Monthly Archives: November 2009

Shutter Lag

Shutter Lag
Even if you don’t know what the words mean, shutter lag, you’ve probably experienced it.  You have your camera at the ready, you’ve composed the shot, the athlete is now in position and you press the shutter button at the exact moment you want to capture the perfect picture…………….but the camera doesn’t take the photo, it waits for what’s seems an eternity and then fires.  You find the resultant photo is not the one you had prepared for, the athlete is not framed properly or they are now in an awkward looking position, or it’s out of focus all because the camera delayed in taking the photo. 

This is what is known as shutter lag.  Sports photographers need cameras that shoot with minimal shutter lag and shoot quickly. You the sports photographer can also take steps to reduce this lag and not miss photo opportunities or poorly capture them. 

What is it?
Shutter Lag is the delay between pushing the shutter button and the camera recording the picture on the image sensor.  Whereas the shutter lag on a film camera was minimal and primarily a result of the mechanics of the aperture opening and closing, digital cameras have that lag plus the processing of the image.  There are many steps the camera must take prior to and when taking a photo, all of which are not related to the shutter, but practically speaking shutter lag is the time from when you press the shutter button until the time the camera takes the photo.  A lot must happen during this time.  Your camera adjusts the focus, exposure and white balance then it opens the aperture, captures the light on the image sensor, converts the light to a digital representation and writes it to your memory card.  That’s a lot to do in a short amount of time and while electronic circuitry and processing is improving shutter lag continues to be a factor.

What can you do about it?
As a sports photographer there are a number of things you can do about it.  The first and most obvious is to buy a camera with a short shutter lag.  You will find measurements in the specifications and it never hurts to test the camera out on a sport you want to shoot.  Even the best digital cameras still experience shutter lag but there is still more you can do.

Prepare in advance
The work you camera must do can be significantly reduced by preparing your camera in advance.  When you push the shutter button half-way down you are telling your camera to focus and make the proper adjustments.  Continue holding the button down, and then when you press the rest of the way down it will more quickly take the photo.  This is not always possible when shooting sports, but when you can it will help you reduce shutter lag.

This is another trick that can reduce shutter lag.  Anticipating or predicting where the action will be occurring will allow you to shoot the camera a bit ahead of the actual shot you want to get.  By anticipating what will be happening next and shooting the camera just before that moment you will capture the exact moment you want.  The more you shoot a particular sport the better you will become and you will find yourself capturing magnificent photos and not noticing the shutter lag at all.

Continuous or Burst Mode
Good sports photography cameras will have a continuous mode or burst mode.  When set to this mode, when you press and hold the shutter button, the camera will take a rapid set of photos one right after the other as quickly as it can.  This can make the art of anticipating a bit easier since you can begin before the action and end afterwards.  This will increase your chances of getting that perfect action photo.

Increased Shutter Speed
Another way to reduce shutter lag is to shoot with a faster shutter speed.  You will be doing this often anyway as you attempt to capture sports and freeze the action.  This way you will obtain clear photos without blur.  In low-light conditions if you increase the size of the aperture or opening you will allow more light to reach the sensor in less time allowing you to use a faster shutter speed.  This will help you to freeze motion for sharp clear photos.

Decrease the photo resolution
By lowering the quality and thus the size of the photo you are taking allows your camera to process the information faster, since there is less information to process.  Just common sense really, if your resolution is set to 8 megapixel per photo, the processor in your camera must process all those pixels, convert them to digital numbers and write them to your memory card.  Obviously your camera will take less time to process fewer mega pixels, so shooting at a quality mode that requires 4 mega pixels will process quicker.  Pick a quality mode on your camera that meets your needs, but still helps you reduce the shutter lag. 

And don’t forget to practice and practice and take many photos.  This will improve your timing as well as give you a chance to capture some great sports shots while learning to compensate for shutter lag.

ProPix Photography
The Sports Photographers

What is Fast Glass or a Fast Lens?

When you hear sports photographers talk you will often hear them talking about fast glass or fast lenses.  What does that mean and why are they important for sports.

A fast lens refers to the size of the aperture opening.  The larger the opening the more light that is allowed to reach the sensor.  Because more light reaches the sensor more quickly, through the larger opening the shutter does not have to be open as long.  A faster shutter speed is better for freezing or capturing the motion in sports.  Fast glass allows you to shoot with faster shutter speeds which is a good thing when trying to freeze fast action.  It’s also a tremendous help in low-light conditions.  As the light get worse or less bright the longer the shutter must remain open, but since the aperture opening is larger more light is able to reach the sensor.

