Learning How To Do Sports 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.┬áIt 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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14 COMMENTS

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. @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!

  5. 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…

  6. 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!

  7. @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.