Advice and help on becoming a world class photographer by Sports Photographer Vince Rush

Sports Photography Tip, Know your Sport…Know your Players! Part 2

Sunset Warrior Sports Photography

Karate Black Belt and Olympic hopeful Amanda Joiner photographed in Monroe, Ohio by Sports Photographer Vincent Rush


Part 2……..

Volleyball is a rarely covered event, with beach volleyball getting more press than the traditional gym based variety. Volleyball can yield some rich, colorful and dramatic shots given the need and desire to take them. Your access in volleyball venues will vary drastically. For instance, during a high school game, you may be permitted to shoot along the sidelines, or not far behind the end lines. As the level of competition goes up, you will be moved further and further back. In beach volley ball, you probably will not be permitted in the sand pit at all. So pack a long lens and some sun block (for the beach game).

Volleyball shots are tricky to use auto focus on. If you are shooting from behind the lines towards the net, the AF could trigger on the net, the back of the opposing players, the back wall, or just about any point in between. It is best to use a vertical sensor for this sport since people are going up and down and there is little side to side movement. For manual focus, you want to zone focus. From behind the end line, most all action at the net will be at the same distance from you, so focus on an area just a little behind the net and leave it there.

For shots along the side lines, it is best to shoot at an angle to capture the faces. These are the best times to capture digs and diving players as you should have a fairly un-obscured view of all the players. Traditionally, volleyball follows the “Bump Set Spike” ritual. Learn who the diggers, setter, and hitters are. Then take your time working on a shot of the individual skill you want to capture. Your setter will be easy to track and get shots of. Digging is a bit tricky since it can come from any were on a given half of the court, be a low or high dig, involve a dive or other less than predictable motion. Hitters/blockers are fairly easy to capture since that area of play is somewhat limited.

Your safeties are the player serving and the setters since they are fairly easy to capture. Next work on your hitters/blockers followed by digs.

Golf is a fairly easy game to shoot as far as action goes, but it is one of the toughest because of the nature of the game. That is you can get good action shots if you can get there at all. Consider the following. Golf is a long distance, one direction game. It is played over a course of thousands of yards in a some what straight path and it is played from hole to hole. Secondly, it is a quiet game where the slightest distraction is not allowed. Finally, for your safety, your access to swing areas is limited.

The first problem is addressed by one of two methods. First, you can camp at one location, such as a tee box or a green on one hole and shoot multiple people as they pass you. Or alternatively, you can with the permission of the course, use a cart and follow individual golfers. Cart paths are narrow and heading against the grain is difficult. Ideally, you will learn the course and find a spot where you can shoot both green play and a tee box with minimal movement.

Even at 400mm, you may not get close enough for good tight shots. Longer lenses are almost a must for capturing competitive golf. If you are shooting recreational golf, say your beer buddies, you can get closer and a lens in the 200mm range will suffice. Any focus method will work since the players are basically standing still. Golf, in particular at the pro level is very sound sensitive. Turn off the AF (you don’t need it any way) and go to a slient manual focus. If you have silent AF lenses, such as the Canon USM or the Nikon AF-S lenses, then you can AF. Some events may require you to use a sound blimp around the camera if your shutter/motor are distracting to the golfers.

There are a few main golf shots, in most all cases, they are individual shots. The primary action golf shots include a shot during the back-swing, a shot near impact of the ball, a shot after the follow-through with the golfer looking for the ball or any time during a putt (but be quiet). However, there are a lot of opportunities for safeties in golf. Any shot of a golfer studying the course, be it looking at the scorecard, messing with the golf bag, talking to the caddie, or lining up a putt are easy shots to get. These are times where the firing of the shutter will be more tolerated. Also, shots after the follow-through are considered safe shots. The action is paused and you know its going to happen so getting them is somewhat easier.

Don’t forget that a lot of good golf shots, and other sports for that matter do not involve play at all. One of my personal favorite golf shots was of a greens keeper changing the pins.

Track and Field
Track and Field meets are a lot of fun to shoot. You get a lot of variety of shots, multiple opportunities to shoot most participants and events and there generally is a lot of emotion displayed during a track meet. The most difficult things about track meets are logistical.

Access can be restricted depending on the level of play that is being photographed. At a high school meet, there is little in the way of restrictions. Just stay out of the participants way, or out of the way of projectiles like shot puts and discus and you are okay. As you climb the ladder, access gets tighter and tighter. Even at NCAA Division I level meets, the access is still pretty good. Pro level, Olympic, or Major Events will be more tightly controlled due to the size of the event and the amount of media present. Access will be restricted to particular shooting areas.