You can tell the speed of the lens or the speed of the glass by looking at the f-numbers associated with it.  The smaller the f-number the faster the glass.  It can be a bit confusing since what that means is the smaller the number the larger the opening/aperture.  So a f/2.8 lens is considerably faster than a f/5.6 lens.  That means the aperture in the f/2.8 lens can get much larger than the aperture in the f/5.6.  To give you a feel the f/5.6 lens will do well outdoors in good light, but you will need a f/2.8 or faster for low-light indoor sports.

You might be thinking well let’s just make a lens that has a huge aperture.  There are a couple of limits and challenges to that.  The larger the aperture the less depth of field in your photos, or in other words the narrower focus your photos will have.  The other challenge is cost.  The faster the glass the more expensive it is.  So fast lenses are more expensive, the lower the f-number is on the lens you are looking at the more expensive it will be.  So………you will have to make the decision, but there is nothing like the quick focusing beautiful photos a fast lens can help you take.

Low-light sports would be extremely difficult and require very fast glass if not for the improved sensors and their ability to collect light.  In the days of film fast glass was even more important because trying to use a high ISO film would cause a lot of grain.  In this digital age the sensors are much better and higher ISO settings can help compensate in low-light conditions without a significant increase in graininess.

There’s a lot to remember and it can be a bit technical, but for sports photography simply remember that a fast lens or fast glass will give you better shooting options in low light conditions, and that a fast lens has a low f-number.  Fast glass is essential for indoor sports photography where you will often be in  school gyms that have inadequate or poor lighting.  Fast glass is essential for you to catch or freeze the action and still have plenty of light reach the sensor.

The lens does not the sports photographer make, but it is extremely helpful and will make a good photographer better and a great photographer fantastic.

ProPix Photography
The Sports Photography Professionals

What Lens should I buy for my Camera?

You spent hours upon hours studying which camera you should buy, you spoke to people got feedback you went online and searched reviews and finally made your decision.  Then the next question you ask is what lens should I buy for my camera?  The answer to this question is as important as which camera to buy, has as much or more importance on the quality of your photos and will likely cost more than your camera, and is even a more important question for sports photographers.

One of the benefits of a Digital SLR is that you can exchange the lens.  So to buy just one lens makes no sense you really need more than one.  The right answer is is not which one lens but which lenses should I buy?  Have you noticed how prices on cameras and camera bodies continues to decline but the cost of lenses remains the same.  This tells you something about the importance of a good lens.  I’m amazed at all the discussions about cameras when in reality there should just as much discussion on which lens or lenses to buy.  Even if you’re not an expert photographer you can dramatically improve the quality of your photos by using high quality lenses. 

Low End
At the low end of the lens market are lenses made with plastic mounts, slow aperture and low quality.  These are lenses that you will often find at low-end retail outlets and are often the lenses offered as part of a camera package deal.

Prime Lenses
These are lenses that have no zoom capability.  You must zoom by moving your feet which is to reposition yourself.  Zooming that way will certainly save you money but is not as convenient.  Many purists will say that the sharpest photos for the money will be achieved with a prime lens.

Zoom Lenses
These are lenses that let you zoom closer and further away by simply turning the zoom ring.  This is by far more convenient, but here is where you will pay for that convenience.  If you don’t buy a high quality zoom lens then you most likely will be disappointed in the sharpness of your photos.  So, for convenience there are two lenses that make the most sense for the family photographer or sports photographer and that is a small lens something like 24mm – 70mm and then a larger lens 70mm-200mm.  The 70-200mm is my favorite and the lens I shoot almost all my sports with.  In addition to sports it is the lens for school programs, piano recitals, and performances.  It does well in low light and in many ways it makes an average photographer a great photographer.  The small lens you will find perfect for team photos and close-ups. 

OK, I admit it these lenses can be very expensive.  The Cannon and Nikon versions which I prefer are spectacular and I believe worth every penny.  There are other brands that will save you $100s and will still give you a good photo especially as you become a better photographer yourself. 


ProPix Photography

The Sports Photography Professionals
The Practical Photographer