Settings to use to freeze the action
When photographing sports, you can set your camera to specific settings in an effort to match the camera settings to the goals you wish to achieve. Sport specific settings can help as much as adjusting your timing based on the sport you’re photographing. Whether subjects are moving quickly, in an erratic manner, or following the same line around a track, use the following settings as a starting point to improve your photographs.
The following tips were created with the D4 D-SLR in mind, however you can adjust most of the settings regardless of which Nikon D-SLR you’re shooting with, just check your camera’s manual for specifics.
Most team sports such as soccer or rugby will put the photographer in the position of trying to photograph a subject that is partially obscured by another object or when the focus shifts quickly between nearby and distant subjects. To counter this, set your camera’s settings to the following: AF-C Priority Selection to RELEASE, AF-Area Mode to DYNAMIC AREA AF (9 points) and Focus Tracking with lock-on to 3 (normal).
When photographing sports where subjects are often obscured by other athletes for example at a track event select a long lock-on to maintain focus on your subject. AF-C Priority Selection should be set to RELEASE or FOCUS + RELEASE, AF-Area Mode to DYNAMIC AREA AF (9 points) and Focus Tracking with lock-on to 3 (normal) to 5 (long).
For subjects that appear in the viewfinder suddenly or are hard to track, such as diving or ski jumping, increase the number of dynamic-area focus points. This will ensure the camera will focus based on information from surrounding focus points if the subject briefly moves out of the selected focus point. This is most effective when there is separation between the subject and background. In this case, set the AF-C Priority Selection to RELEASE, AF-Area Mode to DYNAMIC AREA AF (21 points) and Focus Tracking with lock-on to 3 (normal).
For sports where you’re normally going to be using the outer focus points, such as speed skating, increase the number of dynamic-area focus points by one level when framing pictures in portrait orientation. When photographing ball sports and in other situations where precise timing is not a priority, choose FOCUS + RELEASE for the AF-C Priority Selection, AF-Area Mode of DYNAMIC AREA AF (21 points) and Focus Tracking with lock-on of 3 (normal).
When photographing sports such as figure skating where the subjects are moving rapidly or when you’re changing the camera orientation (from portrait to landscape) often, increase the number of dynamic-area focus points. When shooting pairs skating events, increase the lock-on time. This will help when subjects may be obscured by their partner, to keep the camera from focusing on the background in the gap between subjects. For improved framing, set the Custom Setting a10 (on the D4) to YES to store points by orientation. AF-C Priority Selection should be set to RELEASE, AF-Area Mode to DYNAMIC AREA AF (9 or 21 points), and Focus Tracking with lock-on to 3 (normal) or 5 (long).
When shooting sports with subjects that move or change rapidly (for example in hockey or when alternately framing the pitcher and a runner when shooting baseball from the bench) reduce the lock-on times for improved response. Set the AF-C Priority Selection to RELEASE, AF-Area Mode to DYNAMIC AREA AF (9 points) or Single point AF and Focus Tracking with lock-on to OFF or 1 (short).
When shooting volleyball or swimming—sports where the time between focus and shooting is short or where there are obstacles between the autofocus target and the camera, use Single-point AF to prevent the camera from focusing on obstacles such as the volleyball net or splashes in the pool. Also set the standby timer to 1 minute or longer for improved shutter response. AF-C Priority Selection should be set to RELEASE, AF-Area Mode to Single-point AF, and Focus Tracking with lock-on to 3 (normal).
To reduce camera blur, choose a VR setting suited to the subject you’re shooting. For moving subjects at a shutter speed of 1/500 second or faster, it is recommended that you turn VR OFF because blur is less likely in these instances.
When panning shots of moving subjects or photographing stationary subjects, select ON/NORMAL to reduce the effects of vibration.
When you’re taking photos from a car, boat, helicopter or other unstable platform, select ACTIVE. Note though, that the image in the viewfinder may be affected by panning or excessive vibration.
When shooting on a tripod, select TRIPOD mode, however, use NORMAL when you are not using a fixed tripod head or if you’re using a monopod.
Photographing sports and action is all about speed. Discover how to set up your camera to capture sharp, detailed photos full of excitement and drama.
Action and sports photography is challenging but very exciting. The key to getting good pictures is to set your camera up properly before the event begins, so that when things kick off you can forget about your settings and focus on the action.
The following camera settings are an excellent place to start. They work well in all situations and will help you get sharp, detailed photos with plenty of atmosphere and interest.