Logistically, track meets are hard to cover because multiple events are going on at once. If media movement is controlled, you may only get to shoot one or two events. But at a more relaxed meet, you will have more freedom to scoot from event to event. Because of time, multiple heats/attempts and so on, the track will generally be filled with races while the inside of the track contains the field events.

There are no specific safety shots in a track meet, but the individual events are fairly easy since almost all movement is predictable. Track events all move one direction. Shooting the finish, or turns provides the most dramatic events. For the hurdles, it is pretty easy to time the players as they peak over the hurdles. Relays, with the baton passing is probably the hardest part to capture because the runner taking the baton may obscure the runner handing it off. Use follow focus to catch runners and they move past, or zone focus if you are working on the finish line.

Field events, like wise are very predictable. Events like the high jump, long jump, and pole vault involve participants running towards an object, and then jumping over it. This is a zone focus heaven. Use a little depth of field (F5.6 or so) and focus on the bar for the high jump and pole vault and fire as they start up and over. You should catch them at the peak as they hurdle over the event. If you didn’t get that run, don’t worry, each player generally takes two or three shots and there are multiple players.

The Long jump, and its cousin, the triple-jump are pretty easy. They are also zone focus events. If you are at the end of the pit, focus just a few feet into the pit and fire when they hit the board and begin their jump. After a few jumps, you should have a feel for when they peak at their jump and will nail a few really good jumps. If you have to shoot from the side, you still zone focus over the middle of the pit, track the runner as they head down the track and fire when they go airborne.

The throwing and hurling events are likewise easy to shoot. The players have to stay within a confined space, so zone focus and you will do well. Try to catch them when their face is towards you and when their emotion is at its best or just after the throw.

If you have good access, you can get some great shots with an 80-200mm lens. If you are restricted you may need a 400mm or longer, but in most cases you can get away with smaller lenses.

Gymnastics and Figure Skating
Gymnastics, as a rule, is a no flash event. While a flash may be tolerated at a basketball game, or a night football or baseball game, its generally a no-no for gymnastics. The participants are easily distracted and the slightest hesitation can cause serious injury. The bad thing is most gymnastics happen is poorly lit situations. Lighting will be covered later.

Like Track and Field, gymnastics is a series of events with individuals performing. The events go on simultaneous to each other and depending on the level of the meet, your access may be limited to minimize distractions. With the exception of the floor program, most of the gymnastics events are kept in a small area which makes focusing easy and the movements are predictable. Even with the vault, your object is to catch the vault itself or the landing. So you will probably want to zone focus most of the events. The floor exercise will require follow focus or auto focus. Your lens choice will vary too much by access, but like other indoor sports you want the fastest glass available.

Events like the balance beam, rings, parallel bars, and the uneven bars provide several opportunities to capture the athletes in artistic, athletic, and emotional poses where capturing the moment is somewhat easier. The vault and floor exercises require more timing to get good shots. However, for the floor exercises, its about emotion anyway, so catching the cute smiles and ballet style poses is critical to telling the story more than catching someone in a tumbling pass.

Figure Skating combines the problems of gymnastics with the problems of hockey. You are limited by your access to off ice and you have to compensate for the white surface. Lighting isn’t as good as a hockey game. Frequently, the lighting is spot lights, so knowing stage lighting is important. The programs can be predictable and are generally published before the event so you know when the triple jumps are coming. Lens length is determined by proximity to the surface but again, you want the fastest glass possible. Autofocus is a good idea for Figure Skating, though some success with follow and zone focusing can be achieved.

Motorsports and Racing Events
These sports are generally fairly easy to photograph. They generally occur during the daytime and you can get away with longer slower lenses. AF isn’t quite as important because the action occurs in a very precticable fashion. You can follow or zone focus easy enough. Safety shots are the partcipants racing past you. The challenge for racing sports is to show motion which will be covered shortly. You don’t want your Forumla 1 car looking like it is sitting still. Also much more importantly, there is a lot to the game other than the cars or horses running around the track. The pits/paddock afford some of the best shots. Be ready for an accident. They can happen at any time.

The biggest problem with racing sports is the distance from the track. You only have the partcipants for a brief time on each lap and in the case of the ponies, you only get them for one lap (per race). You will need big lenses in almost all circumstances for the race itself. Your shorter lenses work well for crowd and off track shots.

Written by Sports Photographer Rob Miracle and posted by Cincinnati Ohio Sports Photographer Vincent Rush of Cincinnati Sports Photography.

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 or visit Check out my profile!


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