Sports Photography Tips and Basics
March 6, 2014
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Great athletes make their sports look easy, and great sports photographers often make taking great photos of those athletes look easy. But not everyone can pick up a camera at a game and know how to get the best shots. Sports photography is a specialized facet of the craft that requires different skills and techniques. If you're struggling with your sports photography or just starting out, here are some sports photography tips to get the ball rolling — so to speak.
Do Your Homework
Before you even begin to think about lenses, cameras and settings, you need to know the sport you're going to be shooting. To get the most out of sports photography, you need to understand the game well enough to be looking in the right place at the right time. If you've never seen a basketball game in your life — or if it's been a few years — spend a little quality time in front of the TV or YouTube to get a feel for the flow, the hot spots and the rules. In addition to watching the game play, take note of where the photographers at the game are standing or sitting, then spend a little time looking up photos from the game to see the results. The Associated Press is a great resource for viewing sports photography.
Go Long, Fast and Continuous
In most cases you won't be able to get too close to the action, so a longer focal length lens is preferable. A telephoto zoom lens will give you flexibility should the action come to you or begin to move away, like when shooting from the sidelines at a football game. A 70-200mm or 70-300mm is an excellent starting point.
Exposure and settings will obviously vary by time of day, weather and venue, but when it comes to sports photography, fast shutter speed is king. In order to freeze action, try to keep the shutter speed above 1/250 if possible — faster is almost always better. You can accomplish this by opening up your aperture fully, which has the added benefit of blurring the background due to shallow depth of field, and increasing ISO as needed.
Finally, set your camera's drive mode and autofocus to continuous. This will allow you to hold down the shutter release button to capture a series of images, all while the focus is adjusted continuously as the subject moves.
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
For the most part sports photography is really people photography, and people photography is more interesting when you can see faces and expressions. Obviously sometimes faces are somewhat hidden or obscured behind masks and visors, but the eyes should be visible to help tell the story. Unless the action or body language is extremely compelling, if a player has their back to you, hold off on that shot.
Another good rule of thumb when shooting sports is to capture the ball in the shot. Most of the action revolves around it, so photos with the ball visible in the shot tend to convey action and game play better than ones without.
Practice Makes Perfect
Taking all the basic sports photography tips you've learned, it's time to get out there and try them out. Much like the athletes you are photographing, in order to get the best results you must continue to practice and learn. After all, no one learns how to hit a baseball by reading a book about it!
Image credit: Flickr