In photography, action and sports photography is among the most difficult discipline to master. However, once mastered, it can lead to some of the most fulfilling photo shoots you can experience.
Just think about it. What can be more exciting than going to a sports event, whether it’s the Olympics, the Fifa World Cup, Nascar races or the neighborhood soccer league where your son plays? There is definitely nothing like the noise of the crowd, the heat and the thrill that pervades throughout the event site. Capturing those intense but fleeting moments can give you some of the most stimulating feelings you can ever have.
There is often little time to think and even less to react when you want to take great action photos. You could blink and the moment that you’ve been waiting for in that entire event could be gone and there is nothing you can do to bring it back. You have to be alert and ready for that moment and capture its image when it comes.
For this, you will need to know what sports photographers do in order to not miss anything in their field of work, especially that defining moment that can change your world, and everyone else’s, too.
Here we will discuss:
- What sports photography is
- Sports photography tips that many professionals live by
By the end of this article, you will know how to shoot high-speed and sports photographs effectively.
What is Sports Photography?
According to Wikipedia, sports photography refers to the genre of photography that covers all types of sports. And in this genre, the passion and emotion in different fields, courts, tracks, arenas and every other sports setting is captured.
While most photos of sports show fast-paced action, it can also portray athletes who are not playing. Scenes before and after an event, as well as those taken outside the courts or arenas, are also considered as sports photography.
To be able to capture all these moments, sports photographers need to be on their toes at every second. With the right skill, attitude and equipment, the satisfaction and feeling from getting well timed, sometimes even monumental sporting photographs can be exhilarating.
How to Take Sports Photos Effectively?
Sports photography is usually, if not always fast paced, which is why you need to be ready at all times. Apart from having quick reflexes, the following tips from professional photographers will help you capture the best moments in any sport, no matter how fast the action may be.
- Shoot photos using a fast shutter speed
This is the single most important thing that you can do in action and sports photography, and probably one of the easiest to get right. Blurry shots aren’t great to look at and no amount of post-processing is going to make it right. So you need to find the proper shutter speed for the action that you will be shooting.
Start out by setting your camera to shutter priority mode and choosing a fast shutter speed, say around 1/500 of a second. This is a good setting and is frequently enough for most sports photography targets like baseball and football players. For faster targets like motorsports, you may need to go as fast as 1/1000 in order to get a good shot in. You should take a few test shots with some moving targets pre-event so you know what you will have. And, if at all possible, periodically check the quality of the photos you capture to make sure there are no blurs.
- Shoot fast action shots using the aperture mode
Imagine yourself going to an NBA game. You have courtside seats and you have your DSLR ready to capture your favorite players’ images in action. One of the most basic things to do is adjust your professional shooter’s aperture for the right circumstances. In this case, you will want to set the aperture to the minimum f-number that your camera lens has. This is because the lower the f-number, the faster the shot is taken. This is in conjunction with the camera’s shutter speed.
Again, before you go taking photos, you should do some test shots first. Make sure that every time you snap on the shutter, the resulting image is not blocky or blurred. If you are still shooting far slower than your subject is moving, increase the ISO in increments of 100 each time until the shooting speed is perfect for taking those intense sports action shots.
- Try using the burst mode
Typically, you will get a lot of moments in a sports event. Even within these moments, there are portions of it that could be worth capturing if you can. Like basketball players in the act of dunking on an opponent. There are so many components to the motion of both players and their surroundings in general that not a single photo can capture them all. This is where burst mode comes in.
Burst mode takes continuous shots in rapid succession, breaking down a second of action into several pictures. It allows you to capture each split second of action in one continuous rush. Capture every split-second of the moment when sprinters start the race or when the winner splits the ribbon and not miss any of the little details of that moment.
However, since you are taking far more shots than usual, your memory card is going to fill up much faster as well. Make sure that your storage device has a large capacity or you can bring a spare memory card along so you won’t have to delete shots. Store your spares conveniently and safely in the Spider Monkey Memory Card organize and have them on your belt for use any time.
