Sports photography is a thrilling genre. It involves constant action, variable light conditions, and of course, there are the fans. For the photographer, all of those facets of sports photography present a challenge.
Veteran sports photographers have developed numerous strategies to overcome these challenges. And, we’ve put together 21 of their best sports photography tips for beginners.
Tip #1: Learn the Game
This is the most important thing you can do. You need to know the rules of the game in order to be able to anticipate the action. You can search the internet not only for the rules, but also take a look at the best photographs.
The rules of the game will give you clues on where you can expect the best action. And, by looking at the photographs, you can learn from that photographer. What are the angles the photographer used? Where was he or she positioned to get those shots? This will help you plan on where you should be to get that compelling image.
Tip #2: Know the Venue
Aside from knowing the rules of the game, you also have to know the venue. In order to plan where you want to position yourself, you need to know the venue in which you will be shooting.
You can usually arrange to visit the venue prior to the event, and it’s worth it to do so. Ask the coaches and refs where you can go and where you can’t go. Check out where the light is coming from so that you can use that to your advantage. And, see where you can position yourself so that the action comes to you.
Tip #3: Anticipate the Action
Aside from placing yourself in a good position to get the best shots, you need to be anticipating the action rather than reacting to it. If you’re reacting to it, you’ve already missed the shot.
Look for evidence the athlete is about to move. One example is that you will see baseball players contract their muscles as they get ready to swing. If you want to be a sports photographer, you probably watch the game, but watch it anew with the eyes of a photographer. What are the cues that a player is going to act? Then, when you’re photographing the game, look for those same cues.
Tip #4: Know Your Camera
This may seem obvious, but it’s important that you know your camera’s ability thoroughly. Sports photography happens too fast to be needing to think about your camera’s settings. You should know what it does and be able to change the settings on a moment’s notice.
The only way to do this is to know everything–literally everything–about your camera. You should know how to use it in the manual mode, and you’ll want to pay particular attention to the aperture settings. Practice using it before shooting the event.
Tip #5: Learn About Exposure
You need to know how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO affect your images. These are the three elements that affect exposure. You’re usually going to need a faster shutter speed, a more open aperture (smaller f number), and a variable ISO depending on the lighting conditions. You’ll need to be able to adjust these settings quickly to capture the action.
Tip #6: Use Aperture Priority in Your Settings
You’ll want to prioritize the aperture in order to adjust for variable lighting conditions. You adjust the aperture by adjusting the f stop on your camera. A lower number means a more open aperture, and that means it allows in more light.
Depending on where you’re shooting, you may need to open or close it down some. On many cameras, you can use the semi-manual mode to set the camera for prioritizing the aperture. This means, the camera will adjust that first, and then you can adjust the other settings as might be necessary.
Tip #7: Use a Faster Shutter Speed
To freeze the action, you’ll need a shutter speed between 1/500s and 1/2000s. It depends in part on the sport. For example, for swimming, you can probably use the shutter at the lower end of that range, but for baseball, you’ll need the faster speed. As with aperture priority settings, most cameras also have a shutter speed priority setting, and you can use this to free you up to focus on other settings.
Tip #8: Use Continuous Autofocus
Continuous autofocus keeps the subject, or subjects, in focus as their position to the camera changes. This is one of the most essential sports photography tips for beginners to help get clear, sharply focused images. As your subjects move around, you don’t want to have to continually focus your camera.
Using this setting frees you to work on the other settings as the action proceeds. The action happens fast in most sports, and you won’t be able to keep up with it if you don’t have a little help from your camera.
Tip #9: Manually Set Your ISO
ISO is, with aperture settings and shutter speed, one of the components for exposure. It’s a setting related to your camera’s sensitivity to light. You need to adjust your ISO in accordance with the type of light you have.
If it’s a sunny day, you can use a low ISO setting of 400, but if it’s a cloudy day or you’re shooting indoors, you’re going to need an ISO between 800 and 1,200. This is something you’ll have to judge based on the type of light available, and that’s something you should consider when you preview the venue and as you practice with your camera before going to the event.
Tip #10: Use a Telephone Zoom Lens
A 55-200mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens will give you much more flexibility while shooting. Even better is a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. This will give you the ability to zoom in for both action shots and compelling images of the athletes as they react to the game.
