Five tips for better sports photography

Five tips for better sports photography

Sports photography can be a fun and challenging genre to get into. Whether you’re a hobbyist looking to capture your kids’ weekend soccer games, or a professional looking to diversify their portfolio, here are five tips to get you started with sports photography.

1. Enter your camera settings

It took a fast shutter speed to capture the action of this downhill mountain biker.

This is the most obvious starting point for sports photography. Depending on the sport, you need to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action. Spend some time experimenting with shutter speeds and reviewing your photos to make sure you don’t have any blurry subjects. You may need to open your aperture and increase your ISO to get a faster shutter speed, especially if you’re indoors. A little bit of grain is better than blurry images.

Using continuous autofocus is also essential. I prefer to use the back button focus so I can track my moving subject and still keep it in focus. High-speed burst mode can also be a great feature for capturing that perfectly timed image.

2. Know your sport

shoot low
After observing the game, I knew that the player in this position would try to hit the ball. I got low and waited for the perfect moment to capture it.

If you want to successfully shoot a sport, it is crucial that you are familiar with the sport in terms of rules and gameplay/action. This allows you to anticipate the critical moments before they happen, so you can capture important moments.

I was once hired to report on a hockey tournament without knowing anything about the sport. Before the event, I took the time to learn as much as I could about the sport. I read the rules, watched a video of gameplay, and looked at photos other photographers had taken. This helped me go into the tournament with confidence and understand what would happen on the field.

skier in the air
On his first attempt at this jump, this skier didn’t quite get the grip. With his feedback, we tried again and got a picture he was happy with.

If you’re shooting an individual sport, such as skiing, ask for feedback from the athlete. An image that you think is great can throw off for them if their shape isn’t right. There are many intricacies of any sport that the athletes will immediately notice in any given image. If you are not an expert in their sport, ask for their opinion and feedback.

3. Respect your environment

field hockey
Although I would have liked to get closer to the action for this shootout, the referee instructed me to stay farther back. So I used a longer lens to capture the action while respecting the officer’s request.

This may seem obvious, but it’s a very important concept to remember when shooting sports. The players, coaches and officials must be respected and always come first.

I like to introduce myself to match officials when I’m there to shoot in an official capacity. I make sure I know exactly where I am allowed to be and which areas are off limits.

If you’re shooting a sport with umpires, it’s your job to stay away from them. Often they run backwards and are busy watching the game, so you should stay away from them.

If someone asks you to move, do so immediately and don’t argue with officials or coaches. The same concept applies when shooting in outdoor locations such as mountain bike trails or ski hills. Be aware of your surroundings and respect the environment you are in.

4. Look for clean wallpapers

clean background
By timing this shot when the skier was between the two groups of trees, I was able to frame her nicely against a clean background.

When you arrive at a location, it is wonderful to walk around and get to know your surroundings. When I do this, I’m always looking for places to shoot that give me a clean background for my subjects. Obviously, not every shot will have a perfect background. But being aware of the direction you’re shooting and what’s in the background is essential.

Maybe there’s a parking lot full of cars on one side of the field. Or a bunch of spectators along the edge of a gym. Perhaps by climbing into the stands you can get a better view of the action. You may need to get low and close to the players. The bottom line is that you need to be aware of what’s going on in the background of your images.

5. Tell a story with your images

narrative image
Storytelling images are important to capture along with your action shots.

When photographing sports, you naturally want to capture a lot of exciting action shots. But it’s also important to tell the story of the game, event, race, etc. you’re reporting on.

Look for emotion on the faces of players, coaches and fans. Take detailed photos of the equipment and wide-angle shots of the location. Cover up the pre-game warm-up, or the athlete preparing to perform. If you’re photographing a person, try to take a portrait of them as well. Photograph spectators, coaches, officials and volunteers. Your resulting set of images will be much stronger if they tell the whole story of the day.

So, the next time you head out to shoot some sports photos, keep these tips in mind. Regardless of the sport you’re shooting, these five tips apply and help you get better shots.