It's March and that means two things. First it is the start of the trade show season for the photography industry. Yes the silly season for photographers has begun. The time we all drool over all the new toys none of us can truly afford. The first wave of new cameras has been released and I want to focus on two of the new releases. The Sony A7 III and the Canon M50 are mirrorless cameras both at 24 megapixels. The Sony is a full frame camera costing $1999 body only and the Canon is an APS-C camera costing $779 body only. I'm not going to spend time on the details of these releases there are plenty of sites out there dissecting these cameras but I want to talk about what these cameras represent in the grand scheme of things. First both Sony and Canon are positioning these cameras as entry level or as Sony calls it basic model. This is unique because at least on paper both of these cameras are far from entry level and in some areas actually have better specs than more expansive models in their manufacture's lineup. Why are they positioned this way? In one word competition. Canon is gearing up to challenge Sony in the mirrorless market and this is Sony's response. It is no accident that Sony "surprised" everyone by releasing their new camera a few days after Canon introduced their new camera. It is also no accident that the Sony A7 III is basically a full frame Canon M50 on steroids. With the release of the Sony A7 III, Sony is throwing down the gauntlet at Canon and saying what ever you can do we can do better. The biggest indication that Canon and Sony are gearing to wage war against each other is the response of the third party lens makers. Both Tamron and Sigma have mostly stood on the sidelines to see which way the wind was blowing. Now both companies have released a slew of new lenses for the mirrorless market. Which should address the biggest weakness of both of these cameras. The lens selection for both of these cameras leave much to be desired. Why is all this important? Because competition is good. It means you the consumer will be getting better cameras at cheaper prices with better lenses. So with Sony and Canon and soon Nikon duking it out the consumer will benefit and this should be the beginning of some interesting times in the photo industry.
The second thing about March is, Spring is in the air! Which is bad for me because my allergies are about to kick in and commence six months of misery. But all the things that are bad for my allergies are an absolute delight for any photographer. Trees in full in bloom, colorful flowers everywhere, bright green grass, and lots and lots of warm sunshine. Spring and summer are great times to be a shutterbug. One of my favorite things to do is just wander around town with my camera and take photos of all the colorful things I see. But as wonderful as spring and summer are, I want to talk about winter, specifically winter in Australia.
Of all the places I've been lucky enough to travel to, Australia is still one of my favorites and in my opinion the best time to see Australia is during their winter. For those who don't know the Australian winter is from June through August. So what's so good about Australia in the winter? Well for starters it isn't as hot. Australia in the summer can be scorching especially in the Outback. In the winter the temperature in Sydney and Melbourne is like late Fall here on the East Coast, cool but comfortable, think 40 to 60 degree range. The Outback and areas north which are closer to the equator are a comfortable 75 to 90 degrees. The cooler weather is especially important if you want to hike the Outback. The Outback was cool/cold in the morning and night (they do get frost in the Outback) and comfortable the rest of the time. In the summer the 100 plus degree temperatures can be very hazardous to your health and I don't recommend visiting the Outback during their summer.
The other advantage of winter is less bugs. Australia is legendary for the size of their insects. In the summer they spend so much time swatting bugs away from their face they jokingly call it the Australian salute. The final advantage to Australia in the winter is the price. I got some amazing prices on hotels and airfare. Now I can't guarantee you'll get as good prices as I did but there are some nice deals out there if you put the time and effort in to find them.
Are there disadvantages to winter in Australia? Yes there are, you won't be sunbathing on Bondi Beach, some of the vegetation and flora aren't as bright, it can be a bit rainy especially in June and sometimes it snows. The ocean water is colder. I would estimate the water is about 65 to 70 degrees. Being from the East Coast I'm used to the colder water. I was fine in a thin wet suit when I dove the Great Barrier and wore board shorts and rash shirt when I snorkeled. But I saw a lot of very cold people. The upside of cold water is almost no Man of War Jelly fish (PSA for our readers, a Man of War tentacle can extend over 100 feet, so you don't need to be near the jellyfish to get stung and this also applies to walking on the beach and stepping on a tentacle so watch your step.) You're probably wondering are jellyfish that much of a problem. The answer is yes, every beach in Australia is equipped with jellyfish first aid kits and in the more remote areas a phone to call for help.
