Letters to TTL Sports Media: Image Sharpness 

Our followers regularly contact us a wide variety of topics. 

Surprisingly, we get a lot of requests from people hoping to work for TTL Sports Media.  This makes us proud, for these people are drawn by the quality of our work and our reputation within the professional sports community in Central Texas. 

We’ve even had people call us while at the Circuit of the Americas with questions on how to access the inner track.  These photographers read our article “Awesome Images: A Photographers Guide to the Circuit of the Americas” and were frustrated not knowing how to get around. 

But mostly photographers reach out to us for advice on how to improve their work.  

We recent receive a note from a fellow rugby enthusiast who was having difficulty getting sharp-as-a-tack images with an older Panasonic DSLR.  He sent me an image of a rugby match taken in daylight and he specifications on the camera.  I reviewed and made some suggestions. 

In re-reading my note to him, I realized that my advice could help many photographers with a similar problem.  I hope you can derive some benefit from my advice….

Looking at the image and its setting, you’re taking the photo in the best of all conditions: daylight. 

You’re ISO setting is well within the acceptable range.  As a rule of thumb, I try to keep my ISO at 25% or less of the maximum normal ISO range.  The images become too grainy for my taste when going higher than 25%.  This is more of a factor when photographing at night or indoors. 

The f/stop is very high, meaning you have a broad depth of field.  A broad depth of field could capture all parts of the action in focus.   Personally, I prefer a shallow depth, setting my f/stop at f/2.8 or f/4.0 to intentionally blur the background. 

The shutter speed is very high, meaning you will freeze the action if the image is in focus.  I usually use a shutter speed of 1/1000th sec for sports.  

The autofocus system is optimal for sports.  Phase detection is a faster autofocus than contrast detection because of its design.  The better mirrorless cameras use a hybrid system: phase detection acquires the target, then contrast detection fine tunes the focus.    

I’d start by verifying that the camera and lens are functioning properly.   Take an image of a standing object and confirm it is sharp-as-a-tack (tack-sharp).  I’m assuming you’ve already done this. 

Are you selecting the focus point, or is the camera doing that for you?  When photographing sports, I use a single focal point supported by focal points above, below and on each side.  I prefer to use the single focal point in the very center of the frame.  This is usually the highest quality focal point, using either dual cross-type or cross-type.  

Are you using Image stabilization (IS)?  Some camera makers build IS into the camera body; other make it an option on the lens. 

Most cameras have an image tracking feature.  I use Canon camera and that system is called AI Servo.  In many cameras the tracking system can be further enhanced in the firmware menu. 

Not all lenses have a linear response across the entire focal length.  For some lenses, the crispness of the focus tends to trail-off at the low- and high-end of the focal lengths.    

Lenses and sensors can be calibrated to better accuracy, but I’ve never had the need to do that. 

Sensors require maintenance.  When was the last time it was cleaned? 

How old is your camera?  I bought a camera in 2009 that I loved at the time, but can’t tolerate now because the camera is old and my expectations have risen. 

Check out my book (on my website) for more ideas… https://www.ttlsports.com/the-ultimate-handbook-to-sports-photography

August 24, 2002

About the Author

Andy Nietupski founded TTL Sport Media in 2015 after a corporate career of business start-ups and turn-arounds.  TTL Sports Media helps sports organizations optimize their business results using the latest digital sales and marketing techniques.  TTL Sports Media publishes thousands of pieces of content annually and curates a catalog of more than 130,000 items on behalf of its client interests. 

Copyright 2022 Andy Nietupski and TTL Sports Media

Copyright © All rights reserved.
Using Format