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Five Keys to Getting Better Sports Photographs

by Paul Cook | February 19, 2013

Any photographer would agree that the intricacy of sports photography presents considerable challenges that require greater efforts to master. It isn’t fleeting action rather its capricious moments unfolding right before your eyes which you need to capture when you press the shutter.Go over these keys to help you nail down exceptional sports photographs.


pop warner photography Photo by Gary Curreri


Position For Great Shots

Incredible sports photographs result from positioning yourself at the perfect location from which you can easily capture the emotion and action of the moment. If you are capturing sporting events, you have to find a place for yourself in the crowd from where unobstructed views can be seen. Check out the location in advance and sample a few shots from different angles. Getting close to the action requires being on field level rather than on the stands.

Find out from the referee or stadium officials where you can stand during the game and choose a clean or interesting background to separate action. For instance, the best tennis shots can be clicked at either the center of the sides or at the server’s ends at a slightly elevated angle. If you are taking pictures of baseball, stand above ground level to lock down on the players against the background of the pitch.

Don't be afraid to move around. Scout out a few key spots and vantage points that you think might work throughout the event. Take into account the game and the surrounding environment because it all can make for a great photo depending on where you are standing, sitting, laying down.

sports photography3_Michel Euler Photo by AP Photographer Michel Euler


Choose Lenses That Suit Your Style

Deciding what lens to use for sports photography depends on which sports you plan to shoot and where. Aspects of the shot such as how close you can get to subjects and how tightly you want to crop, factor in while you select lenses for sports images. If you find yourself standing in a stadium with a huge crowd, be sure to be carrying a wide angle zoom lens with a focal length of 10 to 12 mm on a DSLR for wide dramatic shots. Opt for mid-range zoom lenses if you are wanting to get more than one athlete in the image. Some of the greatest sports photographs of all time were shot with a medium focal length lens that were beautifully composed and timed just right (see next tip).

If you carry a streak for some serious sports photography, a telephoto zoom lens with a long maximum focal length would be best. A 300 mm lens with f-2.8 aperture will allow you to capture action at high shutter speeds even if you are unable to get close to your subjects as they are on the other side of the field or you are high up in the stadium. These lenses can get quite heavy if you are lugging them around for a 3-4 hour game. Use a monopod to help with the weight of that lens.

Timing Is The Key

Capturing the essence of action during sports requires a press of the shutter release button at the right time. Watch out for peak action times such as during a serve in tennis, when a player challenges the opponent in basketball or when the fielder is diving for a ball in baseball or softball. The players’ expressions before the start of the game or when they just lose the game are also epic moments that can tell the story and passion that drives the sport.

Know the crucial moments in the sport and anticipate the action. With only 200 milliseconds for a visual perception to register in the consciousness and press the shutter, you have to be in the player’s shoes and predict the next move. Timing is critical for peak action photography.

soccer in the rain, dempsey, manchester united Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot

Sports photography involves precisely shooting that one particular moment in which it happens for just a fraction of a second. That means you really don’t have time to take your eyes off the field. One particular habit that you might develop is that of ’chimping’ checking the picture every time you click one. Unless you want to miss out the action and emotions on the field, you have to pay close attention to not miss a shot.

Take a moment to get your exposure just right and only readjust as the lighting changes during the course of the game. Focus on what you want to shoot and follow the subject until you find the right moment. It is better if your camera has a continuous shutter motor so that you can set it to burst/continuous mode to keep up with movements of the players.

Compose An Image With An Open Mind

Sports photography is not only about capturing the action in sports; there are remarkable expressions and emotions waiting to be clicked. A stadium full of cheering fans, lines at the ticket counter, the food at the ballpark, tailgating parties, a child's first time at a major league ball game, and other surrounding elements lay down amazing photographic opportunities. The frame of your picture should capture the spirit of the game and immerse the viewer with one look.

Rangers stadium, major league baseball stadium, baseball iphoneography Taken with an iPhone from the stands at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Photo by Eric Von Lehmden

Feel the fervor of the game while you click those exciting moments with your camera!

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Tips-n-Tricks #337

Keep a couple of spring clamps or ball bungee cords in your camera bag (the kind you can get from the hardware store). They are great holding reflectors or even flashes in place when you are shooting by yourself.

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