In the end, I think the pros outweighs the cons. I had a great time in Australia and definitely recommend the trip. If you do go my one suggestion to you is don't try to see everything at once. Australia is huge and you have to fly everywhere. If you try to see everything you won't be able to really enjoy anything because you're always on the move. Instead choose three or four must see areas and spend extra time and resources in each area. For me it was Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, The Outback, and Melbourne. We basically made one giant circle around the country starting in Sydney and finishing in Melbourne. Even though we didn't see everything we had a great time in the areas we did visit and now we have an excuse to go back.
This month's recipe is Hungarian Goulash. I love goulash and I have tried many versions and I always circle back to this recipe. This recipe comes from the 1969 version of Betty Crocker's cookbook. This is significant because the newer version of Betty Crocker's cookbook significantly alters the recipe and in my humble opinion does not taste good. So straight from the 60's here is the recipe for Hungarian Goulash.
1/4 cup shortening (I usually substitute three tablespoons olive oil, cause I always forgot to buy the shortening)
2 pounds beef chuck or round, cut into 1 inch squares (I like to season my meat with a all american barbecue dry rub from char crust)
1 cup sliced onions
1 small clove garlic minced (I just use a heaping teaspoon from the jar)
1 cup of ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt (This can be adjusted to taste, I put 1 teaspoon of Hawaiian Sea Salt)
2 teaspoons paprika (smoked paprika is very good, just saying)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Dash of cayenne red pepper
1 1/2 cups water (I personally prefer 1 can of beef stock instead because I really love all things beef and a little extra gravy)
1/4 cup of water
2 tablespoons of flour
3 cups hot cooked noodles (I like egg noodles for this recipe)
1. Melt shortening(Or Olive Oil) in a large skillet (I use a 4 qt dutch oven). Add beef, onion and garlic; cook and stir until meat is brown and onion is tender. I always put the onions and garlic first to sweat the onions for about 4 minutes, then add the beef to brown, this way you don't overcook the beef.
2. Stir in the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, salt, paprika, mustard, cayenne and 1 1/2 cups water, mix thoroughly and then cover and simmer for 2 to 2 1/2 hours (I've found that stirring occasionally keeps the goulash from sticking to the bottom)
3. When the goulash is finished cooking. Blend flour and 1/4 cup of water, stir gradually into the meat mixture, bring to a boil stirring constantly for one minute
4. Serve over noodles
Happy New Year again!! No it's not a time warp, it is the Asian Lunar New Year. This year on February 16th we celebrate the year of the dog. People born under this sign are said to be loyal, honest, and trustworthy. They are good judges of character who are quick to anger and just as quick to forgive. They make excellent leaders and always put family first. They are most compatible with people born under the Horse, Tiger, or Rabbit sign. Quick Chinese New Year fact, during the New Year celebration it is tradition to give out red envelopes. Each red envelope is supposed to contain crisp brand new bills only. It is considered bad luck and poor taste to put old money or coins in the envelope. It is also bad luck to put in denominations of four(e.g. don't put four dollars in the envelope) and the amount should be a round even number. Traditionally red envelopes are handed out by the married adults to all of the single children (this includes unmarried adults). Adults also can give red envelopes to their elders, especially their parents. If you receive a red envelope always take it with two hands, thank the giver and never open the envelope in front of them. The red envelope symbolizes wealth, prosperity, and good fortune for the new year.
Of course, Chinese New Year isn't the only holiday in February. It is time to celebrate love on Valentine's Day. So don't forgot to order your roses and chocolates and keep an eye out for our upcoming Valentine's Day promotion.
In honor of the New Year, this month's travel post is about my trip to China. Specifically my time in the city of Xi'an. Xi'an is in North Western China and is the Capital of the Shaanxi province. It was also the seat of power for Emperor Qin the first emperor of China and was the Capital of 13 different Chinese Dynasties. Of course Xi'an is most famous for Emperor Qin's Terracotta Army but the city itself is a wonderful blend of old and new. It's modern cosmopolitan city center sits side by side with ancient Chinese landmarks. You can go rent bikes and ride along the ancient city wall and then pop into Starbucks for a drink after you're done.
