Photo basics for capturing your clay shooting

Resident photographer Matt Smith offers some tips for capturing the best moments of a clay shoot on camera

Capturing sports can often seem like an extremely daunting prospect, even to the more advanced photographers

Whether at a concert, attending a party or visiting a local shooting ground, you’re never far away from the click of a camera or the beep of a phone. With the advent of smartphones and cheap digital cameras, recording our lives has become easier and more accessible than ever before, but are we really making the most out of this golden age of photography?

Capturing sports can often seem like an extremely daunting prospect, even to the more advanced photographers – an erroneous setting or a split-second too late and the moment is missed, gone forever. Here at Clay Shooting, we appreciate the value of good photography more than most and have compiled a two-part series to help you make the most of your equipment, by following some simple techniques.

Set your camera to manual for more control over your photography

The same principles apply when photographing a family picnic or covering a major shoot: it’s all about capturing light.

While it might be easy and comforting to leave your camera on automatic and let it do all the dirty work, an understanding of the manual mode can immediately resolve some of the issues you might be experiencing and open the doors to the potential for creativity. The three key components of shooting in manual are: shutter speed, aperture and ISO sensitivity, and balancing between these will dictate whether your image is successful or not.


Example: These two photos were taken in the studio to show the difference between an aperture of f5.6 and f32. The wider aperture has a shallower depth of field.

The aperture is the opening in the lens, which can be adjusted to control the amount of light reaching the sensor inside the camera. They’re usually referred to in terms of f-stops, ranging from as low as f-1.4 up to f-32, which is often where confusion can occur. Counterintuitively, a lower f-stop indicates a larger opening, while the reverse is true for higher f-stops. This means that an f-stop of f-8 will have a larger opening (and let in more light) than a higher f-stop, like f-16.

Using a low f-stop lets more light into the camera and creates a shallower depth of field (meaning a small amount of the image appears in focus), while a higher f-stop will narrow the opening and let less light in, creating a deeper depth of field and keeping more of the image in focus. Therefore, low f-stops are usually used in portraiture, where it’s important to isolate the subject from the background, and higher apertures are used for landscapes where all details in the image are meant to be in focus.

Shutter speed

A quicker shutter speed will capture fast motion and reduce any camera shake.

Shutter speed is the amount of time the aperture is open for, and is especially important in sports photography, when trying to capture an extremely quick moment in time. The range of shutter speeds can vary depending on the equipment being used, but most cameras are able to go from 1/1000 of a second up to 30 seconds. A shutter speed of 1/1000 is extremely quick and in many situations won’t let enough light onto the sensor to allow it to expose the image correctly, while a speed of 1/2 seconds is longer and more likely to experience motion blur and camera shake. For action shots you should aim for a high shutter speed, going no slower than 1/200.


A high ISO can produce a grainy image. A possible solution is to turn it black and white and add a vignette in Photoshop to give a vintage look.

ISO represents the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. It’s a quick and handy way of exposing an image without compromising on the shutter speed or aperture. Increasing your ISO can bring much needed light to an image, however, this also increases the amount of noise (graininess of the image). It normally ranges from 100 to 6400, with many modern cameras going even higher, though you’ll have to experiment with yours to determine how high you can go before losing image definition. In most situations an ISO of 400-800 will suffice, but occasionally you may have to change this depending on weather conditions and time of day. ISO sensitivity is especially important in shooting competitions, where flash photography is prohibited, and is the only available method for exposing an image.

White balance

By using a long lens, a wide aperture and including lots of foreground, you can add depth to your image.

If you’ve ever experienced an image looking strangely orange or blue, try delving into the camera’s settings menu until you come across an option for white balance. This setting changes how the camera reacts to different types of light like cold/blue strip-lights compared to the warm/red light from a candle. In most cases the camera’s automatic white balance performs an adequate job, but occasionally you may have to alter it based on the dominant light around you.

There is also the option for setting the white balance manually, which involves sticking a piece of white card in front of the lens and letting it analyse the colour. If you get back from a shoot and find that the colour in all your images still looks wrong, a degree of remedy work can be performed in post-processing software, such as Photoshop or Lightroom, using the colour balance adjustment.

The right kit

A shallow depth of field and a long lens can pick out a shooter from a messy background.

Along with understanding your settings, one of the major barriers to good photography is getting your hands on the right equipment. Before splashing the cash on the best tech you can get your hands on, you must first decide what kind of image you’re looking to produce, as this will dictate what equipment is required.

A landscape shot will require a wide-angle lens and tripod, while close up action shots lend themselves to longer, faster telephoto lenses. Modern phones are a simple way to produce high quality images, while compact digital cameras provide the next step up in the level of your photography. However, if you want to capture professional action shots with ultimate control over your camera then a DSLR is the best option. DSLRs produce high resolution images, allow for precise camera control and implement rapid continuous shooting.

Top tip: Invest in a UV filter, which will keep the expensive glass of the lens protected from dirt and mud.

It doesn’t matter how good your camera is if you don’t have the appropriate lenses to go with it. In many cases, the success of an image comes down to the quality of a lens, and having the right lens for the job. To cover all the scenarios you’re likely to come across at a clay ground, it’s likely you’ll need at least two or three lenses. One zoom lens can be used to cover the job of multiple fixed lenses, but is inferior to a prime lens (one with a fixed focal length) in quality and aperture range.

Keep your eyes peeled next week for Part 2: we will look at situations more specific to the clay shooter and how best to capture those clays.

Find out more

We will cover more in the next issue, or you could check out Digital Camera magazine for more in-depth articles and tutorials.

 This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Clay Shooting magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store

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Posted in Advice and tips, Coaching

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