Sports Photography Using A Pentax - Part 1

Matthew Kelly shows us how to take great sports photos with a Pentax.

31/07/2012 - 11:45

Matthew Kelly is a professional sports photographer. Take a look as his website here.

If I could give you only one tip it would have to be a quote from Robert Capa, the legendary American war photographer:

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re too far away.”

Sports photography is about getting in tight and seeing the emotion of the players and crowd. That’s why we love sport – the highs and lows.

You need to be as close to the action as possible and that means right on the touch-line, in front of the advertising boards. If you think you’ll need permission contact the club in the week before the game. My advice is to do this anyway out of courtesy. Most clubs are fine with this because you’re going to publicise their team / event, etc. There may be occasion when you need to be affiliated to a sports governing body to gain access to pitch-side. For example, to take pitch-side photos at any Welsh Premier Football matches you need to be affiliated to the FAW (it’s free and it means you can have access to any Welsh Premier match that season).

I’ve put together a few tips and tricks from my experiences of shooting sports with a Pentax DSLR:

Equipment

Camera Body
I’ve been taking sports photos, and supplying the local press too, for the last five years or so, all with a Pentax. The majority of the pics I have taken have been with a K7 and I’ve recently upgraded to a K5. Both bodies have coped with rugby and football, the latter especially. The autofocus is usually okay, but in dark situations the lack of contrast can hinder you a little. The frame rate is certainly quick enough and it means you’ll have fewer photos to edit through and delete later – imagine shooting 90 minutes at 11fps, most pics will go straight in the bin.

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Exposure

For most sports the minimum shutter speed needed to freeze the action is at least 1/500th, more likely 1/640th. If you’re shooting outside on a gloriously sunny afternoon and bathed in bright sunshine then f/5.6 or f/6.3 will be fast enough.
But we live in Britain. Those bright and sunny days, especially in the rugby or football seasons, are very few and far between.
Imagine it’s a Saturday in February at 4:30pm. It’s damp, grey and cold. What little sun there was has almost slipped away until tomorrow. The score is 1 -1. Just as the game is finishing the home side throw one last attack up the field…they score the winning goal and you nailed the photo! Everyone goes wild! Shouting and waving their arms in the air!
Including you.
You’ve just seen your blurry, dark, underexposed photo. f/5.6 will not give you the shutter speed you need (unless you crank up the ISO and then they’ll be noisy).

Don’t even try at a floodlit match unless you’ve got f/2.8.

Cricket, however, is only played in the summer on dry days. f/5.6 is going to do the job just fine! Set your camera on a tripod, aim it at the stumps and fire away! Plus the extra depth of field will let you get the wicket keeper and slips relatively sharp too.

There are plenty of other sports that don’t need f/2.8, too.

On choosing a lens, personally, I would go for a larger constant aperture over focal length. For example, f/2.8 200mm instead of f/5.6 300mm.

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Memory Cards
I use class 10 Micro SD cards with an adapter. The class 10 makes the files write quicker and the camera’s buffer doesn’t fill up so fast. I use Micro SD cards for another reason which I’ll get to later.

Extra Equipment

Two things that make handling Pentax cameras an awful lot easier are:

1) A battery grip
2) Remove the neck strap

Pentax DSLRs are small – a huge selling point – but with a f/2.8 200mm lens on the front it makes them feel a little cumbersome. The grip gives the body that little extra size and seems to balance out the camera and lens. Also, most of my sports shots are taken in portrait orientation and the grip makes those much more comfortable.

How many times have you looked through the viewfinder and found the strap in the way? Never? Oh, if it’s just me then forget point two. But, if you’ve been wasting seconds moving the strap it means you’ve missed the shot - and there’s no replay in live sports! I use clips to attach my neck strap and remove it completely when I start shooting.

One last tip on equipment – wear “work” trousers with knee pads. The extra pockets in the trousers are really handy BUT to make your subjects appear larger, taller and more imposing you need to be on your knees. When you shoot from a lower angle the players look better and knee pads are a must!

That's it for part one of Matt's Sports photography guide - look out for part 2 coming soon!

In the meantime, why not take a look at Matthew's website here.



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