But my favorite thing was visiting the Muslim Market at night(Western China has a large Muslim population). The market is a Chinese street fair, that only comes to life at night. They close down the street and the vendors and store owners on the street, set up tables and booths all along the street and sell a wide assortment of goods. What made it so much fun was this isn't something tourist generally visit, so it was an unfiltered look at the people of China and how they live. My wonderful guide Frank took us here after I asked him to take us out at night to shoot some photos. Thank you to Frank for taking such good care of us, even though he didn't quite understand why the crazy American photographer wanted to take pictures at night.
I love taking photos at night. With all the buildings lit up, the mood and vibe of the city just seems more magical to me. It was no different in Xi'an. The city is beautiful at night. Especially the ancient Bell Tower. I had seen the Bell Tower lit up the night before going to dinner and couldn't wait to go get a photo. Interesting fact about Xi'an, the traffic in the city center is so bad that they created underground pedestrian tunnels for people to cross the street. One of these tunnel entrances is across the street from the Bell Tower and around the tunnel entrance is a cutout that leads up to the street and that is where I decided to set up my tripod. When I shoot at night I like to keep the camera in aperture priority mode at f/16 at ISO 100 and I let the reflective meter in the camera read the light in the scene. In this case it was a ten second exposure. Needless to say with such a long exposure a good tripod and a remote shutter release are a must. I set my white balance to 3200 Kelvin because most cities still use tungsten bulbs at night. Though this slowly changing and I'm seeing more LED lights in the cities I visit. One of the neat things with a ten second exposure is all the traffic that was going by left wonderful streaks of light in my shot. The end result was one of my very photos from the trip. All in all a very worthwhile evening out.
My second favorite thing I saw in Xi'an was the Terracotta Warriors. The neat thing about visiting the Terracotta Warrior site is that the Chinese government just built a hanger over the dig site where the statues were found. There's even a sign showing where the farmer first found the statues. So when you visit you're at an actual dig site and you see archaeologist working on the site repairing and cataloging their finds. Each site is called a pit and there are three pits all together and a museum. This is probably one of China's most famous attractions, not only for tourists but for the locals as well. So needless to say it was super crowded and we were packed in like sardines.
As you can see in the picture, the dig site is pretty big and well lit but flash is not allowed and there were lots of soldiers there to enforce this rule. So for my photo "Stone Sentry", I used my trusty 300 f/4 IS lens to shoot close ups of the Terracotta Warriors. I love this lens, because unlike other long lenses it is very light and easy to hand hold. In general most f/4 lenses are lighter and easier to hand hold as compared to their heavier f/2.8 brethren. Being able to hand hold a long lens is very important because a lot of places I go don't allow tripods or there isn't enough time or space to set one up. I used ISO 3200 and shot at 1/250th of second at f/4. Now this does break the rule that your shutter speed should equal your focal length for sharp pictures. But my lens has Image Stabilization built in, so I pushed the envelope and it worked out pretty well.
