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Photographing high school football with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, part two

Editor’s Note: We welcome Bob Panick to Photofocus. Bob is an enthusiastic amateur photographer based in the Detroit area. Bob shoots a variety of subjects including sports, landscape, nature and automotive. Bob has little to no interest in being a professional photographer and shoots for his own enjoyment. Bob learned photography back in the 70s, got away from it and came back about 10 years ago. You can check out his sports-related work at https://photos.panick.com/.

If you haven’t read part one, please click here.

More settings

Exposure metering: Matrix

With today’s mirrorless cameras, we have What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG), so I simply adjust the exposure compensation so that my subjects look appropriate and fire away knowing that I have exposure nailed. By using matrix metering the camera is pretty consistent on exposure as the play develops.

So why don’t I use spot metering? With football and many other sports, the visiting team usually wears white jerseys, while the home team wears team color or black jerseys. There can be three or four stops exposure difference to the camera meter between the jerseys of the two teams. If you are using spot metering during a tackle, the spot is going to be flipping around very quickly between light and dark targets, which will throw off your exposure reading.

By using matrix metering — which averages the entire frame — the differences are pretty minimal and I get much less variation, yet as they go from brighter areas to darker areas the camera can adjust automatically.

Blinkies

The E-M1 Mark II, I can set the camera to show highlight and lowlight warnings (some cameras call these zebra striping), as blinking red or blue areas showing blown out or underexposed areas respectively. After dark, the sky is going to be blinking blue, but I can generally ignore that. What I’m most concerned about is not blowing out the whites. I try to keep the white uniforms within about 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop where they are blinking. This gives me a little hedge as the game moves along.

This solution works really well for fast-moving plays that can cover a large part of the field. As the players are lining up for the snap, I’ll do a quick exposure adjustment by increasing the EV setting until I see highlight blinkies, then back off one or two clicks of the EV adjustment (1/3 or 2/3 stop). This is a very quick and fast way to handle the light changing as the play moves down the field.

Shutter type: Electronic

When I first got the E-M1 Mark II, I shot using mechanical shutter, mostly out of habit because that’s what I used on the original E-M1. After the first half, I decided to experiment with the electronic shutter. I honestly didn’t think I would need 18 FPS. Boy was I wrong — 18 FPS really helps. I look at it this way — at 10 FPS I’ve got a little over a single stride per frame. With 18 FPS I get roughly half a stride in each frame.

This gives me a bigger set of shots to pick from, one where the athlete looks your way, or they are in a nice Heisman pose or dodging a block. The pictures below are 1/18s apart, which works out to 56 milliseconds. But look at the difference in pose between the frames. If I had been shooting at 10 FPS I wouldn’t have gotten the middle frame, which is a much better pose. The nice part is I got several to choose from, that I wouldn’t have had at a slower frame rate.

With the D7000, I got in the habit of firing short bursts, because that’s all it could do. I still use that method today, using short bursts the majority of the time. This keeps the number of shots I have to wade through a bit more manageable, which can be important when you have 1200 or more images to wade through.

White Balance: Auto

I’ve gone to the trouble a few times to set a custom white balance, but I’ve discovered most of the time it doesn’t do me much good because the light varies across the field. What I generally do is use the fact that half the players are wearing white, and then use the Lightroom eyedropper tool to set the white balance. It’s not perfect, but you can get pretty close, and usually, a little bit of adjustment takes care of it.

 

Autofocus mode: C-AF

The E-M1 Mark II has two modes of autofocus — Single (S-AF) and Continuous (C-AF). S-AF is the preferred mode for when you have something that doesn’t move; it tends to be a bit more accurate since it uses contrast-detect autofocus. But it can’t react fast enough for moving subjects. For moving subjects like football players, you need to use C-AF.

C-AF uses phase-detect autofocus, the same system used in DSLRs for years. The implementation is a bit different, but the results are the same. Phase-detect can tell how far and in what focus direction something is moving, allowing you to stay on target.

Here’s a hint that Olympus Visionary Scott Bourne pointed out. The C-AF mode, if it gets confused, tends to take quite a while for it to require the target. Rather than wait for it to reacquire the target, simply release the focus, and press the focus button again. It will quickly get the lock and you’re back in business.

Autofocus tracking: Off

I’ve experimented with autofocus tracking and found that it doesn’t work all that well with football. If I was just tracking one player running by themselves or even two close together it wouldn’t be a problem. The problem comes when you have a lot of players in the scene. I sometimes have a hard time following the ball carrier, expecting tracking to follow them is asking way too much. So I just turn it off.

Autofocus point size: Small

I’ve experimented with all kinds of different focus point sizes. For me, the best is to set the focus point to the smallest single point focus point. I then move it one or two spots up from the center. This allows me to put the focus point on the helmet of the player I’m interested in, and by setting it up a few spots I don’t chop off the feet. It’s not always perfect, but I’ve found this method works 90% of the time. It also keeps the focus on the part of the player I tend to think is most important — the helmet. There are a few times where this may not be quite as optimal, for instance, the player going up for a catch. But in that case, I simply set the focus point on the body and that handles the adjustment.

Stay tuned for part two, where I discuss Pro Capture mode and post-processing.

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