Tips on Becoming a Great Sports Photographer
We have all at one time or another been captivated by sports images. It may be Kirk Gibson’s World Series Home run, and the image of him running the bases, overcoming the pain he was in or an image of high flying Michael Jordan slam dunking a basketball with his tongue out. We have all been captured in the moment of human drama. We all like a good action photo and, in particular, if your kids play sports, you want to remember them in their toils.
Quality sports shots are somewhat difficult to come by. Most people have limited access to events to photograph them. The further away you are from the event, the harder it becomes to capture the event in a pleasing manner. Sports are an event where crowd control is important, not only for the crowd’s safety, but for the players also. There is nothing more frightening than to be on the sidelines of a football game, focused on a play in the field, when out of the blue a 250 pound line backer drives a player into your legs or a foul ball comes crashing at your $8,000 lens!
World renown sports photographer Rob Miracle shares his knowledge on the subject
Location, Location, Location!
You can only photograph things you can see. The closer you are to someone, the better you can see them. Sports are no different. You have to get as close to what you are shooting as you can. Typically, for a photographer with a press pass, you can get to the sidelines or other similar locations. You generally will not be permitted on the playing field. Depending on the sport, you most likely will be limited to designated locations. For instance, at most Division I football games, the media cannot shoot between the two 35 yard markers. For most people, the situation is even worse. You probably don’t have press access and are stuck in the stands for your shots. Get as close a possible. Even if you make it to the sidelines, you will be jostling for space with many other photographers, both still and video who have worked hard to get there and have the same job to do that you have.
You also have to be familiar with the sport to be able to capture the moment. This means knowing where to position yourself for the best action. This is critical because of angular momentum that will be discussed in the section on freezing action. Not only does it matter with the subject, but the background. Look at what is going to be behind your subject. While we will try to minimize the impact that a background has, it will still be unavoidable. So you need to position your self where the background is the most pleasing.
The Decisive Moment
Sports and Action photography is all about timing. Its about reacting. Its about being in the right place at the right time and its about execute. These are all qualities of the athlete and those of the photographer as well. Each sport has predictable and unpredictable moments. Under “Knowing your Sport”, you will learn about these moments for individual sports. For instance, in basketball, you will have opportunities to photograph layups, jump shots, free throws, etc. Understanding the timing of these predictable actions allows you to capture the peak moment, when the action is most dramatic.
By knowing these moments you can anticipate the action. This helps in two ways, one it helps you with focus which will be discussed in a later segment, and secondly it helps you snap the shutter at the right time. The saying goes “If you see the action you missed it.” This basically means if you wait for the soccer player to head the ball then press the shutter release, the ball most likely will be sailing out of the frame. You have to push the button before the action so that the mirror has time to flip out of the way and the shutter open and close. There is a delay between the image hitting your optical nerve and the shutter closing. You have to, through experience, learn what that time is and adjust for it.
Most sports are shot on 35mm cameras because of their portability. While some photographers have captured great sports moments with other format cameras, we will concentrate our efforts on the 35mm arena which is the most commonly used gear.
“Its not the equipment but the photographer who makes the picture” is generally a true statement. However with sports and action photography, having the wrong equipment means not getting the shots you want or need. This relates back to the section on location. The further away, the longer the lens is needed to capture the same image in the frame. Different sports require different lens lengths. For instance, basketball is generally shot from the baseline or sideline near the baseline. You generally can get good results with an 85mm lens in this situation. However, by the time the players are at mid court, you need a 135mm to capture them. If they are playing under the far goal, a 200-300mm lens is needed to fill the frame well, yet for shooting a soccer game, a 300-400mm lens is needed for just about anything useful.
Lens speed is also a critical factor. The faster the lens, the faster the shutter speed you can use, which as the lens grows longer, this becomes even more important. This will be covered in the freezing action section in more depth. If you look at the sidelines of any Division 1 college football game or an NFL football game, you will see people with really big lenses. These range from 300mm to 600mm or longer and even then, they may have a 1.4X converter or 2X converter on. You need fast shutter speeds to freeze action with long lenses. Every F Stop you give up requires a faster film or less freezing potential.
Most consumer grade long lenses and zooms have variable apertures, but most are F5.6 at the long end of the lens. F5.6 is good for outdoor day time shots, but becomes very inhibiting for night games and indoor action. Most people use lenses that are F2.8 or faster. These lenses are very expensive. A 400mm F2.8 sells for over $8000 US. They are also very heavy and bulky. Using a monopod is a life saver with these big lenses.
To be continued….
Posted by Monroe Ohio photographer Vincent Rush, Cincinnati Sports Photography and Dayton Sports Photography of Monroe Ohio. Vince Rush can be contacted by phone at (877) 858-6295 or by email at email@example.com or visit http://CincinnatiSportsPhotography.com Check out my about.me profile!