Our recipe of the month comes from Ken Hom. My Grandma loved using recipes from his book, "Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood" and passed this book down to me. I don't think it is in publication anymore but you may find it online somewhere. Traditional Pepper Beef is one of our family favorites. But for reasons unknown to me, Grandma always called this dish Pepper Steak. Plus she made a few alterations. One she added tomatoes. Usually she quartered four tomatoes and added them to dish last mixing them into the sauce. Then she would lower the flame and let the tomatoes simmer in the sauce for about 15 to 20 minutes. The end result is amazing stewed tomatoes. Whether you choose add the tomatoes is up to you. But I've found even people who don't like tomatoes love to eat them when added to this dish. Second she used baking powder in the marinade instead of baking soda. I'm not sure what the difference is but Grandma used baking powder, so I use baking powder. Third Ken likes his peppers and used three which is overkill(unless you really like peppers), one pepper is just fine. Lastly is a couple alterations I made. One the recipe calls for 1 pound of flank steak. I love meat so I usually double the amount to 2 pounds and then I triple the amount of marinade. So instead of 2 teaspoons of light soy sauce, I use 6 teaspoons (or 2 tablespoons). Basically I just multiply everything by three. Finally, a note for anyone who has never cooked Chinese stir-fry before. The flame is very high when you cook this way, just two notches or so below its highest setting. So you will see some smoke coming from the pan when heating the oil and hear very loud sizzling when you throw the food in. This is normal and should calm down once the food is in the pan or wok. Also the oil does tend to spit if your not careful. For example never put garlic from a jar into the hot oil or you will have hot minced garlic flying around you kitchen. Put the onion first then the garlic second. But stir-frying food this way is worth it because you don't over cook the meat and combined with marinade your flank steak should be soft and tender. Finally a thought about the leftovers. If you happen to have leftovers reheat them in a wok (or a pan will do) and add three tablespoons of Madras Curry Powder (I use the Natco Curry powder from World Market). Once the sauce is warm serve over spaghetti noodles. Viola instant second meal.
Traditional Pepper Beef by Ken Hom
3 Tablespoons Peanut Oil (Extra Virgin Olive Oil works as well) for the pan.
1 pound flank steak
2 teaspoons light soy sauce (I use thin soy sauce)
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 onion sliced
4 tomatoes (optional)
3 cloves garlic minced or crushed (I just use minced from a jar)
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 cup of chicken stock
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
Cut steak in half, then cut thin slices, 2 inches wide, cutting against the grain. Mix the beef with the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, baking powder, and cornstarch. Let it sit for 20 minutes.
Next combine the ingredients for the sauce, put the chicken stock, rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl and stir well then set aside.
Slice your pepper, onion and if adding quarter your tomatoes.
Heat a wok or deep pan unit it is very hot. Swirl in the 3 tablespoons of peanut oil(or Extra Virgin Olive Oil) and when it is very hot and smoking, add the beef and stir-fry for 3 minutes.
Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and drain off all but 1 tablespoon of oil.
Reheat the wok and oil, toss in the garlic and onions, and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Then toss in the pepper and the sauce and cook over high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in the oyster sauce and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Mix well, return the beef to the mixture and continue to cook for another minute.
Put in the quartered tomatoes and mix well with the sauce. Lower the fire to a simmer and cover the wok or pan and let the dish simmer for 15-20 minutes stirring once or twice.
Serve over rice.
Happy New Year! Here's to a happy, healthy, and joyful 2018!
Welcome to our new monthly newsletter. Our hope is to use this newsletter to show you what were are working as well as entertain you with tales of our travel adventures. As a bonus we intend to add a recipe of the month to each newsletter (Just because we love to cook). We are also excited about the new items for sale. In addition to our wall art and home decor available on Fine Art America. You can now also purchase photo novelty items, like mugs, t-shirts, yoga mats, and so much more. We also have several digital art projects that we are working on for the upcoming year. Some of the things we are working on are, digital art showcasing Arizona, Toronto, Iceland, as well as unique composite art.
One of our most recent pieces of digital art is "The Princess". This photo was taken in the lower Antelope Canyon which is located on the Navajo Reservation near the town of Page Arizona. The canyon is about a four hour drive from Phoenix and about a two hour drive from the Grand Canyon National Park (I went with Detours tour company out of Phoenix, thank you to my guide Mark). Westwind will fly you into Page via a charter plane and then take you on a guided tour on the ground. Antelope Canyon is a narrow slot canyon which you descend down into via metal ladders and steps. All of the tours of the Canyon are run by Navajo tour companies with local Navajo guides (We used Ken's Tour, thank you to my guide Tim). Antelope Canyon is one of nature's great wonders, the colors and shapes of the narrow canyon walls are dazzling. As a photographer, it was really fun to shoot photos in the canyon and also a unique challenge. The Navajo don't allow the use of flash and tripods are only allowed on special photo tours of the canyon. The sun light that filters down into the canyon changes around every corner. For this trip, I was using a Canon 5d MK II with a 27-70 f/2.8 lens. I used manual mode at ISO 6400 and kept my shutter speed at 1/60th of a second so I could shoot hand held. I rotated my aperture between f/4.0 and f/11 dependent upon the lighting condition. The other challenge was capturing the canyon's unique beauty. Finding the best composition that showed the curves, color, and shadows of the canyon walls was a lot of fun. My only complaint is I couldn't stay there longer. It was a great experience, which I recommend to everyone.
