One of the biggest challenges in sports and action photography is making sure that the main subject in your images is in focus. In most cases your subject will be moving (towards, away from our around you) which means that the distance you need to focus upon is constantly changing.
There are a number of options for keeping moving subjects in focus.
Manual Focussing – Firstly you might want to attempt to keep things in focus by manually tracking your subject in manual focus mode. This takes practice and is increasingly difficult the faster your subject moves.
Automatic Tracking – Another option for some (depending upon your camera’s specifications) will be to switch into an automatic tracking/focussing mode that keeps a moving subject in focus as long as you half hold down the shutter release. This is a capability that quite a few DSLRs have (and some more advanced point and shoot cameras). I’ve found it works quite well with some subjects (depending upon how fast they are moving, how much light there is how fast your lens is at focussing).
Another option is to Pre Focus your camera on a spot that your subject will pass by.
This also takes practice but is especially useful if your subject is moving on a predictable path (for example a race where they won’t leave a track and will have to pass past a certain point). If your subject is more unpredictable (for example a footballer who changes direction a lot you might like to try one of the other focusing methods above).
In theory pre focussing is fairly easy – you simply switch the manual focussing mode, choose a point that your subject will pass through and focus upon that point (with your camera in manual focus mode). Just before your subject hits the point you hit the shutter and you ‘should’ get the shot you’re after.
Of course techniques like this take time to perfect so you’ll want to practice lots (on lots of different types of moving subjects too – you’ll find it works in lots of situations).
If your subject is moving fast you’ll also need to make sure your camera is set at a fast shutter speed and you might also want to shoot in continuous shooting mode and start shooting a second before your subject arrives. This will mean you’ll take a number of shots around your focussing point and will hopefully get one that is right in the zone.
One of the best ways to try out pre focussing is simply to head out to a busy road, position yourself on the footpath where you can see traffic moving towards you. Switch to manual focussing mode, choose a spot on the road and get your camera focussed upon it and wait for a car to hit that spot to hit the shutter (remember to shoot just before it arrives).
It’ll probably take a few goes to make sure you get your timing right (depending upon how long the shutter lag is on your camera) but you’ll get there in the end. Go on – give it a go!