Tips to capture summer action

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Digital Photography Tips: Capture Summer Action Dave Johnson, PC World
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 05:00 PM PDT

Moving Targets

Soccer games, summer air shows, and trips to the local dog park all have one thing in common: They're ideal opportunities to take pictures. And they all require you to switch into the role of an action photographer, as the fast-moving subjects tax your camera'sability to freeze the action and make sharp, dynamic exposures. But no matter what you're shooting, getting good action photos depends on knowing the right camera settings and practicing a few simple techniques.

Shut Down Shutter Lag
Shooting action photos--such as a fleeting moment involving wildlife--requires you to freeze the action that you see in the viewfinder. Unfortunately that can be trickywith digital cameras due to shutter lag, which is the wait between the time you press the shutter release and when the camera actually takes the picture. All cameras have some sort of shutter lag. On some cameras the lag is almost imperceptibly short, but on others it can be long enough to make you miss a great shot--like this bird, which nearly flew out of the frame while I waited for the camerato take the picture. Here's why: When you press the shutter release, the camera has to focus the lens, measure the white balance (so that the colors look right in the final image), and perform a host of internal housekeeping duties, such as preparing the sensor to capture the image. If your camera suffers from noticeable lag, you can do a few things to minimize the delay when you press theshutter release.

Preset the White Balance
The first thing you can do to minimize shutter lag is to set your camera's white balance control to one of its preset values. Most cameras let you choose from among a handful of settings such as daylight, indoor, sunset, and cloudy. Just dial in whichever setting is appropriate for the situation before you start shooting. If the camera doesn't have tomeasure and calculate the white balance using the automatic setting, you save some time. Admittedly, you don't save much--a few

hundredths of a second--but that can mean a lot when the action is fast. Remember, though, to change the white balance setting when the lighting conditions change. (If you forget, all is not lost. Read "Perfect the Colors in Your Photos" for tips on fixing off-balancephotos.)

Preset the Focus
Often, the biggest time waster when you're trying to snap a photo is waiting for the camera to lock the focus--especially if the camera has trouble finding the subject and has to hunt for the appropriate focus. You might already know that if you press the shutter release halfway down, the camera locks the focus. As long as you hold the button down lightly, the focus willstay locked while you compose the photo or wait for the perfect moment to take the shot. If your subject is darting around in front of you, lock the focus and keep tracking the action. At the right moment, finish pressing the shutter, and you'll get a much more immediate reaction from your camera. Another option is to skip the autofocus entirely and set the focus manually. I recommend this approachif you know that the subject will always be very far away, such as airplanes at an air show. In that case, switch the focus to infinity. Just remember to set it back to autofocus when you take pictures of things that aren't quite so distant.

Tweak the ISO
Sometimes, in spite of having an ideal subject, you still can't get the photo you want. Your subject might be front and center in thescene; but due to poor lighting, the shutter speed is so slow that everything is a blur. The fix? Find your camera's ISO control and increase it a couple of steps. ISO measures your camera's sensitivity to light; shooting at ISO 400 instead of ISO 100, for example, means that you can possibly catch a photo at 1/60 second instead of 1/15 second. That's the difference between being able to read the...
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