Our January recipe of the month is the Taco Crescent Ring. This recipe combines two things I love to eat, Pillsbury crescent rolls and tacos. I've made this twice and both times it was great. I like to serve mine with salsa and sour cream. I got this recipe from the Pillsbury website. https://www.pillsbury.com/recipes/taco-crescent-ring/a52fade5-13ce-483a-b1d6-55c22aeb5c5a
1 lb ground beef
1 package (1 oz) Old El Paso™ taco seasoning mix
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (4 oz)
2 cans (8 oz each) Pillsbury™ refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
Shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sliced ripe olives, taco sauce or salsa, as desired
Heat oven to 375°F. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, cook beef until no longer pink. Add taco seasoning mix and 1/2 cup water. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes or until slightly thickened. In medium bowl, mix beef mixture and cheese.
Unroll both cans of dough; separate into 16 triangles. On ungreased large cookie sheet, arrange triangles in ring so short sides of triangles form a 5-inch circle in center. Dough will overlap. Dough ring should look like the sun.
Spoon beef mixture on the half of each triangle closest to center of ring.
Bring each dough triangle up over filling, tucking dough under bottom layer of dough to secure it. Repeat around ring until entire filling is enclosed (some filling might show a little).
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until dough is golden brown and thoroughly baked. Cool 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into serving slices.
It's the trade show season again in the photo industry. The time of year, when the camera manufactures trot out all of their new toys for us to drool over. With Photokina over and Photo Plus Expo winding up, it's time to sort through all the new cameras that were released.
The most interesting thing to me about both of these trade shows is how the cell phone has changed and is currently influencing the photo industry. The first cell phone theme that you hear over and over, is the apparent death of the point and shoot market. Cell phones, have supposedly made point and shoots obsolete. Why carry an extra camera when you have a phone, which in a lot of ways is better than a dedicated point and shoot. But don't tell Sony this. They just released the excellent new Cybershot RX 100 V. It has a 20.1 Megapixel 1 inch sensor and an equivalent 24-70 f1.8-2.8 zoom lens. Plus it shoots 4K video. This beauty will set you back $1000, so it probably isn't for the casual photographer. On the cheaper end, one of the few point and shoots at Photokina the Lumix DMC-LX10 which has a 20 megapixel 1 inch sensor, will "only" cost $699. Photokina also showcased another response to the cell phone onslaught, with many manufactures looking to the past and hoping nostalgia will convince you to buy their cameras. Specifically the rebirth of the instant camera. Why instant, you may ask? The answer is simple, these cameras can do the one thing a cell phone can't do and that is is print your picture. Polaroid helped start this trend by bringing back the famous SX-70 instant camera and continued the trend at Photokina with the new snap touch, which has a small screen on the back and a 13 megapixal sensor. Leica got in on the act at Photokina, with the Leica SoFort instant camera that uses Fujifilm Instax mini film. If you've got a spare $300 it's a pretty cool camera. Lomography also introduced an instant camera with their Automat film camera. This uses the same Fujifilm Instax mini film as the Leica but is expected to retail for $149. Not to be outdone, Fuji who like Polaroid has been leading the instant film charge, introduced a new square version of their Instax film and said new cameras for the square format are coming next year. The square Instax film is a modern spin on the old Polaroid 600 film. They also introduced a black and white monochrome option for the Instax mini film. It will be interesting to see if other manufacturers follow this trend next year.
