When shooting outside, there are a lot of factors outside your control. Shooting sports where you have no control over the subjects movement proves an even harder scenario. That is why you have to just go with the flow from time to time and realize that once you do everything right, that perfect moment that you have been waiting for will come.
But what does it mean to do everything right?
The first thing going through my head is the composition. You have to see the shot, subject included, before it takes place and before he/she is even in the frame. This can take some getting used to. Depending on the nature of the sport, you might not have that luxury. Often times you just have to be at the right place at the right time. But the right place is composing the perfect scene – something that you have complete control over…. most of the time.
The next factor is focus. If you are quick with the shutter, you’ll want to set your focus point for where you anticipate the subject to be in the frame. This is a part guesswork, part fortune-telling that gets better with experience. If you do not trust the speed of your camera’s autofocus, then it’s a good idea to precompose the shot, and manually focus where you anticipate the subject will be in a perfect world.
Next is exposure. It never hurts to make sure the exposure is bang-on by making a few test shots beforehand. When the lighting conditions are not variable, I like to zero in on my exposure setting using manual mode to get the perfect lighting condition i’m looking for. I’m not a big fan of listening to the meter if you have time to set the exposure manually.
Remember that you have 3 factors to deal with in exposure: ISO, Shutter speed, and aperture. For fast moving and lower-light scenarios shutter is usually my priority, so I will try to expose a shot at whatever speed I believe will get the effect i’m looking for – sometimes I want a fast shutter, other times I want a slower shutter if I want the background to have a motion-blur effect.
Then, it’s all in the anticipation of the action around you. Learn how different personalities act in different situations. For action sports, you need to know someone’s skill level – will they jump high or low, what type of trick are they doing, which way do they spin, etc. all that will determine when and where you press the shutter.
I’m not a fan of sequence shots, because you are essentially letting the camera do the photography. A good photographer only needs to take one shot. The ability to anticipate a moment is what separates the pros from amateurs in my opinion. The more you do it, the more it will become second nature, and you’ll be ready for that shot.