Sports photography lessons from Futsal

I’ve grown to love sports photography. In 2021, it began with with futsal. I didn’t know anything about the sport, but that first time was immensely enjoyable. It taught me a lot. But practice makes perfect so it was time to do it again.

Later that year, I joined the Futsal Tokyo group again for a game. The venue was Yoyogi Futsal Stadium, across the road from the NHK studios in Shibuya. With cloudless skies, it was a great day for sports photography.

And that time, I got the bonus of shooting during the day! That made a huge difference. My Fujifilm XT-2 didn’t struggle at all. As we were shooting outdoors, white balance was easy, and shutter speeds were very high. Once I uploaded the pics to my computer, very few adjustments in Adobe Lightroom were needed.

My day’s target was to apply lessons from my first time with futsal. Instead of standing, I sat down for the entire game and took my pictures. It made a difference. The players look much better in the frames. That was one lesson learned and will stay with me forever.

My next problem centered around focusing. The camera locked onto something I didn’t want or it kept hunting. In the end, I lost many potentially good pictures. How could I fix this? Once again, YouTube had the answers!

New sports photography from Futsal

Back button focus 

I missed shots in the past because I needed to half-press the shutter button to focus the lens. By the time it captured the subject, the action had gone. It was a problem.

The shutter button needs to be for that purpose only. Put the focus function somewhere else! In my case, I assigned it to another spare button on the back of the camera (hence the name back button focus!). Why? Here are my reasons:

  • The camera won’t hunt for focus when you press the shutter. This has enormous implications. You can shoot and pause, then shoot again. If the focal plane remains the same, you can pause and put the camera down. When you ready it to take the next picture, it’ll still be focused.
  • But remember to change the camera into continuous focus mode. That will let you track your subject. That is great for sports photography!
  • Back button focus is all about efficiency. If you can gain a second or even half a second, it might help you capture a fantastic shot! I’ll be testing it the next time I shoot sports.

Shoot with your lens wide open 

  • Sometimes the scene can have a lot of elements in it.  There can be so much in the sports photography frame that it is difficult to identify the subject. And that means the background needs more separation.
  • You can get the separation by shooting wide open. Use a longer lens, zoom in, and use those small stop numbers like f/1.2 or f/2.8. This will help give bokeh in pictures (depending on how far the subject is away). Be aware this technique won’t work well with wide-angle lenses unless you are extremely close!

Wrapping up

Next time, I’ll work on back-button focus and separating the subject from the background. If I can nail those two, I might get some winning shots. It’ll lift my sports photography to another level. Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see.

I’m not sure when I’ll shoot the next game, but hopefully soon. Maybe it will be at Yoyogi Futsal Stadium, but I don’t know. If you have questions or comments, please leave them below. And for those of you who do sports photography, do you have any tips you’d care to share with us?

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