There will be times when your memory card is about to run out and you have no more spares to replace it with. In these instances, you can use time-outs or half time or any breaks in the action to find and delete your bad shots.
It’s also recommended to shoot in JPEG mode when you’re planning to use burst mode a lot. RAW shots do have better quality and have a lot of options in post-production. But better quality often means a bigger file size so you’ll fit less RAW photos on your memory card than JPEG photos. Action and sports photography is all about speed and getting that burst mode is just about the only way to get you your killer shot. So lose the RAW mode in favor of JPEG for shooting faster and shooting more photos.
- Get your white balance down pat
Shooting outdoors is pretty straightforward, since your camera has an automatic white balance mode that will compensate for the lighting. However, if you’re a fan of indoor sports, like volleyball, hockey or basketball, you’re going up against artificial indoor lights. This will create some issues with your camera’s system, often leading to photos with a noticeable tinge or discoloration, usually a greenish yellow tint.
Don’t leave things to your camera when shooting indoor action photos. Set your white balance to Fluorescent or Incandescent lighting before the match begins. You can even customize the white balance, if you have time, of course, to make the resulting colors on the photos spot on. Then do some test shots to make sure that the pictures are perfect and then you’re ready to shoot.
- Turn your camera flash off
Unless you have special seats, you are never going to get very close to the action in any sports event. This is especially true for motorsports like Motocross, Formula 1 or Nascar. See this video for reference. You are going to be out there on the stands, with at least a few yards between you and the track. Your camera flash is never going to do much in situations like these, except to drain your battery faster. So before the event starts, turn it off. In any case, camera flashes are really annoying to any sportsman, and turning your flash off is going to be a great help for them to keep their concentration.
- Choose the right lens
As mentioned before, you are going to get stuck in the bleachers if you don’t have a special pass or seat. That means choosing the correct lens is crucial when trying to get your preferred shots. Like when you need to focus on a particular player or rider or car, you will need to have a telephoto zoom lens available. This allows you to take pictures of subjects from further away and get the focus of the photo on them. You do not have to force yourself to the front row to get a good shot.
If you want to take a photo of a bigger part of the action, like a scrimmage for the football with the referees waiting to blow their whistle, you need to bring a wide-angle lens. This lets you take photos with a wider angle and a bigger subject, allowing for more of the action to be conveyed to the viewers of the photos.
When you are taking some lenses with you on the shoot, always house them in SpiderPro Lens Pouches for quick draw access and lens exchanges without having to waste time rummaging your bag for that specific lens. The water resistant Lens pouch will keep the lens safe against the elements and can be folded easily for quick storage.
- Adjust your focus settings
It can be a pain to get a good focus on a moving subject, particularly if they move really fast like cars or motorcycles. In order to get a good photo, you need to set up your camera to be as accurate and responsive as possible. Otherwise you are going to be stuck with a lot of bad photos.
Focusing is one of the main issues in high-speed and sports photography. It is a hard skill to perfect. But you can start by switching your focus from multi-point to single point. This means that when you compose a shot, the camera will focus on a single point, usually the center of the view, rather than multiple points. This can leave the rest of the photo a tiny bit blurred but will have the center into sharp focus. The advantage is that this allows your camera to take faster shots and gives a target for it to focus on instead of having it guess for you.
Action and sports photography can be complicated, but once you get the basic rules down, you will soon be enjoying shooting a lot of sports photos. You might even sell some of them so, just in case, bring some business cards along when going to the local sports hub to photograph. You are enjoying what you want to do while getting some cash out of it. Win-win!
Just remember that being fast is one key factor in capturing sports scenes effectively. This is why having the right carrying systems, such as the SpiderPro Camera Systems v2, that offer convenience and accessibility, while providing comfort and protection should be a priority.
For the best way to carry and protect your cameras and accessories, get one of our professional carrying systems at Spider Holster. Lightweight, unobtrusive, ergonomic and easy to use, you can have access to your photography gear wherever you go and conveniently at your side. Check out our awesome catalogue of truly innovative products today.