Sports Photography Tips

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What’s your poison? Soccer? Football? Basketball? Your kid’s little league games? Whatever your particular sporting passion, here are a handful of tips to help you capture great action/sports photos.

One – Get as close to the action as you can. Sometimes we can only afford “nosebleed” seats waaaay up high or waaaay in the back. Do a walkabout with your camera and see if you can get a closer position. Some games are less strict about court-side/field-side access than others. For instance, at an ASU college football game I was allowed to walk right up to the fifty yard line in the front row of seats, take a few shots, then head back to my seat. At a Cardinal’s NFL game I wasn’t allowed lower down than the front row of the section I was seated in – which was quite a ways away from the action. If you have some time before the event, see if you can talk to someone in a position who can assist you. It’s a long shot that you’d be allowed a camera pass or press pass, unless you work in an associated industry. But often times during practice or pre-game warm ups, security is accommodating and those hosting the event sometimes plan for up close and personal time with the athletes and the field. So make a phone call or three and find out what the arrangements are for the game you’ll be attending.

Two – Bring the action to you. Sometimes you just can’t get close to the players. A high speed telephoto zoom lens is a must for any indoor or outdoor sporting event, for several reasons. Though they typically keep the court or field well lit, use of a flash is generally frowned upon and wouldn’t achieve the desired effect anyway. Keep in mind that most of the time you will not be allowed to bring a tripod due to crowding conditions, though a monopod is usually just fine and is essential for stability at the longest range of your lens. Finally, zooming in on the players as they make baskets or goals, and capturing the emotion and effort on their faces, makes for an image with more impact.

Three – Capture the story, AND capture the context. Get some overall field shots with a large depth of field (pertinent to your conditions, use a fast shutter speed and an f-stop of around f/18). Then get some individual player shots with a shallow depth of field (again, fast shutter speed to “stop” the action, and an f-stop of f/5.6 or f/4). Try to show the entire story as it unfolds, while getting shots of the little details and emotions that add to the greater picture. In this case, it really helps to know your sport. Be familiar with the rules and the pace of the game, so that you know when the best shots may occur.

Four – Give the subject someplace to go. Say, for instance, you have a soccer player running into the frame from left to right. Take the picture of the player while he or she is in the left-hand side of the frame, which gives them plenty of “room”, per the perspective of the photograph, to run on down the field (or frame). Centering the player is fine for vertically-framed shots. However, for horizontally-framed shots you don’t want the player (per this example) running smack into the right hand side of the frame, with nowhere to “go”.

Five – Lead and speed. If your subject is moving, practice leading them with your camera. Use the shutter’s “continuous”, “speed”, “burst”, or “sports” shooting function so that all you have to do is hold the shutter button down and the camera will take multiple, rapid shots. This is also a great method in order to capture a “story line”, or series of shots that shows, frame by frame, how the moment went down.

Photo credits (in order of appearance):
- “Base Path” by Stu Seeger on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “KG Boys Soccer” by KG Sand Soccer on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Fall Football at Iowa State” by Dirk Hansen on Flickr Creative Commons.

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