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Basic Sports Photography Tips

Updated on February 3, 2013

The Sports Photographer is one of the quickest to draw, because speed coupled with accuracy is very important to get ‘the shot’. You’ve got think on your feet, and in certain cases you’ve got to use your feet to either get to the action or get away from it! The fundamentals of photography applies to Sports and Action just as with anything else. but there are particular key points to hold on to when capturing sporting scenes.

Know your Equipment

You shouldn’t have to look at which button you’re pressing on your camera, or which way you should turn the focusing ring on your lens. These actions should be second nature and seared into ‘muscle memory’. There are many cases in which you just don’t have the time to look on your gear. Instead your eye should be fastened on your viewfinder as you simultaneously press buttons, change settings and focus to grab shots. Yes, you’ll have to chimp from time to time, but you shouldn’t waste valuable shooting time looking at every shot that you make. Practice using your equipment, read the manual, and know them inside out.

Know the Game

You’ve got to understand the rules, and how players/athletes generally move. With this understanding you may be able to anticipate plays and moves so that you can frame and press the shutter release at the right moment. You can go even further than this, and somewhat imagine yourself in the players’ boots and make an educated guess about the next action. Some sports are easier to anticipate than others. Boxing tends to be hugely challenging to get particular shots for e.g of a landed punch in the jaw, but you’ll get it with a heightened intuitive anticipation which comes mainly from practice.

Follow the Stars

There’s a reason that they are called the Stars, and great athletes make great photographs. Zone in on these players and you will have shots that publications and the general public will crave to see. Stars tend to do things that others can’t, and those shots are what you should capture.

Be Aware Beyond the Game

Things may happen around you that may not necessarily have anything to do with the actual game, but just by virtue of the incident happening in the environment of the game means that it’s important to capture. It could be a fight, a dramatic vendor, a ecstatic fan or myriad of other things. Keep your eyes open -- and yes, this means keeping your non-viewfinder eye open too so that you can be more aware of what’s happening around you.

Look Out for Emotion

When a home run is made, or an own goal scored or some other kind of dramatic incident happens, you can bet you’ll find expressions of emotion. Some athletes are particularly emotional, and it’s good to focus on them in the moment.

Pick your Position

Photographers may ‘fight’ for certain spots, because there are good positions. Then again there are good positions for taking photographs and there are great positions. It may be better to head out early and pick your own great position for taking photos. Other than that, if you’re shooting at a sport that requires you to move around some more, then be aware and set yourself in a location where you can capture the action of the moment. Sometimes the element of danger lingers, but the best shots are at times taken in uncomfortable positions.

There are many other techniques, tips and pointers to take note of when taking action shots. Many of them are related to all sorts of photography genres. But as a sports photographer, you’re a type of photojournalist. There’s no fancy posing and time to setup for the shot. You’ve got to be armed and ready to shoot on a moment by moment basis. Keep it simple and carry the equipment you must use. But probably the biggest tip as stated earlier is to know your equipment and know your game.

The 70-200mm (f/2.8 or f/4) lens is spoken by many pro. photographers as a 'must-have' lens for Sports. Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) is good to have, but not absolutely necessary. A good weather sealed professional grade lens is awesome.


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