How To Photograph Sports
Sports photography has the potential to be incredibly hard if you do not have the right equipment and reflexes. However, there is nothing more rewarding than capturing that one perfect picture.
The problem that most people run into with sports photography is catching the action. As a sports photographer you need to be able to sense what is going to happen and where, so you can point your camera in that direction and have it ready to take the picture.
This is why only the best sports photographers in the world are allowed on ground level during professional events.
The biggest cost you will incur in sports photography is related to your lenses. The second biggest cost is your camera. Below are recommended minimums to be successful as a sports photographer.
- Only the best will provide the best results in this area of photography, and only the best means the latest and greatest in each category.
- Prior to the Canon 1D Mark IV, Nikon held the market on sports photography with the D3X ($8795.00 used on amazon.com). Canon’s 1D Mark IV ($4999.00 on bhphotovideo.com *out of stock) brought Canon into the sports industry and has gained a lot of credibility since its release.
- Either way you look at it, the best cameras for the job are going to cost you a lot of money.
- Once again, only the best will get the job done in this category as well. A Canon 400mm f2/8 will cost you $11,500.00 on bhphotovideo.com and is temporarily not available for purchase.
- Lenses like the one I just mentioned are very big, very heavy, and very fast at focusing. If you are shooting children’s sports, you can use a smaller, slower version like the Canon 400mm f/5.6 which only costs $1,300.00 on bhphotovideo.com.
- Nikon lenses are comparable in pricing, quality, and size.
- A tripod is not practical for shooting sports, as you need to be able to get out of the way in a hurry.
- I recommend using a Gitzo GM5541 Carbon Fiber monopod ($346.97 on bhphotovideo.com) as it supports the weight of the heavy lenses and is still light enough to carry.
- Memory cards need to be big and fast. The camera is only slowed down by the speed of which the information is transferred to the memory card.
- A high-end card like the Delkin 326b CombatFlash 685 will give you the speed to keep the pictures going but will drain your wallet of $300.00 per card on bhphotovideo.com
- When photographing sports, you do not have the time to dig into a bag, nor are you given the space to store one. A good answer to this is the photography vest. There are hundreds of vests, but whatever you purchase you will want it to be easy to get to items, waterproof, and areas where your body can get some air. Some are even equipped with a pouch to carry a CamelBack water pouch so you can keep hydrated.
It is important to understand that the equipment I have suggested is for pro-level photography.
You can photograph your 8-year-old son playing soccer with semi-professional equipment but you will only get semi-professional results. Along with that, you will miss important shots while your lens and camera try to focus.
Now let us look at some of the techniques for sharpening your skills.
Be ready at all Times:
- Regardless of what sport you are photographing, you have to know that anything can happen at any moment.
- You will want to practice with panning while focusing. Learn your gears limitations and know that you may not be able to cover everything without moving.
- When you do switch places, keep your eyes on the action at all times, and have your camera ready.
Depth of field:
- If you are photographing a person, your depth of field will make, or break, the image.
- Most of the depth of field is subjective, but determine if you want a lot of people in detail, or if you just want you’re subject to be sharp. Both options have their pluses and minuses.
Study the sport:
- Having a deep knowledge of the sport will help you in noticing when things are going to get interesting. For example, in most motorsports, as the laps wind down, the drivers become more aggressive, and there is a higher chance of something happening.
- In an American Football game, the losing team will try to push for the win if they are close enough in points to make it. You can be prepared for a big play to happen and can expect the action to move faster.
Do not Sacrifice Memory:
- Having a camera that can shoot 10 frames per second is cool. However, shooting bursts of pictures will eat up your memory before you know it. While you are working on your timing, shooting a small burst will get you closer to knowing when you need to take your photo.
- Big events, like the winning goal in a soccer game, are times for full bursts, but other than that, you should only take a couple pictures at a time and only when you want those pictures.
- You will hate yourself when you get home if you have to go through 80 GB of images and you delete over ¾ of them. If you are working for an editor, they will hate you if you give them a card with five or more of the same image on it.
- If things are starting out slow, take a few pictures just to keep your pace going, but wait out the big moments and the stellar shots.
- Deadline editors (i.e. Associated Press and Getty Images) require photos from their photographers every 30 minutes (give or take), so they can edit them and place them online for those who cannot be at the event.
- This requires you to actively capture images, but it is still the big moments that get awards, and consequently, keep you in a paying job.
Freeze time or let it go? :
- The correct answer is both. To freeze time you will need to have a faster shutter speed and will require a higher ISO and shallow depth of field.
- To capture the motion, you will still want to stop your primary subject while blurring the background. This typically only works when you are panning along with your subject.
- Your shutter speed should be about one stop slower than if you were to freeze motion. Continue to follow your subject after taking the picture so you do not blur your subject on accident.
The tools come slowly unless you are incredibly rich, but the skills you can develop with everyday situations. You can practice panning with cars that pass by on the street and you can play with depth of field in the same way.