longer to get more light in, but making the fast moving subjects blurry.
With all this said, give a bridge camera, or a good point and shoot with manual controls a try. Use a shutter speed between 1/400, (This is the least value. Bump it up if the motion is still a little blurry), and 1/800, (adjusting as necessary for indoor/outdoor and night/day), for those upcoming games. The quicker the shutter opens and closes, the more frozen your image will be. The more you practice this and take control of your own settings as opposed to relying on random camera modes, the better shots you're going to take when fast action is involved.
The more you practice using these manual controls, the easier it will be to step up to a DSLR if you choose to do so. If you have any questions concerning this, please feel free to leave a comment.
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