This is a guide covering sports photography tips.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What is Sports Photography?
Sports photography is a genre in photography that deals with the capturing of photographs of any sport. Any sporting event is a source for sports photos and a photographer who clicks those photos is referred to as a sports photographer.
Sports photography is all about capturing the thrill of a sporting event. The action, the planning, the individual brilliance on the field, the collective effort, and the result.
Everything is a part of sports photography.
Let’s also not forget the crowd, the delirium that surrounds a sporting venue both inside and outside. It is the job of the sports photographer to capture all of it.
What Makes a Good Sports Photographer?
A good eye for detail, an exceptionally fast pair of hands, excellent hand-to-eye coordination, a deep knowledge of the sport being photographed and intuition are necessary traits to become a good sports photographer.
What Settings Should You Use for Sports Photography?
An important consideration is what settings should you be using for sports photography.
Above and beyond anything, sports photographers shoot at aperture priority, with Auto ISO and usually in JPEG mode.
The reason being sports photographers are often working on a very tight schedule. They have to turn in their photos within a few minutes if not seconds of capturing them.
With today’s social media-based content consumption, a majority of all news and updates are consumed online.
That means photographers who turn in their photos the quickest can get their publication to be the first to publish an important photo of a sporting moment.
Photographers don’t get the time to edit those photos like photographers from other genres do and that is why shooting in RAW makes no sense.
Most semi-professional cameras will slow down when continuously shooting in large fine RAW frames. Unless you are using something like the Canon EOS 1Dx Mark III or the Nikon D5 you will find it difficult to shoot in RAW and at the same time shoot a large number of frames.
Please note a larger number of frames allows you to choose the best shot.
When shooting in RAW you won’t have too many shots to choose from unless you are using cameras in the same category as named above.
12 Sports Photography Tips
We have curated the following sports photography tips for beginners to help you get started.
1. Camera Choice
The first Sports photography equipment to consider is the camera.
Use a camera that allows you to choose the lens you need for the sport you want to photograph.
An interchangeable lens camera like a DSLR or a Mirrorless is the best option.
Choose a camera with a great ISO range, fast shutter speed, long burst speed, good buffer capacity, and a dual memory card slot.
Additionally, the camera should have a powerful autofocusing system, with advanced subject tracking.
2. Lens Choice
The lens you choose becomes an integral part of your sports photography equipment.
Most sports photos are shot from the sideline which depending on the sport can be anything between a few feet to more than 50 meters from where the action is.
Let’s say that you are covering soccer and the action is on the other side of the field. You will require a minimum of 400mm lens to be able to shoot anything of interest.
On the other hand, if the action is on your side of the half then even a 100mm lens will suffice depending on where the ball is on your half. Ideally, a sporting lens is a minimum of 200mm.
A great lens is the 200mm to 400mm f/4.
3. Pick a Wide-Angle Lens
I did recommend a telephoto lens as your primary lens but do also pack a secondary lens too. That secondary lens should be on your second camera.
I recommend using a wide-angle lens as your second lens.
A wide-angle lens can give you some interesting shots like action near the goal mount, a feel of the stadium or the crowd building up outside, or the post-match celebrations better than a telephoto lens will.
4. Know Your Sport
There is no way you could ever be a great sports photographer if you don’t know the sport you are trying to photograph. Let’s say that you are trying to become a cricket photographer.
Though it seems like baseball, cricket is nothing like baseball and soon you will find yourself regretting your decision.
Therefore, before moving on to more exotic sports or sports you have very little understanding of it is recommended that you start with the sport that you understand.
Anticipation comes from knowledge and preparation. It comes from knowing the sport inside out.
Coming from somebody who loves cricket and grew up idolizing some of the best cricket photographers of all time, you must know the sports inside out.
When your knowledge of the sport is great you can anticipate things those newbie sports photographers will find impossible. You will anticipate where the action will be and set up your camera to capture that.
In sports photography, it is sometimes about pre-empting rather than reacting.
6. Be Aware of What’s Happening Around You
The small viewfinder of your camera and compounded effect of the long telephoto lens means your field of view is very narrow. You can only see a tiny bit of the vast space in front of you.
And that means you are not aware of impending danger.
Let’s say that you are capturing motorsports and positioned yourself at a recommended safe distance from the racking track.
While panning a car you did not notice that another car coming from behind had veered off the track and is now coming towards you.
Moments like this could mean the difference between life and death.
So, it is imperative that you sit in a space that also has a few other people who are not photographing the event and you can guess an impending danger from their reactions even though your eyes are fixated through the viewfinder.
7. If New, Start Small
The best place to begin honing your skills would be the school sporting events. If you have a kid at school and he or she is part of a school team that is great.
You can always attend the games and shoot and hone your skills in the process.
8. Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode
Aperture priority mode gets you the best option for capturing the maximum number of good shots. Don’t use manual mode for shooting sports.
Neither should you use full Auto mode.
Always use the aperture priority because it lets you control the depth of field while the camera decides on the shutter speed.
Set your camera on Auto ISO because sometimes the ambient light gets too low and you don’t want your camera to use too slow a shutter speed.
9. Use a Fast Shutter Speed
Always use the fastest shutter speed that you can shoot at. This will give you the option to get as many frames as possible in a single burst.
Semi-professional cameras can shoot at the highest shutter speed of 1/4000 sec. Which is more than enough in most cases.
10. Use Measured Bursts of Continuous Shots
The buffer of your camera is a limited number — considering that you are not using one of the best professional cameras, to begin with. And that means if you press down the shutter release button in Continuous High mode your buffer is going to get filled up very quickly.
Instead, try to do a measured release of short bursts. Shoot and then wait for a few seconds allowing the buffer to clear by writing the images to the memory card, then shoot again.
This way even with a semi-pro camera you can get a decent number of frames.
11. Use Auto ISO Mode
Use the Auto ISO mode along with the Aperture priority mode. In Auto ISO mode, the camera will automatically select an appropriate ISO number in case the shutter speed gets too slow.
This system prevents the use of too slow a shutter speed and in the process gets a blurry image.
12. Don’t Use the Flash
Whatever you do never use the flash, built-in, or otherwise. The last thing you would want is to blind an athlete using a flash.
In any case, it is impossible to get any effect out of using a flash at a sporting event. The action is too far away and the flash is too tiny.
What F-Stop to Use for Sports Photography?
Any aperture that gives the best combination of focus and sharpness is the aperture to go for sports photography.
If your lens can open up to f/2.8 it is not always a necessity that you shoot wide open.
The reason is, with a wide-open aperture your depth of field is going to be very shallow. Even if the hands move slightly, or the camera’s autofocusing system reacts a fraction of a second slower to the movement of the player, your focus can be off.
Shooting with a slower aperture (higher f-number) ensures you have a larger depth of field and these issues are overcome.
Sports photography isn’t rocket science. It is just about knowing your sport and knowing how to get the best out of your camera.
To be successful as a sports photographer, you have to practice a lot, and then after each game analyze the shots you have taken and compare them with professional shots taken by pro sports photographers. It is a learning process and you will only get better with time.
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. The first time he ever clicked an image was with an Agfa Click IV back in 1984. A medium format film camera. From that auspicious introduction to photography, he has remained hooked to this art form. He loves to test and review new photography gear. Rajib travels quite a lot, loves driving on Indian roads, playing fetch with his Labrador retriever, and loves photography. And yes, he still proudly owns that Agfa Click IV! You can find my Model Mayhem profile here.