Sports games are full to the brim with huge photographic opportunities, and with so many people in 2021 being as invested in sports as they are, it’s a great way to get your name out in the world of professional photography.
On paper, sports photography is a great way to get loads of great action-packed shots. What you might begin to realise during a shoot, however, is that getting a good clear shot can be difficult if you’re not familiar with the right techniques. Fret not, because in this guide, we’ll show you that sports photography doesn’t have to be as hard as you might first think. With these easy tips, you’ll be able to catch those winning shots of your favourite athletes in no time.
Equipment for sports photography and shutter speed
Fact: most sports are fast-paced and chock-full of action.
Any photographer will tell you just how hard it is to focus on multiple things flying around at the speed of sound. When starting out, you might be frustrated at how difficult it is to catch a clear shot of a player in action. There are all sorts of reasons as to why this might be; maybe the action is too far away to catch or maybe the action makes the shot blurry. Luckily, choosing the right equipment can remedy this issue, and here’s what you need.
If you’re interested in catching the best quality sports photographs, consider investing in a long lens or zoom lens so you can catch all the action no matter where you’re standing. A focal length of at least 200mm should suffice. An SLR is also essential, as this will allow you to see exactly what you’ll pick up in the camera before you even take the shot. How necessary this is really depends on the type of sport you’re shooting. If you’re shooting a golf game, chances are you can get a clear image of the golfer quite easily and quite close, but if you’re shooting a football match where players are constantly running from one end of the pitch to the other, a good zoom lens ensures that you’ll be able to catch a high-quality image of the action no matter where on the field it’s taking place.
A good bag or case to carry your equipment around in can also be useful. If you get in the habit of moving along the outskirts of the playing field, it’s good to have all your different lenses and flashcards on you at all times so you don’t risk having to leave the action to modify your equipment.
Once you’ve sorted out the equipment you’re going to be using, you need to set it up properly for sports. When shooting any fast-paced sports action, always opt for a high shutter speed. A shutter speed above 1/250s means that your camera will shoot fast enough to grab the athletes as they move fast.
However, when working with a fast shutter speed, less light will be taken in the shot-making any sporting events later at night or inside a poorly lit stadium dark. Using an appropriate ISO will help out with this. Experiment with different settings to find out what the best match is for your shutter speed/ISO match. When it’s a bit darker, you might need to play with up to the 1200 mark, but watch the resulting noise; you may have to compromise. Again – the key is to experiment.
Other things you might want to consider with equipment are lens types. Usually, your standard portrait lens or a wider lens should be good enough, but if you’re interested in some more interesting or abstract shots, play around with other types of lenses too. The fisheye lens, for example, is great at catching a whole pitch in one shot. If you’re interested in learning more about how to take great fisheye photography, then read about Best fisheye photography techniques.
How to capture the best action shots
Once you’ve got all of your equipment sorted out and you’re ready to start snapping away, you might find yourself struggling to get the best shots to begin with. With sports being filled with as much action as it is, you might think getting some great shots will be easy at first. As long as you know what you’re looking out for and how to capture the action in your shot, this isn’t far from the truth.
The first and most obvious course of action is to learn what type of sport you’ll be photographing. Chances are, if you’re getting into sports photography, you’ll already be interested in sports and you’ll be taking photos of a sport you’re already interested in. In any case, where this isn’t true, a quick Google and watching a few videos will be a great start. To get the best shots, you need to know what kinds of moves players will be making so you can prepare the shot in advance. You need to know which end of the pitch, if there is one, you need to be standing at.
Another great tip is to shoot from different angles. A great angle that creates a dramatic shot is a low one. Imagine you’re photographing a footballer right as he’s kicking the ball – his foot is in the air, the ball is slightly ahead of him and dirt is caught in the shot as it flies from the studs in his boots. Dramatic. A low angle also gives the photo a lot of depth and can catch good background details such as the crowd.
When trying to photograph great action including an athlete, capturing the front of them is key. In about 90% of cases, the action is happening in front of the star. Action doesn’t just mean how fast the athlete is running or where a ball goes, action is presented in the face of the person you’re photographing. If a moment is tense, their expression will often tell that story. If the athlete is celebrating, they’re likely cheering and smiling and throwing their hands to the air. Every detail counts and a lot can be missed I you’re taking a photo of the back of someone.
Finally, take many photos. Burst mode is a saviour for action-packed moments where so much is going on. Taking a lot of pictures in burst mode allows you to capture several integral moments to the game, and can also capture a lot of detail you might instead have missed. Picture someone swimming freestyle, their arm in the air as water droplets hang frozen in time. Details like that are difficult, impossible even, to time without burst mode. Burst mode also means you can choose the best shot of a single moment from a whole set of photos, increasing your chance to get that winning shot. Set this mode, also sometimes known as “frames per second” to maximum to ensure the most possible pictures.
Sports photography can be a challenging endeavour to start off with, but there’s no better way to get the blood pumping than watching your favourite team win and saving that moment forever. Following these sports photography techniques and tips for beginners will help you turn iconic moments into something you can remember.
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