How to shoot the Olympics: a photographer's guide

We can’t think of a much better opportunity to take your latest piece of photographic kit for a spin than the London 2012 Olympics. Packed full of all different photographic situations, it is an amateur photographer’s dream.

Some will have compact cameras, others DSLRs, bridge snappers or even just a mobile phone. Whatever you've got, each one requires a different approach to capture that special Olympic moment as best you can. So, here are our tips on getting the most out of your trip to the Games.

Compact cameras

It's really important before you start snapping to you understand the limits of your equipment. A compact camera, no matter how expensive, is going to struggle in things like low-light situations and capturing events that require a big, long zoom. On the plus side, you have a very small and responsive camera which means you can grab snaps on the fly and capture some very special moments.

Forget the flash (unless you're close)

First, forget about the flash unless you have ringside seats and, even then, many of the sports and venues ask that you don't use it in case you put the athletes off. If you can get around those issues, then it's a great tool and will effectively freeze the action right in front of you. If you're a few rows back, all you're going to do is get a nice exposure on the rows of heads in the foreground.

Trust your auto mode

Most compacts these days are pretty intelligent and probably have a better idea of what you're trying to shoot than you do. We advise sticking your compact on to full auto and letting the camera choose the settings on its own. Just don't forget to turn off the flash.

Burst shooting

With the pace and action often unpredictable, make sure to set your camera frame rate to maximum. If you have a burst mode, then it's well worth sacrificing some of your resolution to get as many shots per second as possible.

Scene modes

It may be that your intelligent auto setting isn't quite up to scratch, and that's more likely on an older camera. If that's the case, you may want to give your compact a nudge and choose Sport in one of your many scene modes. That will effectively tell it to select the best settings possible for what you're trying to capture.

Zoom if it's worth it

Those with super-zoom cameras are in luck. Put your finger on that telephoto trigger until you hit the point where it threatens to go digital and you might find yourself close enough to get a great snap of the action. Do bear in mind though that you're less likely to get a clean shot the closer you are, so if it's a world of blur you might want to stick to a wide shot.

Wide is wonderful too

If you don't have the camera to get in close, then don't worry. There are still plenty of shots you can grab from your Olympic visit, you just need to be more creative while you do it. Most compacts these days have fairly wide-angle lenses, so try to take a shot of the whole scene with the audience, the competitors, stadium and all. A lot of compacts now have things like built-in filters as well, so experiment with these and see what sort of results you can come up with.

DSLRs and CSCs

The DSLR and compact system camera is where the most flexibility is going to be when shooting the Olympics. Don’t forget though, especially those with big lenses or multiple bodies, that there are strict regulations on the size and amount of camera kit you can take into the Olympic venues. As a rule of thumb we say nothing larger than a 300mm zoom and a pair of top-of-the-line DSLR bodies. If you want to know the exact rules and regulations, you can find out here.

One wide & one zoom

The instinct may be zoom but we would advise taking one wide lens and one long. Save yourself the weight of lugging around loads of different lenses because the shooting environments aren’t going to require them. Either you want a wide shot of everything or a close up of the action. And when we say zoom, we mean a 100mm (35mm equivalent) at the absolute minimum. Again, unless you've got ringside seats, your 18-70mm kit lens just isn't going to cut it.

Ramp up the shutter speed

In terms of settings, things are going to be moving fast, so make sure you use the plus 15 rule. If you take the focal length of a lens and then add 15 to it and match this up with the shutter speed, you should manage to freeze movement when using the camera handheld.

If you can, try bringing a monopod as it will make getting the action still just that tiny bit easier. While that takes care of your camera control, the next problem is that the action you're trying to capture is going to be flickering about the frame like nobody's business. It's worth having a look at any Auto or Sports modes to see if your camera can cope on its own but, more likely, you'll need to take matters into your own hands. So, it's up with the shutter speed, up with the ISO and open up that aperture as wide as possible. Whether you want to do that in P, S or M mode is your choice.

Not too much ISO

While a high ISO effectively buys your more light, it's also a deal with the devil as far as many cameras are concerned. Push it too high and you'll start to see some pretty fuzzy-looking grain. In general, you want the lowest ISO dialled in that you can get away with.

Continuous AF

Don’t forget that lots of lens changer cameras, particularly CSCs, have ultra-quick focusing mechanisms, that will help keep your shots sharp. Another thing to remember is that your subjects are likely to be moving around a lot, so you'll need to stay focus savvy. That shouldn't make too much difference at the kind of range that you're shooting but, just in case, it's probably worth making sure you're set to continuous auto-focus or AF-C mode. That way, your camera will track focus wherever the athletes move.

Mobile

Just because you don’t have a compact camera or a DSLR, it doesn’t make you exempt from taking photos at the London Olympic Games. There are a ton of shooting options available to you.

Apps

First up, make sure you download yourself plenty of apps. Instagram is a must-have, as is Snapseed, both of which will have your editing and social media sharing sorted. Then you need to consider how you are actually going to capture the event with your mobile.

Burst Mode

Top-of-the-line quad-core Android phones like the HTC One X and SGS III have the ability to capture bursts of images. If you own one of these, make sure you have this mode available. If not, then your best option is pre-focusing on a single spot, composing the shot and then waiting for the Olympian to come into the frame. If you're not close to the action, then a burst probably isn't going to make much difference but, just in case, it's worth a fiddle with the settings.

Live in the wide

You're unlikely to be close enough to capture the athletes in motion and you're not going to have any real zoom on your handset worth playing with, so capture the moment in the wide. Take the stadium, take the spectators and even take one of yourself and Olympic buddies with the 2012 scene going on behind you. Remember that you've always got the post-production filters from the likes of Instagram to pretty things up a bit.

Video

If you are really struggling on capturing the moment, then why not shoot lots of video? Just about every camera has video these days and, if you can get close enough, it effectively bins any worry you have about blur. You'll also get the whole added dimension of audio with the sound of the crowds cheering on the competitors. Shoot some wide and tight video and then edit them together. This will be your best bet at truly capturing the atmosphere of the moment in its entirety.

General

The message is to experiment. Take photos of anything and everything. Try to capture the whole event, not just moments from it. If you have a smartphone and another camera, then shoot on both. Mix up your media and see which results work best. Above all, prepare and try to predict what that all-important shot is going to be. Get yourself setup and you will capture the moment perfectly.

Don’t forget either, that it isn’t just about the Olympians themselves, but also about your visit. The Olympic Park is an absolutely stunning area and there are so many different photo opportunities within it before you have even got inside any buildings. So, explore and play about with your camera. Photos of family, friends, other fans are just as good, as well as all those iconic 2012 landmarks. Enjoy.

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