Written by: Digital Photography

Sports Photography

I put this old sports shot up to impress upon all of you a few basic MUSTS about shooting sports. Learn and practice these pre-requisites and you will be well on your way to shooting good sports photos.

This is a Corvette sports car that was in a sanctioned race. It blew out its brakes and then it’s transmission (downshifting), screamed across the infield and the track on the other side and then hit an embankment.

It was launched airborne though there were fifty other photographers there, yet they did not get this shot – the peak of action.

They had fancier cameras but that, in itself, was not enough. They did not study and/or analyze this sport. Knew nothing about racing. And simply assumed that, because they had the “finest cameras” their photos would be fine too.

I studied sports car racing. I walked most of the track in search of the best vantage point. And I brought along a 50-300mm zoom lens to find THE vantage point that would allow me capture the best possible action.

I watched the Corvette head down a long straight-away, he didn’t slow down, and I knew he was in trouble. He screamed off the track onto the infield (which is when the other fifty photographers shot their pics and got shots of a car driving on grass.) I waited and zoomed in…. he crossed the track on the other side….. I waited and zoomed in some more…. and when he hit that embankment I hit the shutter, capturing him in mid-air.

My photo was published nationally, the other fifty photographers are still scratching their heads.

SOOOOOO…. get to know your subject matter.

Find the best vantage point in terms of good lighting and maximum activity.

Bring equipment that has the best chance capturing the images you want.

The key to capturing all fast action sports is to develop your ability to concentrate and anticipate. You will do much better if you know WHAT to concentrate on and WHAT to anticipate.

Once you gain the ability to concentrate, anticipate, and have developed the other photography skills needed to be a successful sports photographer, there are various routes to becoming a professional sports photographer. Some photographers work for local or big time newspapers on “work for hire” contracts where all the images belong to the company who hired the photographer. Other sports photographers work freelance, or sell the pictures off after they’ve gotten that perfect shot. The photos can be sold to various publishing outlets or to stock photography agencies. So, if you are interested in making a career out of photography, your best place to start is with an education and then start making some impressive photos that people will either buy from you or hire you to make more of them.

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13 Responses to “Learning How to Do Sports Photography”

  1. […] Learning How to Do Sports Photography – I put this old sports shot up to impress upon all of you a few basic MUSTS about shooting sports. Learn and practice these pre-requisites and you will be well on your way to shooting good sports photos. This is a Corvette sports car … […]

  2. I am majoring photography and sports is one of my many interests! Thanks for the tips.

  3. I do rodeo photos all the time. having been around the sport of rodeo for many years, I foudn the first time that shooting the sport is more than just getting good pictures of my kids. One day I spent the entire day at a HS rodeo just practicing shooting different events. At the end of the day I was more than satisfied. If shooting rodeo sports, learn to read the horses and the cattle, know what the particular event is about, and be prepared for animals to be all over the arena! A zoom is a necessary part of your equipment! But timing….timing is everything!

  4. I’ve been taking youth football digital photos for about 10 years now, and it is true that practice makes perfect. I may take photos all day long and find half a dozen or so that I really LOVE! The rest get posted on the website but my favorites get into the banquet booklet for sure.

  5. I have just started doing sports photography. I am having issues with the shots under the lights. I am shooting mainly football, and for some reason all or most of the shots are blurry in the night shots. The day time pictures are coming out great. I have a Nikon 300 DSL, with a 200mm lens. Do you have any suggestions?
    Thanks.

  6. @Judy: Shooting with the Nikon D300 should be a pleasure. It’s a LOT of camera and arguably one of the best in the price range! Are you shooting with tripod (good ball head) AND remote cable release? Doing hand-held with 200mm (even with VR – Vibration Reduction) can be a problem under artificial lighting. Secondly, are the bright lights part of the scene? They can play havoc. Since the day shots are coming out OK, it may be something that applies only to night shots. I have to assume that your ISO is 800 or above for the night shots…allowing faster shutter speeds. In any case, enjoy! Few photography shots can be more enjoyable than great night (available light) photography, and more stunning when the less-experienced photographers learn from available light photographers like yourself!

  7. I love shooting random pix anywhere I happen to be..I have a lot of hits and misses. Recently I have been interested in rodeo shots as well. My problem is after dark Stadium lights make my pix dark and grainy. I have a Canon EOS. Also Where should my settings be for less blur. One more request is your most appreciated advice for inside settings for situations such as plays where the room is dark except for the stage….and indoor church weddings…A lot I know but Im like a sponge for information right now…Thanks to you…

  8. Hi, having read a lot of DSLR reviews, I’ve decided to buy a Canon 60D. I’d really appreciate advice on the best (economical) lens for shooting martial arts; 18mm to 200mm? Fantastic site. Thank you!

  9. Daytime shoots r awesome but my night shoots are blurry..can u suggest something please?

  10. @Marie – I invested in a 2.8f lens for my Nikon d3100 for night/low lights/stadium photography. Not cheap but I use it frequently and get terrific photos.

  11. Thank you Alan, I know it took me a year to get back to you sorry bout that.
    I did try to take some shots with a tripod. They didn’t come out so good. However the one I was using was not the smoothest out there. I have gotten a couple of new ones that I will work with later this upcoming season. I do love my camera, and take it with me every where.

    I do have a question concerning under the lights sports photography. If I’m lucky I will be able to be on the sidelines, and there would be no way I can use a tripod. I find a mono-pod to be cumbersome so that leaves the camera in my hand while running up, and down the sidelines. Fast action with football will not allow for much adjustment. What settings would you suggest?

  12. When I was shooting football back in high school (film @ISO 800), I was told to go for f/16 or less on even long shots, though I did a lot of shots at f/5.6 and f/8 when action was near me. Being focused at hyperfocal distance is useful as well if you want to be able to capture a lot of the action. A fast lens with good low-light characteristics is critical–those lights aren’t really as bright as our eyes perceive them! While a zoom lens is sometimes handy for being able to take longer-field shots, I found a fixed-length (prime) lens was almost a necessity as it got later in the evening. f/1.8-2.8 are good if you’re wanting to capture shots of the coaching staff on the sidelines with the team blurred around them.

    Sometimes wrapping your neck strap around the back of one shoulder and using your elbow to hold it tight can stabilize your image a bit if exposure time is just on the edge of stop-action. Try finding a spot on your home team’s 30-yard line if using a tripod–it’ll allow you to get a good variety of shots. Just be prepared to grab the tripod and dodge if action heads your way. Even that cumbersome monopod will allow for less camera shake than handheld if your equipment doesn’t include a fast lens (max. aperture of f/2.0 or larger). Kneeling can sometimes work, as can pulling your elbows in closer to your body–either limits the sway a little.

    In any case, and I assume you know this, but it’s a common newbie mistake–don’t just jam the shutter release down if you’re excited or you WILL blur a handheld shot. Squeeze it gently!! Live view/mirror lock-up and a remote shutter release can help cut camera blur, too, but they’re less useful if not using some form of tripod/monopod.

  13. I have my first sport’s shoot next week and it will be a football game (American Football). I dont know much about the sport so I am watching youtube videos and reading about it but could you give me some pointers on the equipment? I have a 18-55mm and a 50mm. I just started taking lessons so my equipment is limited but I want to make the best out of it

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