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  • Jinggo Montenejo

Sports Photography with an Entry Level Camera

I was first drawn to sports photography back in the early 2000s. I loved how the great sports photographers captured emotion and action. Their cameras did not have the same autofocus speed, frame per seconds (fps) and exposure capabilities that current cameras had. But what these great photographers had was very good timing. Knowing when to shoot was an important ability. As the great Conor McGregor said “Timing beats speed, precision beats power.” It’s true for photography as much as in combat sports.

"Timing beats speed, precision beats power."

- Connor McGregor

Having recently unloaded my Nikon D3S, (that camera shot 11 frames in one second), I decided to photograph the second day of the recent 2017 Pan Asians Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament using my Nikon D5500. It’s one of Nikon’s entry level camera, just above the basic model. The Nikon D5500 shoots 4 frames per second, it's not as fast as others, but a burst, if properly timed should yield some keepers. I also wanted to use the lightest kit since I just rode my motorcycle to the event.

For lenses, I took along a 35mm 1.8 AF-S and an 85mm 1.4G lens. With these two, I had a mid wide and a telephoto, the lenses offered an equivalent field of view of 50mm and 127mm. Since I could move around the event location, the focal lengths were fine, if I needed more space, I would step back. If I needed to zoom in, I'd look for a spot closer to the action.

The event was happening during the day in a location with lots of natural light, so I wasn’t too concerned about exposure as well as autofocus. Unlike shooting MMA, shooting BJJ is much easier.

I'll start off the images with a gif file of a hip throw or an O-goshi. This is a Judo move where one wraps an arm around an opponent's waist, grabs the other arm and throws the opponent on the floor using a hip movement.

Shot at 1/1000s f2.2 ISO 320

This gif of a hip throw is a good example of the Nikon D5500's ability to capture fast paced action even with it's "measly" 4fps. The O-goshi normally starts with grip fighting and a scramble as the fighters attempt to each get a dominant position. This ends with one successfully executing a takedown, as was the case in this shot. Otherwise, one may end up pulling guard and both going to the ground without as much drama.

To the untrained eye, BJJ or grappling is just two men trying to overpower and choke each other. There's more to it. If you miss the signs, you can miss the action and the emotion. BJJ can be a fast paced event or a slow drawn out sport with the winner declared based on positional advantage. This is an event that lends itself well to photographers of all skill levels.

Here are tips to get the best photos out of your entry level camera:

1. Get lenses with an aperture of f1.8. Your usual choices would be a 35mm, 50mm and an 85mm

2. Understand the sport you'll be photographing.

3. Get your exposure correct at the beginning. My ISO was set at 320 which allowed me to get a shutter speed of 1/1000s and an aperture of f2.2. These settings are enough for freezing action and isolating subjects.

4. Once you notice the players in a scramble (e.g. when they're fighting to get a better position) start pressing the shutter and let out a burst of shots.

5.Try to minimize chimping if at all possible and keep an eye on the action. Glance occasionally on your LCD to make sure your focus is good.

6. Move around the venue to get better shots of the action.

And lastly, keep practicing to improve your timing.

Here are more photos from the event, you can also see other images from the 2017 Pan Asians on my Instagram feed.

Thanks for stopping by. J

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