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Sports Photography Techniques

Every sport requires a different technique to capture the action. This may involve focusing on a fixed point (such as a basketball hoop), or focusing on key players in a team. Listed below are some techniques for popular sports photography.

American Football Photography

Football pictures are easy to shoot as plays tend to follow predictable patterns and even a novice can anticipate where the action will be likely to occur. For example, a 3rd down with 1 yard to go is likely to lead to a running play so you should focus on the offensive line area. It is easy to take action shots in this sport, so it is unlikely you will need to take any safety shots.

The best all-round lens to use is a 300mm F2.8 for general shots. However, a 600mm lens for plays at the far end of the field may be more suitable.

 

Soccer Photography

The main advantage in shooting football is you can get some exciting action shots with faces and just as importantly emotion. Safety shots include throw-ins and players dribbling, penalties, free and corner kicks and goal kicks.

Once you have your safeties you can focus on photographing goal attempts and saves. The big problem of focusing on these shots getting the right shot that is commercial you need a lot of luck and skill guessing on timing.

Unlike other sports, soccer requires 90 minutes of concentration from the photographer because very often the results of a match are decided in a split second of time. And you have no second chance to capture the concluding sports shots of the match. Location, preparation and anticipation (and luck, of course) is vital do get "the shot". Knowing the players, guess their moves and reactions is also vital to get good photos that tell the story of the game.

 

Once you have your safeties you can focus on photographing goal attempts and saves. The big problem of focusing on these shots getting the right shot that is commercial you need a lot of luck and skill guessing on timing. 

 

Unlike other sports, soccer requires 90 minutes of concentration from the photographer because very often the results of a match are decided in a split second of time. And you have no second chance to capture the concluding sports shots of the match. Location, preparation and anticipation (and luck, of course) is vital do get "the shot". Knowing the players, guess their moves and reactions is also vital to get good photos that tell the story of the game.
 

 

 

In big competitions scenarios (as it happens with other sports) location is even more important because the space available to work is very restricted, so the choice of position you make before the game can be decisive for getting (or not) the shot you need at the end.

The 3 lens best for soccer photography: 400mm/2.8, 70-200/2.8 and 16-35mm/2.8 (this last lens is only used when the players come to celebrate a goal near to the photographer - and when that happens, that can produce great pictures). A remote behind the net with a wide angle is also a plus.

 

Basketball Photography

Basketball is the simplest sport to take pictures of. You are focusing on two objects (the nets) where the action often happens. The shots to look out for are jump shots, lay ups, free throws, blocks, dribbling, and defence. Sports photographers tend to focus on the nets for the best action and face shots. If you are positioned along the side of the court, you can follow plays or if you are on the baseline, focus on a particular zone such as “the paint”. The best safety shots are players dribbling or looking to make free throws. In some cases it is possible to get tight group pictures of players.

 

In most cases you can shoot basketball action with a 50mm and 135mm lens, with 85-105 being optimal. This allows you to shoot the player mid-court. For shots involving the far basket a longer lens will be required. In these situations a fast lens, like a 85mm F1.4, can deal with most basketball shots.

 

 

 

 

Gym lighting causes many problems for sports photographers. Camera settings and flash settings must be adjusted to reduce photographic noise and improve undesirable lighting. The most popular images are of players taking jump shots; they almost pause at the top of their jump enabling the photographer to capture dramatic moments in the game.

In most cases you can shoot basketball action with a 50mm and 135mm lens, with 85-105 being optimal. This allows you to shoot the player mid-court. For shots involving the far basket a longer lens will be required. In these situations a fast lens, like a 85mm F1.4, can deal with most basketball shots.

 

 

 

Baseball Photography

Baseball is one of the hardest sports to take pictures of, as the bigger the game the further away from the action you will be. To overcome this, try and get as close to the action as possible and if you’re seated a long way from the action use a long lens. Focus on a player’s face, and try to ensure you get the baseball in the photograph, as these are the most popular shots. If you are too far away to take a good picture during the game, take some shots of the players during the warm-up.

