Sports Photography

Even if it’s not your chosen specialty, sports photography is something every photographer faces at one point or another (and another and another…). We photograph our kids’ soccer games for posterity, professional sporting events for the interest, and other fast-moving subjects because they’re right in front of us and we have a camera in our hands. Many of us even shoot children’s and amateur sporting events as an opportunity to sell our photos to proud parents. Whether it’s kids or professional athletes running down the field, knowing how to photograph fast-moving subjects is key to getting great action photos that can be shared and enjoyed. Below are ten useful tips for photographing sports that are sure to increase the quality of your action photos.

1. Do your homework.

Just like wedding photographers periodically prepare by looking over other wedding photos, look at other photos taken of your sport to get an idea of the kinds of shots you might like to get. Having some kind of plan in advance will help you to decide other factors, such as where you’re going to stand and what kind of action you’re going to anticipate.

2. Choose the right lens with which to shoot.

The more of the frame your subject takes up (without having to crop), the better, so a telephoto lens with a focal range of 300-400mm is most ideal for sports photography. If this is out of your current budget, go with a 70-200mm. You should also use an f-stop of f/2.8 or f/4, and avoid f/5.6. Generally, the bigger and heavier the lens, the better the captured images.

3. Decide where to stand.

This is a strategic decision that can really elevate your photographs. Don’t stand somewhere where there is likely to be very few moments of exciting action, such as midfield along a soccer pitch, or behind the starting gate at a horse race. Know the types of shots you want, then stand in the spot where you’re most likely to catch them: near a corner of a soccer pitch or swimming pool, just in front of the starting gate, behind the goal of a polo field, you get the idea.

4. Be aware of backgrounds.

Sport Photography Youth Soccer(Main Image)

You don’t always have to — in fact, you shouldn’t always — include background in your sports photography, but sometimes it’s inevitable. The cleaner the background, the more powerful the image. Therefore, use the background to complement your shot, not distract. For example, including the bleachers with its sea of fans can really add a sense of excitement to your photos of the high school championship football game, but blur it out so that all the viewer sees is a full crowd of school colors, and not individual faces.

5. Raise your ISO.

The pros shoot with shutter speeds of around 1/1000 of a second in order to stop motion and capture a great shot. A raised ISO means your camera allows in more light for cleaner, sharper images. Try raising your ISO to 1600, which is a good happy medium level, and adjust if you feel you need to.

6. Don’t use flash when shooting outdoor sports.

This will wash out your photos and decrease sharpness. Instead, simply raise your ISO to allow more light into the image sensor and this should compensate.

7. Don’t be afraid of blur

Sports Photography Skiing

Having said all that, don’t be afraid of blur. Whether the blur is manipulated and purposeful or purely a side effect, some blur is a great way to make your photos action-packed and exciting. For example, if you’re shooting auto racing, you might to include blur and a sense of motion so that the cars don’t look as if they’re parked on the track.

8. Shoot in continuous mode.

Blur Image Photography

Set to burst/continuous mode. This will allow you to take multiple shots per second so that you don’t miss a moment.

9. Stop looking at your photos.

Definitely make sure your settings are producing the quality of results you want, but resist the urge to check your frames every few minutes. First of all, doing so can be dangerous. In sports like football and polo, the action crosses over the sidelines constantly, and I’ve seen photographers nearly trampled in both instances. Secondly, you might take your eyes off the action and miss a great shot!

10. Include your subject’s eyes.

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, because there are plenty of great sports photos of details (either anatomical or equipment) or the back of a jersey, but including the subject’s eyes will almost always mean you’ve also included a sense of focus and interest, and is a good way to ensure composition.

Hope you find these tips useful. Share your sports photos in the comments below.

Kelsey Fox

Kelsey Fox

Kelsey Fox is a freelance writer and photographer from Louisville, Kentucky. She specializes in wildlife photography, and travels each summer to Southern Africa in search of the perfect photo.
Kelsey Fox

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  • Emile Bellott

    Great tips. I’ll add another one : #10 If you are not limited ( by recycle time on a flash, for example ) take multiple shots in quick succession. If the time gap is very small, people haven’t changed posture, but smiles come and go. You can splice the best parts of two shots in quick succession.

    #11 Take another one about 1/4 to 1/2 sec after the “official” shot. It’s often better because people relax their stiffness and grimace. Smiles may be better. I’ll often do “3…3…1…” click … click

    Apropos of #7 above, I often ham it up with the Austin Powers line: “Work with me…Work with m..”

  • beptep

    Emile, awesome tips, thanks for sharing!