Sports photography is a thrilling genre. It involves constant action, variable light conditions, and of course, there are the fans. For the photographer, all those sports photography facets present a challenge.
What is Sports Photography?
Thus, it is best to start out with slower moving high school sports and then move up to college and professional levels. Try to cover both indoor and outdoor sporting events to broaden your skills.
How to Shoot Sports Photography – An Overview
Learn to be more assertive. This is crucial! Try to get as close as possible to the subject matter without getting in the way of the fan’s view or intruding on the game. Don’t be afraid to move in; the worst that will happen is an usher will ask you to return to your seat. However, if you look like you know what you are doing and are doing your best to keep out of the way, they probably won’t bother you.
Know what the light will be before you go to the game. This is crucial if it is an indoor event since all manner of artificial lighting is used, and some are so bad you are better off using a flash.
If you have to use a flash, ensure you are not aiming that flash into the player’s eyes. Do not get involved in the game. Keep quiet. Concentrate on getting the best photo you can.
Don’t bug other photographers with questions about exposure, etc. You must figure these concerns out yourself. Do not talk with any players or coaches.
Players sometimes will bug you to take their picture, smile and avoid conversations, or the coach will do everything he can to keep you from shooting any more photos. You become a distraction to the players – keeping them from concentrating on their game – and coaches hate that.
Do not bring a tripod to any game. They are usually too big and bulky, and players can hurt themselves if they make contact. A monopod (one-legged camera stick-support) is lightweight and easily moved.
If you have a motorized camera and can remove the motor or use a manual shutter button, please start off avoiding using the motor. There is a significant delay between the time you push the motor’s shutter button and the actual time the exposure is made.
If you shoot without the motor, the delay is reduced. The delay when shooting non-motor is about 1/200th of a second. That may sound fast, but with fast moving subjects such as runners, it is not, and you need to learn how to compensate for the delay.
Learn to shoot an instant before the peak action. If you wait until you see the peak action, you will miss it. Using the motor’s shutter button means an even longer delay and will take you longer to time your shooting.
Camera Settings for Sports Photography
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 at a moment’s notice.
The only way to do this is to know everything about your camera. You should know how to use it in manual mode, and you’ll want to pay particular attention to the aperture settings.
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.
Use Aperture Priority in Your Settings
You’ll want to adjust 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 to prioritize the aperture. This means the camera will adjust that first, and then you can adjust the other settings as might be necessary.
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.
Use Continuous Autofocus
Continuous autofocus keeps the subject, or subjects, in focus as their position on the camera changes. This is one of the 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.
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.
Use Burst Mode
Burst mode tells the camera to take a series of images in sequence. You just need to push down 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.
The 16 Best Sports Photography Tips
Veteran sports photographers have developed numerous strategies to overcome the challenges of sports photography, and we’ve put together 16 of their best sports photography tips.
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 photography. 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 where you should be to get that compelling image.
2. 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 of capturing the images you want.
- The key to capturing all fast-action sports is developing your concentration and anticipation. You will do much better knowing what to concentrate on and what to anticipate.
Once you gain the ability to concentrate, anticipate, and develop the other
Some photographers work for local or big time newspapers on “work for hire” contracts where all the images belong to the company that 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 education and then start making some impressive photos that people will either buy from you or hire you to make more of them.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Use a Telephone Zoom Lens
Use a zoom lens so you can capture compelling close-ups. 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.
6. Use a Wide Angle Lens
Using a wide angle lens in addition to 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.
7. 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.
8. Keep Your Back to the Sun
You need to utilize 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.
9. 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 the 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. Focus, Face, Action, Equipment
Capture a focused image that includes the face of the athlete while in action and holding a piece of the game’s 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, and 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.
13. 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.
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.
Don’t overlook close-up, sideline pictures of players and coaches. You can get some marvelous portraits of the passion, pain, and energy of the game by keeping an eye on players, not on the field.
You can learn more and develop your skills faster by spending some time shooting sports events.
16. 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, and 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 at 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.