Taking good pictures of night games can be very difficult. You should focus on those players nearest to you and those standing in the most light. Having a camera with a fast shutter speed will also help to improve your pictures.

For day games, a 200mm lens should be fine if you are sitting in the stands and concentrate on sunny areas of the field. However, this lens type tends to have a slow shutter speed, so professionals tend to use a 300mm lens.

 

 

Ice Hockey Photography

Ice hockey is a fast and frantic sport, which means that there is little time to focus your camera and take a photograph. For this reason, it may be best to stick to safety shots such as goal celebrations, face-offs and players in the sin bin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are two big problems with taking photographs of ice hockey. Firstly, there are large sheets of Perspex or glass that surrounds the rink. You need to ensure that the camera is focusing on the action beyond, and may need to turn off the Auto-Focus feature to achieve this. Secondly, because the arenas tend to be badly lit the rink may appear blue or yellow in colour. One option is to take your photographs and correct the colouring using software afterwards if necessary.

Hockey rinks are fairly small so an 80-200mm lens is suitable for taking action shots anywhere on the ice rink.

Volleyball Photography

Volleyball comes into it’s own due to its potential for dramatic pictures. However, it is not the most popular sport for commercial photography, and is often overshadowed by beach volleyball pictures.

 

The key to volleyball photography is manual shooting, i.e. not using the Auto Focus function that most digital cameras have, as the camera tends to focus on the net rather than the players.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be successful in volleyball photography it helps to have played the game or studied the sport to know the strategy to anticipate what will happen.

 

The lens you will need if you are on the side of the court would be a 28-70 2.8 wide open, you are best to focus on the DS's while action is going on at the net. The key is when the opposing team set for a kill, to note quickly where the set is being placed. If it's one of the OH's (left or right), you need to focus on the opposite or middle DS for a dig shot. If the action is in the middle, focus on the strong side DS for a dig.

To shot good volleyball pay attention to the setter and how/where they place their sets. Study the setters to gauge the good from average setters based on how well the OH's or MB's hit their kill shots. If you pay attention to hitter's and setter's call signals, you'll pick up what play they're about to do.
 

 

Track and Field Photography

 

Due to the size of an athletics stadium, it is unlikely that you will be able to take pictures of all events. Focus on those events that are closest to where you are positioned to ensure that you get the clearest shots.

For track events, the most important picture to take is that of an athlete crossing the finish line. This can be extremely difficult, so take safety shots of the athletes before they start, or when they are about to begin the race.

Field events tend to be easier to take photos of as the athlete has two or three attempts. Focus on the main area of action, such as just before the sand pit for the long/triple jump, and take several shots in rapid succession as the athlete jumps.

 

Golf Photography

 

In theory golf photography is easy to shoot, nevertheless the sheer size of a professional golf course limits your choices. In short you can only cover a very small fraction of a tournament. As a golfing photographer you have two options, set up base on one hole and shoot multiple players as they come to you, or follow a key player. Whichever option you chose, you’ll have to understand the actual course you are shooting on, otherwise you are unlikely to pick the best positions to photograph from.

The main action shots to get are back-swings and near contact action between golf ball and club. Safety shots can include just about anything on the course, from crowd shots to pictures of the scorecard.

Professional golfers are very sensitive to sound and movement, so take the picture using a silent manual mode rather than Auto-Focus.
 

 

Motorsports photography

Motorsports photography can be very easy to shoot. Regular and predictable vehicle movements around a racing track give plenty of opportunities to take photographs. Photograph opportunities can present themselves at all stages during a race meeting. Photo opportunities include car line-ups on the starting grid, key slow corners, popular overtaking places and pit action, to name but a few.

 

Panning is a good technique for capturing motion with all types of motorsport. The trick is to pick up the motor vehicle before you want the shot, turn smoothly (whilst keeping the motor vehicle in the same place in the viewfinder window) and to then squeeze the camera button during the panning sequence.

More picture blur gives the impression of more vehicle speed.  The slower the camera shutter speed, the more blurred the background will appear. However the slower the shutter speed, the bigger the risk you take blurring the motor vehicle too! Plenty of practice and experimentation is the key.

 

 

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