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Sports Photography Tips

My top digital SLR photography tips for sports matches!

Here are some top sports photography tips to help you get the most out of this brilliant subject!

Just about all keen photographers have a go at shooting a sports event at some point. Whether it's you're local team or a big professional game in a stadium, sport is a subject with exciting potential for photographers.

There's so much to work with: Dramatic action, moments of conflict, interesting poses, athletic movements, expressive and emotional faces. Basically, sport is one of the most fun things to photograph!

So I'm going to offer a few tips on digital photography that apply specifically to shooting sports. I hope these help you to get some better shots when you're next at a game, and to avoid some common pitfalls!


Tips on digital photography equipment for sports pictures

There's no way round the fact that you're going to need a long lens for decent sports photos.

Some games, of course, take place on a smaller pitch and there can be the opportunity to get right up on the sidelines. But even then, the lack of a telephoto or super telephoto lens will limit your range of potential shots a great deal.

So at a school basketball match, for instance, you will be able to get some nice shots with a 70mm lens. But there will be scarce opportunity for the dramatic close up or action shot that fills the frame.

A long lens becomes important pretty quickly, so having one is amongst the most important sports photography tips. If you’re watching something like a professional football or rugby match from the stands, a 300-400mm lens is definitely needed.

Another one of the most crucial digital SLR photography tips for sports subjects is that your lens should have a big maximum aperture (a fast lens).

Why is this important? Sporting action is fast paced so it's imperative to have a nice fast shutter speed to freeze things without any motion blur. In order to do that whilst still admitting enough light into the camera to create a well exposed photo the aperture needs to be really wide.

This is doubly important on dull days or for indoor sports like hockey. A maximum aperture of about f5.6 is great in good light, but if you really enjoy sports photography it’s worth splashing out on a faster lens to cover all situations.


Sports photography tips on aperture and shutter speed

As I mentioned above, sports photography requires fast shutter speeds.

It's usually very difficult to judge how sharp a picture is from the preview on the LCD screen of your camera. So don't rely on this, and set the shutter speed as fast as you can without damaging the exposure.

Fast shutter speeds require a wide aperture. Fortunately, the shallow depth of field that this produces is a great thing for sports subjects. In fact, one of my top sports photography tips would be to think about isolating your subject(s) from their background to increase the dramatic impact.

A shallow depth of field is especially important at games where the crowd form the background to a picture. Players can sometimes get lost in amongst all the people behind, but with a wide aperture they stand out against blurry shapes and colours.

sports photography tips

Other useful tips on sports photography:

Getting into a good location

Your location is another one of the most important sports photography tips. Get yourself in the best position possible. Most of the time that basically means get as close to the action as possible!

Clearly the pitch-side spots at professional games are reserved for media snappers - unless you've managed to wangle a press card!

But if you have a good lens there's not much you can't do from good seats close to pitch level. Getting as close as possible increases your chances of capturing some of the human and emotional aspects of a sports match through facial expressions.

Also, look for a good background to your pictures. Even though you'll be using a narrow depth of field the background still plays an important role. Blurred shapes are still identifiable to a certain extent and can add real impact.

For example there might some feature of a famous stadium in the background, or the big digital scoreboard, or crowd members celebrating a goal!

Find yourself a location where there is a minimal chance obstructions appearing between you and the action. It's incredibly frustrating when some prancing linesman or prowling coach charges across your line of view at the decisive moment!


sports photography tips


Digital SLR photography tips on anticipating the action

Sport takes place at such speed that one of my top sports photography tips is to anticipate the action.

Keep an eye on how the play is unfolding and prepare to shoot what is about to happen. If you see someone lining up a tackle, don't follow them, but aim your lens where the crunching collision looks likely to take place!

It's nigh on impossible to seize a moment just as soon as you see it happening. You need to know it's coming to some degree. This is much easier if you know the sport you're shooting well.

Timing is something that comes into tips on digital photography in any area. But it's especially important with sport.


Sports photography tips on capturing emotion

Sport is high energy, intense, exhausting, competitive, aggressive and fun. So it makes for very fertile ground for close-up, candid style shots of players' faces.

This is where your long lens really comes into its own. Lots of the best sports photos are effectively mid-action portraits. They show people in a heightened state, with faces full of emotion: determination, joy, anger, fear, despair and so on.

These kinds of close up shots could feature and individual or a small group players. You could focus just on head and shoulders or fill the frame with their whole bodies to show the wider scene. When shooting several players in a close up shot it's usually best to stick to a horizontal/landscape format.

Photoshop tips related to sports photography:


The Photography Crash Course: 17 Short Lessons To Camera Mastery

Where Next?

Online Digital Photography Courses

Canon Camera Reviews

Great Photography Magazines

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