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I have a Nikon D5100 with a Sigma lens 18-200mm. I need to take fast action pictures of my grandson playing baseball, in short stop plays; this is a very fast position. What would be the best setting I should use without any blur?

4

The biggest handicap you're going to have to deal with when using that lens for sports is the relative narrow maximum aperture. At the longest focal length, which you're going to be using most often, your lens will be limited to f/6.3. Even if you are in bright daylight, which will allow for proper exposure at the shutter speeds you'll need to stop the action, your camera will be operating on the edge of its ability to autofocus.

Cameras such as your D5100 meter and focus with the lens wide open and only stop down to the selected aperture the instant before the picture is taken. One of the reasons they do so is to allow light from the edges of the front of the lens to fall upon the AF sensor which works by comparing the light from opposite sides of the lens. The wider the baseline from one side of the lens to the other the more accurate and faster the AF can operate. When a lens with a maximum aperture of f/6.3 is used your camera will not focus as well as it would with a lens with a wider aperture such as f/4 (which is over twice as wide as f/6.3) or even f/2.8 (over four times as wide).

You can help your cause somewhat by using either a half press of the shutter button or, better yet, by using back button AF to pre-focus your lens on your son just before each pitch so the lens is already very close to where it will need to be when you shoot. Set the camera to AF-C focus mode so the camera will continuously update the focus distance from the time you initiate focus until you press the shutter button down to take the photo. For more about back button AF and its advantages, please see What does the AE/AF lock button do that half-pressing the shutter doesn't?

You'll probably want to use a shutter speed of at least 1/500 second (1/1000 is even better for baseball) and then set the ISO you need (either by trial and error using the camera's meter or by selecting Auto ISO while using S exposure mode) to get proper exposure for the amount of light you have. At f/6.3 you'll be pretty much limited to daylight to get good image quality within those constraints.

3

This is going to be generally hard. I'd suggest:

  1. Get as close as possible. 200mm on a "DX" camera isn't peanuts, but it won't bring you right to the action from a distance.
  2. Use the camera's "sports" mode. This situation is exactly what it's for. It will prioritize fast shutter speeds.
1

To me there are several layers of the photographic assignment.

  • Photographing a baseball game
  • Photographing children
  • Photographing a shortstop
  • Photographing a grandchild

The last two are just specific instances of the first two. Taking good baseball photographs is likely to produce good shortstop photographs. Taking good child photographs is likely to produce good grandchild photographs.

Baseball

Like any sporting event a 50% chance of capturing a one in a million photograph requires taking half a million shots. Shooting a baseball game as a baseball game is more likely to produce great photographs than focusing on a single player or position.

A great shortstop photo might be the pivot of a 4-6-3 double play that's close at second. Most games don't have one. Another might be a catching a runner attempting to steal, again most games won't have one. Even in those games that have one, the odds are against capturing a one in a million image.

It may be better to focus on standard baseball photographs.

  1. The most predictable is probably a player at bat. Lots of chances to capture a decent image without worrying too much about high shutter speed. The subject can be the concentration before the pitch or the follow through after the pitch. Googling "Reggie Jackson at bat" might be a source of inspiration.

  2. Another common photograph is a player throwing with arm fully cocked or on follow through. Again high shutter speed is less critical in the moment before the arm speeds up and as it slows down. Searching for "A Rod Shortstop" is an example.

  3. A third common photograph subject is the untimed nature of baseball: those moments when players are relaxed or celebrating during the game but between plays.

Planning your shots will mean evaluating the light. On one field the light may be coming from the third base side, on another the first base side. Which baseline a photograph is taken from will determine which faces are visible in photographs. Some shots will just be hard to make work...a left handed batter with the sun on the first base side is going to be harder to photograph well. Good shortstop photos in such conditions are going to require greater zoom.

Kids

People like to see pictures of their kids and their kids' friends whether it's at baseball, Scouts, or in the classroom. Getting a one in a million shot (or something like that) of someone else's kid, creates a lot of joy even if it's not the same joy as a great photograph of your favorite kid.

Taking a great photograph can compensate a lot for not getting a great photograph of your favorite kid...I find not worrying about the shots I don't get, makes it more likely that I get shots I like and more likely that I get good shots of my favorite kid. Because I'm seeing the game.

Technical Advice

  1. Look at the photographs as you take them and adjust your cameras aperture, ISO, and shutter speed to improve exposure. Evaluate the direction and quality of the light.

  2. It is easier to adjust aperture, ISO, and shutter speed in manual mode because manual mode provides greater consistency between shots than an auto-exposure mode. Amateur sports venues often have backgrounds that vary in darkness. This will often cause autoexposure to vary under constant ambient lighting.

  3. Plan your shots. Which side of the plate does your grandson bat? Which dugout is illuminated. Where can you stand.

  4. Get low. An action photo standing on the ground will tend to be better than one shot from the top of the bleachers. An action photo shot from below standing eye level will tend to be better than one shot from standing eye level.

  5. Experiment. Often the best shots will be the one's that seemed like a crazy idea at the time.

  6. Have fun. It's kids playing a game.

  • This is such good advice! I photograph my niece's softball games and focus on photographing the game not just my niece. I have some really great shots of all the players that I share with the team and their parents. The girls now ask every year if I'm coming to their tournament. I'm usually paid in cookies :) ...the hard part is I get distracted making sure I get some shots of everyone, which is somewhat contrary to the advice above! (Because it distracts me from the game.) – rrauenza Nov 11 '16 at 2:57

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