Tip #11: Use a Wide Angle Lens
Using a wide angle lens in addition the zoom lens can give you a different take on the action of the game. It can give you those wide shots of the team as they work together or of the athlete on the field. And, it can make viewers feel like they’re right there on the field with the athletes.
Tip #12: Do Not Use the On-Camera Flash
The on-camera flash or a hot shoe flash will not be enough to illuminate your subjects. Since it is also distracting to the athletes and spectators, it’s better to use the camera settings and available light to illuminate your subjects. You don’t want to be the person who blinds the batter just before he swings at the pitch.
Tip #13: Use Burst Mode
Burst mode tells the camera to take a series of images in sequence. You just need to push down on the shutter button. This mode is recommended to ensure you get at least one focused image.
This is also a great tip for photographers in many other genres. Anytime there is action, it’s recommended to use the burst mode.
Tip #14: Keep Your Back to the Sun
You need to utilize the natural light in the best way possible. That means keeping your back to the sun. If the sun is behind your subject, you will have difficulty getting the proper exposure. Instead, use the sun to brightly illuminate the action on the field.
Tip #15: Look for Action Off the Field
Don’t forget about the action off the field. Look around at the athletes on the bench, the coaches, and spectators. You’ll see a lot of compelling emotional reactions to what’s happening on the field, and getting those images can help you tell a compelling story.
Tip #16: Respect the Officials, Athletes, and Coaches
If you want to be asked back to photograph other events, you need to respect the game officials and the athletes. If they tell you to move, move.
If you disagree with something they say, leave it for a discussion after the event. Remember, your presence at the event is a privilege, not your right. Don’t argue with anything a staff member, official, coach, or athlete tells you to do.
Tip #17: Shoot from a Low Angle
Shooting from a low angle makes the athletic leaps in the air look higher and more dramatic. You can also get a clearer background instead of always having other athletes, officials, spectators or grass in the background. It also gives the photo excellent depth. To do this, you might consider purchasing a monopod. It can help you keep your camera steady and balanced while shooting at odd angles.
Tip #18: Focus, Face, Action, Equipment
The pros cite these elements for sports photography as being what you want to get right when shooting a sporting event. You want the subject of your image to be in focus, you want to make sure you can see their face, particularly their eyes, you want them to be engaged in some action or emotional event, and you want to have them holding a piece of equipment, like the ball.
If you capture each of these elements, you will increase the chance that your image will be compelling.
Tip #19: Tell a Story
The most compelling images in sports photography are the ones that tell a story. You see the agony of defeat and the joy of victory on the athlete’s face, and there’s your story. The endless hours of hard work, training, anticipation, and preparation summed up in one moment, in one image. That’s the goal.
Tip #20: Do Some Post-Processing
You don’t need to go overboard with this, but some post-processing can do wonders for the image. Maybe you need to make some lighting adjustments or crop the image; play around with it and see how you can take a good image and make it into a great image.
Tip #21: Take Lots of Photos
Thanks to the burst mode, this is easy to do, but taking more photos will help to ensure you get that special one that makes it all worthwhile.
Sports photography is a thrilling genre, and one that lets you get in on the action in an intimate way that would not otherwise be possible–unless you’re one of the athletes or officials. You can be right there when the athlete breaks that record, you can capture the emotional moment of triumph or the disappointment of defeat, and that can be very exciting and lucrative for you.
But, there are also a lot of challenges to getting that image. You’ve got to plan ahead. You need to know the venue and that game so that you can position yourself in the right spot to get the best of the action. You need to know ahead of time what kind of light you will have and how to use it best to your advantage.
You’ve got to know your camera and how each of the settings will affect the image. And, you’ve got to be ready to adjust those settings on a moment’s notice. You’re going to want to shoot in manual mode with a more open aperture and a faster shutter speed. You’ll also need to manually adjust your ISO depending on the type of light available to you. Setting your camera to prioritize the aperture or shutter speed can help to free you up to focus on other settings.
Shooting from a low angle can help you to get those dramatic action shots with a less cluttered background. The shots you want to get are focused images of the athlete’s face while they are engaged in some kind of action using the equipment of the game.
If you’re doing it right, you’re telling a story, a story of passion, hard work, triumph, and failure. If you’re getting a shot of the winner, make sure you look around you and get images of the spectators, the athlete’s family, and the loser as well.