Another way cellphones are affecting the industry is how DSLRs are being viewed. It was long assumed that any "serious" photographer would only to choose to use a DSLR. But that is proving not to be true. The Chicago Sun Times fired their photographers and handed phones to their reporters. Apple and ESPN came together to give a reporter the iphone 7 and shoot from a fans point of view at the U.S. Open in Queens. Those photos were published in the ESPN magazine. Now as a professional photographer I personally don't ever see the day when I will put down my DSLR in favor of my phone. But I do recogonize how the cell phone is fundamently changing my industry and pushing it directions we never dreamed about.
The camera manufacturers response to this at Photokina and Photo Plus seemed to be the more megapixels the better. Which means expect to see more higher megapixel cameras than every before. Nothing showed this philosphy more than the star of the Photokina show, the Fujifilm GFX mirrorless medium format camera. With it's DSLR like body and big 51.4 megapixel sensor it is a very nice camera. But it also comes with a nice big price tag with the price expected to be between $8000 and $10,000 for the body only. It is squarely aimed at the high end pro or the well heeled enthusiast. As is Phase One's new IQ1 100 megapixel medium format digital back which retails for $33,000. Both of these cameras will produce amazing pictures which no cell phone can ever hope to match.
On the more "affordable" side are four very nice cameras. Canon released two new cameras. The Canon 5d Mark IV with its 30.4 megapixel full frame sensor which costs $3500 for the body only and the Canon M5 Mirrorless with a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor which costs $949 for the body only. Sony also released two new cameras. The Sony Alpha a99 II with a 42.4 megapixel full frame sensor which costs $3200 for the body only and the Sony Alpha 6500 mirrorless camera with a a 24 megapixel APS-C sensor which costs $1400 for the body only.
In the micro 4/3 sensor world both panasonic and Olympus showed off some nice new toys. Olympus showed off their new mirrorless camera the PEN E-PL8 with a 16 megapixel sensor which costs $549 for the body only. Olympus also teased a new flagship camera. Panasonic introduced several new Lumix cameras, starting with the high end DMC-G85 mirroless camera with a DSLR type body, it has a 16 megapixel sensor and will cost $897 for the body only. The Lumix DMC-FZ2500/FZ2000 are all in one cameras with a 24-480mm equiv. F2.8-4.5 lens and 20 megapixels it a big camera with a big price of $1199. I find the micro 4/3 market segment interesting. They seem to exist in a world inbetween cell phones/point and shoots and DSLRs. The sensors in these cameras aren't much bigger than a cell phone, so they make their stand on being the low cost alternative to the DSLR. They are aimed at the people who want better optics then the cell phone but don't want to pay for the size or price of a DSLR. Olympus in particular has excellent lenses. But even they are trying to seperate themselves from the cell phone by going big. Yes 16 megapixels sounds smaller then the 42 megapixels on the Sony a99 II but on a micro 4/3 sensor, 16 megapixels is huge. As cell phones advance, it will be interesting to see how long the micro 4/3 market will last.
One name you may have noticed was missing was Nikon. They timed their new camera releases with the summer Olympics and did not have any new photography cameras at the trade shows. They did have a presence at the trades with their new action video camera the Keymission which is a Gopro rival and was timed to steal some of the thunder from the Gopro Hero 5 which was also released. The fact that Nikon decided to focus on video at the photography trade show, is interesting to say the least.
As you can see a lot of goodies were introduced at the fall trade shows. In my opinion all of these cameras are very interesting but some are more practical and useful than others. The medium format megapixel monsters are nice but the cost of the camera, not to mention the cost of storage and computing power puts them in the not practical or useful category for almost everyone. The retro instant cameras are nice but they seem best suited for those who want to have fun at parties or share photos with friends which makes them impractical for pros but good for casual photographers. The DSLR and mirrorless cameras that were introduced are the most useful for pros but if you're a causal photographer the DSLR offerings are way more more camera than you need and the mirrorless cameras are little pricey. You might want to look at the older models, like the Sony Alpha 6300, entry level models, like a Canon Rebel SL1 or look at some of the micro 4/3 offerings.
