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Top 13 Tips for Sports Photography
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Top 13 Tips for Sports Photography

Whether it’s your favorite football team or the kids’ sport on Saturday mornings, there’s nothing more exciting than sport. However, when it comes to photographing sports it’s not always as simple as it may seem.

So, just in time for the Olympics we’ve put together some of our top tips for taking great sports photos.

  1. Know your sport.

Each sport is different, and it is important to understand the fundamentals of the sport you are photographing. When you know where the action is likely to happen, you are much better placed to take a great shot. For example, in football with five tackles down don’t expect the player to run into another tackle, expect the player to pass the ball to someone who can kick.

  1. Understand the equipment.

Know the basics of your camera and be comfortable with how to use it. You need to have a reasonable understanding of shutter speed, aperture, lens choice and focus modes.

Once you are comfortable with your camera you can then pay attention to composition, backgrounds and lighting – and the shots will come naturally.

  1. Take the right lens for the right game.

Sigma lens While the speed and quality of the camera body are important, it’s the lens that really takes the image.

Different sports will have different needs in regards to lens choice.

For instance, basketball is generally shot from the baseline or sideline. You can usually get good results with a short zoom lens (18-100mm). However, by the time the players are at mid or far end of the court you will need a medium telephoto lens (70-300). Yet for shooting a soccer game, a 300-600mm lens is needed to take any one of the shots.

  1. Depending on your movement, choose between a monopod or tripod.monopod

Monopods and tripods are both useful tools for the sports photographer. While the tripod is great if you are going to be in a fixed location for a long time, it can become slow and heavy if you spend the day moving around. This is where the monopod comes in. A monopod will steady the camera and also take the weight of heavy lenses, something you will really appreciate after 4 or 5 hours of shooting!

  1. Pack wisely.

Your camera bag needs to be comfortable and able to hold all your equipment, plus spare batteries and memory cards. It’s also a good idea to get a bag that’s weatherproof, so if the weather turns nasty while you’re out on the track you won’t end up carrying a load of waterlogged equipment back home. Belt-packs that are able to carry a range of bigger lenses can also be a good idea.

  1. Have enough batteries and memory to last for the day.

It should go without saying that spare (fully charged) batteries and memory are essential for the sports photographer. You know you are going to take lots of images so be ready for it! Batteries and memory are relatively inexpensive so make sure you have got plenty of both.

  1. Optimize your exposure.

So, what is the best exposure, metering and focus mode to use for sports photography?

Like most photography there is no simple answer. Many pro shooters will expose manually and change their metering and focus modes throughout the day dependent on lighting conditions and their position on the field or track. However, they have had many years of practice, and their ability to change and adapt to suit the situation is what separates them from other photographers.

Generally, a good starting point is to shoot in shutter priority mode, matrix metering and multi point focusing. This will allow the camera to do most of the work and free you up to concentrate on your technique and composition.

  1. Start taking shots rather than setting up for the perfect photo.

Don’t try to be too ‘creative’ when you start out. If you start with a preconceived idea of the perfect shot, you may well end up missing the truly great shots while waiting for your ‘perfect’ shot that never happens.

  1. Depth of field – isolating the subject.depth of field

When we take images we want the subject to stand out, and to be the centre of attention. However they are often lost within the messy and distracting backgrounds of crowds and stands.

Most dramatic sports photos are shot with the lens closed 1 or 2 stops from wide open. This will help with reducing background ‘noise’. The fences, signs, poles, stands, and people on the far sideline that can ruin an otherwise good photo.

Also, try to position yourself where the background is the most pleasing with the least distractions.

  1. Shutter speed to stop or freeze action.

The camera’s shutter controls movement within the image. If you want to stop or freeze action then you are going to have to use fast shutter speeds. But how fast do you need? Unfortunately there’s no hard and fast rule for that, it will depend on how fast the subject in your image is moving. For football and netball you will generally get by with speeds from 1/200 through to 1/1000, however shooting something like motorsports can require a minimum of1/750 if you want to freeze all movement.

  1. Panning is the main technique to know.

Learning how to pan correctly is just as important as knowing what lens to use and what exposure is to use.

The theory of panning is quite simple; all you do is follow the action with your camera, shooting as you go. In reality panning is a learnt skill. It takes lots of practice to know what shutter speed will give you the result you are after.

Whilst panning, shutter speed is the most important thing to consider. This will determine how the image will be recorded. Do you want lots of motion within the image or do you want to totally freeze the action? The aperture you choose is secondary, as you need enough depth and the correct exposure. But ultimately, it’s the choice of shutter speed that controls the visual appearance of the image.

  1. Be decisive in your timing.

With sports and action photography, it’s all about timing. You have to anticipate what is going to happen and be able to react.

It takes a small fraction of a second to register when something happens, another fraction of a second to think of what you need to do, then another fraction of a second to hit the shutter release on the camera and finally, another fraction of a second for the camera to actually take the image. All this adds up to the fact that if you wait to take the image at the decisive moment you will probably miss it because of all of those fractions of seconds.

In reality, you need to press the shutter just before the moment to make sure you get the shot, and yes, this takes practice.

  1. Location, Location, Location!

You can only photograph what you can see. The closer you are to the action the easier it will be to get great images. Again, knowing your sport will help you determine where the best place to stand may be. So don’t just see an image and take it from where you stand – look at the light, the background and move around and see how it looks from different angles. A small change of viewpoint will only take you an extra minute and can dramatically improve your photography.

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