Saturday, January 1, 2011

Youth Sports: Frustrated With Blurry Action Photos? (Part 1)

Are you frustrated with blurry sports action photos?

Seven years ago, I investigated digital cameras to capture sports action photos. The cost of the digital SLRs ($750 - $1,250) made me pause. A clerk at a big box store like Circuit City (now closed and bankrupt) talked me into a high end point and shoot Cannon for about $500. (These are much cheaper now.) The clerk said that the recommended point and shoot camera would be great for sports. It had the highest number of pixels available at the time, a 10X zoom and could shoot 2 frames per second.

Click here for more differences between a SLR and Point and Shoot.

I bought the camera and was instantly disappointed. The zoom capabilities were minimal and great pictures were few and far between. Expensive lesson learned.

A year later, for my 41st birthday (9/15/2005), I decided to buy the high-end digital SLR (not professional quality). I bought the Nikon D70 and a Nikon Nikkor 70-300mm zoom lens. My total investment was about $1,500.

In all honesty, I almost puked when I left the store thinking that I just spent way too much money on such a frivolous thing. Later I would discover that the investment was worth every penny. We have captured amazing photos many of which are featured throughout this blog. These pictures captured memories that would have been lost over time.

Nic at 8 yrs Old

And capturing these images is not hard to do. My very first action photo taken with my D70 Nikon camera was of my son pitching (above). I set the camera to sports mode and rapid fire picture taking. Taking 3 images per second, I was able to captured the ball suspended in the air just after the release and the strain and determination on my son's face. This one photo alone convinced me just how worthwhile the investment was. I have taken over 15,000 images since that time.

You will notice that the best pictures in this blog were taken outside in bright light. Do you have a high end digital SLR and still get blurry images of indoor sports? Read Frustrated with Blurry Action Photos? (Part 2)

The Main Point

If you are hesitating buying an expensive camera, don't. Find a way to save the money and make the purchase. If you are a sports nut, you will not regret it. You will only regret not capturing the special moments that your kids have on the field. And believe me kids grow up fast so do not delay.


  1. The biggest thing to consider - is why are your pictures blurry?

    Are they out of focus (like wearing the wrong eyeglasses)?

    Are moving parts of the photograph blurry (like running feet or a swinging bat)?

    The former reflects either your lens not being a the performance level needed to refocus quickly enough to capture a subject moving towards you (like a soccer attacker moving towards the goal) while the latter reflects a shutter speed that's too slow. Low light can play a role in both!

    Settings to consider on your camera:
    1. Most cameras will allow you to select a focus mode. On Canons, the mode you want is AI Servo - it continually refocuses based on where you place the focus point. (The other modes are a single shot mode - where once you achieve focus lock it holds it in one place, and a mode that will try to pick between the two.)

    2. Move the autofocus function from sharing a button with the shutter to it's own button. On Canons, you can change AF to the * button on the back - and you can use your thumb to focus the camera. For me, this helped. You can hold the button all the way down as opposed to trying to keep the shutter half way down. It also helps if you are using a semi-automatic exposure mode - it won't lock exposure until you take the picture. Important if part of the field is in shadows or has a dark background.

    3. Get out of the green box or full automatic modes (like "P"). Instead use Aperture priority and lock in at the largest aperture (smallest number) you have available. On most consumer zoom lenses, this is a 4.5 at short range or 5.6 at the long end. When focusing against a neutral colored area (like a light grey shirt) in the same light you will be photographing, look for at least 1/640 of a second shutter speed and preferably at least 1/1250. Above 1/2000 for youth sports is really not needed - kids aren't usually moving fast enough to make it matter.

    4. Upgrade lenses - look for an aperture of 2.8 that stays constant through the zoom range. Sigma makes a very good off-brand 70-200/2.8 lens for Canon and Nikon that works well for lower light at a relatively reasonable price.

    Indoor at venues up through high schools are dodgy even for professionals - you need the 2.8 aperture (or even larger) or the latest camera bodies that let you shoot at the equivalent film speed of 3200 or faster without reduced image quality.

    And just like you tell your kids...PRACTICE! Understanding what it takes to expose a photograph correctly will let you push the limits and get the best results your camera and lenses allow.

  2. Great comment - from a true professional check out Dennis' Sports Photography website.

    Thanks Dennis

  3. Wow...good info to get some great sports shots! You can go win a free personalized sports poster at and use some of these pics!!

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