Last year, I did a blog post on sports photography tips. In the post I stated that a DSLR is the best camera for the job. Even though this remains true, I recently had a conversation with someone about the post and they pointed out to me that many people either don't want a DSLR or can't afford one. This person went on and asked, "How would you shoot a sports event with a point shoot camera?" Great question, I've always shot sports with a DSLR and never really thought about shooting with a point and shoot. So I pondered the question and came up with some tips. As luck would have it, a friend got tickets behind home plate for Alex Rodriguez's last game at Yankee Stadium and asked me along. What better place to test out shooting sports with a point shoot? So with my trusty Canon Powershot SD870 IS, I set off to shoot some photos. Here is a cropped photo of A-Rod's last hit as NY Yankee that I took with my point and shoot.
I was very pleased with this shot. It had the ball in frame, it had context and it was fairly sharp. So how did I get the shot? I believe the two most important aspects to shooting with a point and shoot is anticipation and understanding shutter lag. Anticipation, is basically knowing the sport you are shooting and anticipating the action. Shutter lag is a little bit more complicated. Most point and shoots and camera phones for that matter, use some form of LCD screen. The image you see on the screen is being projected from the sensor in the camera. So when you press the shutter, the camera must first shut off the screen to switch to capture mode and then shoot the picture. This results in shutter lag. Most modern point and shoots have a shutter lag of two seconds or less. Older cameras, like mine, can have a shutter lag of greater than two seconds. Two seconds doesn't sound like much time but in sports it's an eternity. To understand how anticipation and shutter lag effects your shot, lets examine how I got the A-Rod shot. First I anticipated the action I wanted to photograph, in this case A-Rod swinging at the ball. I know that a major league pitcher can get a ball to home plate in about two seconds, so accounting for shutter lag I know that I have to press my shutter just as the pitcher is throwing the ball in order to capture A-Rod swinging at the ball. I also know that if I wait until A-Rod swings to press the shutter, I will miss the shot because of the shutter lag. So I focused on A-Rod in the box and waited until the pitcher was just about to throw the ball to press the shutter and the rest as they say is history.
So how does this all apply to Mom and Dad photographing their child's sporting event? First lets stack the odds in your favor. You should start by switching to sports mode. Every camera has a sports mode. The sports mode is good because it tells the camera to focus and shoot in the best manner for sports. Next turn off any kind of digital zoom because it doesn't help. Make sure your Auto ISO is on. Lastly turn off you flash because a point shoot flash is to weak to freeze action or be effective from any distance. Now let's go through some examples. Example one your child is playing goalie on the soccer pitch. You see the attacker streaking down the pitch to shoot at the net. In anticipation of the action you want to capture, in this case your child making a spectacular save. You should focus on your child. Press the shutter just as the attacker kicks the ball at the net and you should get your shot. But with one caveat, and that caveat is know the skill level of the children you are photographing. If this is a pee wee league they don't always have a lot of force behind it and you can get away with waiting a tick or two after the kick is made and still get the shot. But if this is high school soccer you need to make sure you are pressing the shutter just as they are kicking the ball at the net. Bottom line use your own judgement on how fast the ball will travel and then adjust as necessary. Another example, is your child is a shooting guard on a basketball team. You see the team setting up a pick and roll for your child. You anticipate where your child is going to come off the screen and point the camera there. Once your child comes off the screen immediately focus on them as they are waiting for the pass. Press the shutter immediately after he/she catches the pass to capture them shooting the ball. The same caveats from the other example apply here as well.
Finally, I would like reiterate a few tips for sports photography whether you shoot with a DSLR or point and shoot. Don't get tunnel vision. Which basically means be aware of the action around you. For instance in the last example be aware of where the defender so you can anticipate a pump fake to shake the defender before the shot. Anticipating these sorts of things will help you be ready to get better shots, like a defender sailing by as your child shoots the rock. Make sure when you frame your shot to keep the ball and/or defender in the frame for context. Sometimes a wider shot which shows the crowd is cool, not everything has to be tight closeups. Don't forgot the quiet moments. Take pictures of your child on the bench laughing with their friends, talking with their coach, warming up, or shaking hands at the end of the game. Last and most important have fun.