For people new to sports photography this page aims to help you achieve better results based on my learning over the years.
Photography has never been more accessible with camera phones adding better features all the time and dedicated cameras advancing year on year.
- Types of Camera
There are 3 main types of camera:
Single Lens Reflex Cameras
Any type of camera can be used for sports photography given good light and a close up view of the sport. What ever kind of camera you have my first tip:
- Read the instructions
Your camera may well have a sport mode which will try and give you the fastest shutter speed for the amount of light available. Finding out how to set your camera to sport mode is an excellent first step. Camera manuals can be found online to type your camera model and 'sport mode' into Google and give it a try.
- Get low
When shooting sport, in my opinion the pictures are improved by crouching or sitting on the ground. At times I have even lain on my stomach which has produced some great results but comes at a cost of reducing your mobility (and being uncomfortable). The first sport I photographed was white water kayaking and photographs taken from any height make the river look flat and remove all the drama from the photographs.
Similarly with football, rugby or cycling lowering the camera position relative to the players will add drama to your photographs.
If you can find a bank to walk down where you can still see the play you can achieve very low camera angles without groveling on the floor.
- Depth of Field
If you have a zoom lens on your camera experiment with zooming out (wide angle) and Zooming in (Telephoto). I use a tele-zoom for shooting sport and the best shots are with a high magnification (zoomed in) and the lens aperture fully open. The reason for this is zooming in and maximum aperture is that it reduces the amount of the photograph that will be in focus. The downside of reducing your depth of field will be some shots are out of focus but the overall results are worth it.
I look back at the results from the Touch Home Nations held in 2013 at Dublin City University where I used my lens wide open (F2.8) and zoomed in (200mm) and the pictures have real impact and drama. The downside of this approach is that if the play moves faster than you can focus your camera you will miss some shots.
This summer (2014) I photographed the European Touch Championships in Swansea and I borrowed the same professional lens (thanks Alex). This time however I used an aperture of around 5.6 to increase the depth of field meaning much of the field around the ball was in focus. The pictures are not as good although I will have captured more usable frames overall.
Recommendation: Set your lens to let in the maximum amount of light (setting the camera to sport mode should do this) and zoom in if you can. You may have to move away from the play to take the same picture. The results will be worth it.
Most modern cameras have auto-focus. You need to help you camera focus for sports photography because of the speed of the action. If your camera is focussed on the trees 100m past the players your photograph will be useless. If you have a Bridge Camera or SLR you should be able to ask the camera to focus by touching the shutter button (but not pressing it enough to take a picture). Try and anticipate where and when you will want to take the photograph. and press the shutter. Practice will improve your pictures. Try and get to know the sport and the camera as much as you can. Think about where the key part of the sport is. Tackles, jumps and team talks all make good pictures.
'The more I practice the luckier I get' is a quote from legendary golfer Gary Player. This works for sport photography. If you take pictures of your child or team mates week after week you will start to anticipate the play and you will know how to adjust your camera quickly. You will also start to notice how the light changes your pictures. Over time your pictures will improve and the buzz of sharing the pictures with the players is worth all the effort.
- Ask Permission
Think about checking with the teams that they are happy to be photographed if you don't know them. Governing bodies often have a code for photography so check beforehand.
- Keep watching the sport
Don't be caught checking that last photo when a player or the ball hits you. If you are anywhere near the pitch or event you need to pay attention to what is happening. Make sure no one can injure themselves on your chair or equipment.
- DSLR setup for Sports Photography
If you have a DLSR camera with a telezoom remember to asses the light every time you take pictures. I prefer to shoot on Aperture priority setting the ISO high enough to get a 500th of a second if there is enough light. As mentioned, I will keep my lens wide open (F4 for me now).Set your white balance manually, remember to change this through the day as the light changes. The results will be worth it. For sport use the large .jpg setting rather than RAW. The camera will be able to take more pictures (turn on the rapid fire). You do need to pay attention to the amount of back lighting though as adjusting your .jpg files later is more restricted than for RAW.
The focus should be set to continuous auto focus. Your camera manual will explain which setting is best for sport and how to set it.
DLSR Setup Summary for Sports Photography:
Maximum Aperture Set on your Lens
Set the metering to spot metering, less pictures of the trees
Set the ISO to give 500th of a second shutter speed or above
Set the white balance (and keep checking this if outdoors)
Set the picture size to the highest JPEG setting
Set the focus type to continuous auto focus
Consider turning image stabilisation off on your lens (try it and check the results)
Make sure your lens is clean before you go out and take a cleaning cloth with you
- Image Editing for Sports Photography
There are some amazing applications available for editing photographs. Apple make a package called Aperture and Adobe make Lightroom. Both of these applications are very powerful and will transform your images to something special.
Youtube is crammed with detailed guides explaining how to manipulate photographs. Spend some time learning about the software. Most of the time I use only a few controls to adjust my photographs:
Cropping the images
I like to use a close crop around the sports person but it is worth thinking about where the images will be published. If you are targeting Facebook then you can be quite free with the dimensions of the final photograph. If you are going to be making prints stick to a photo size. For a website try and keep the photo proportions consistent such as square.
Tweaking the Levels
This sounds complicated but in reality you just have to move a few sliders or drag a line on a graph. With trial and error you can bring out the colours on flat looking photographs.
I think this is the key item I have discovered, you can add definition selectively to your photographs with Apple Aperture or Adobe Lightroom. I suggest adding definition to the players kit socks and boots. It is up to you if you add definition to skin, muscles will become much more defined. I don't add definition to faces as it will make people look older.
Cameras will attempt to sharpen photographs automatically which can make peoples skin look different to real life. Consider using the skin smoothing feature on a low intensity to return faces to their natural state.
If you take someones photograph with a fast shutter speed you may get an effect on the legs of the player when the muscle is contracting and the skin is moving over the top of the muscle. I tend to blur this out as you can't see it with the human eye and it may embarrass some players.