Use a Fast Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the single most important thing to get right in action photography. If yours isn’t set fast enough then you’ll be left with blurry, disappointing shots that no amount of Photoshop post-processing will be able to salvage.
A fast shutter speed is essential to freeze motion. Image by johnthescone.
Start by putting your camera into Shutter Priority mode and choosing a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second. This is a good starting point and should be fast enough for most sports and action.
If possible, take a few test shots before the main event starts so that you can check how sharp they are. If that’s not possible, periodically check your photos as you go. If you spot any blurring, switch to an even faster shutter speed. You may need to go as high as 1/1000 of a second for really fast sports like motor racing.
Open Your Aperture
To help you reach the high shutter speeds required, you’ll need to open your aperture up nice and wide. If you have a very fast lens (such as the f/2.8 and f/4 lenses that professional sports photographers invest in), then you may be able to get away with coming down from the maximum aperture by a stop or so.
Use a wide aperture to capture enough light and blur the background. Image by Huskies Football.
However, if you’re using a cheaper lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or smaller, you’ll need to open your lens up as wide as it will go to let in as much light as possible. This is particularly true when shooting indoors, as the lighting can be poor.
If you’re using a zoom lens it’s tempting to crop in as close as possible on your subject, but your lens’s aperture is narrowest at this end of the zoom range. It’s better to set your lens around the middle of its range as a good compromise between filling the frame and letting in enough light.
An added benefit of using a wide aperture is the shallow depth of field it produces. This blurs any background distractions and focuses your attention firmly on the players, producing an image with more impact and drama.
Increase Your ISO
Because you’re using such a fast shutter speed, your camera might struggle to properly expose the scene even with the aperture fully open. If this is the case then the only thing you can do is increase your ISO speed.
You should use the lowest ISO setting you can get away with, but there will be situations where you’ll have to push it higher than you’d like. This is frustrating but remember – it’s better to have a noisy photo than a blurry one.
Use Burst Mode
By definition, action and sports move quickly, and it can be difficult to keep up. Use your camera’s continuous shooting mode (often called burst mode) to take 4 or 6 shots at a time, giving you a much better chance of capturing a good image.
Use burst mode to capture the definitive moment. Image by Angel.
Bear in mind that shooting in burst mode will fill your memory card much faster than taking individual shots, so make sure yours has plenty of capacity, or take a spare along. If you’re running out of space, use half time or time-outs to delete some of your bad shots.
Shoot in JPEG
You might be surprised to read this piece of advice – after all, for most types of photography it’s generally accepted than shooting in RAW will give you better quality images, and allow you to do more tweaking in your editing software.
However, when photographing sports and action events, speed is more important than anything else. Using JPEG mode lets you to capture more pictures at a time in burst mode, and fit more images onto your memory card.
Admittedly the image quality won’t be quite as good as if you’d shot using RAW, but this is more than compensated for by the increased chances of getting that killer shot.
Perfect Your White Balance
When shooting outdoors, your camera’s automatic white balance will usually do a pretty good job of adjusting to the light. However, many action sports take place indoors under artificial lighting, and this can confuse your camera, producing shots with a noticeable greenish-yellow tint.
When shooting indoors, adjust your white balance to avoid colour casts. Image by AJ Guel.
Rather than leaving things up to your camera, set your white balance to Fluorescent or Tungsten/Incandescent – take a few test shots before the event begins to check which one looks best. If you’ve got time, you could even set up a custom white balance to make sure your colours come out spot on.
Turn Your Flash Off
For most sports, you won’t be able to get very close to the action – that’s why the professional photographers need such long lenses. Being so far from your subject means that your flash will be practically useless, and will do nothing but drain your battery. Turn it off before you start shooting.
There are some rare circumstances where you can get close enough to the action for your flash to be of some use. However, the bright bursts can distract players so it’s often better to leave your flash off to be on the safe side.
Tweak Your Focusing
Focusing on fast-moving subjects can be very tricky, so it’s important to set your camera up to be as responsive and accurate as possible.
Adjust your focusing to maintain perfect clarity even on fast-moving subjects. Image by Timo Kuusela.
Start by switching from multi-point to single-point focusing, and use the focus point at the centre of the frame. Now, when you compose a shot, your camera will focus on whatever’s in the centre rather than trying to keep everything acceptably sharp. This is faster and also lets you tell your camera exactly what you want to focus on, rather than letting it guess.
By default, your camera will probably use “one shot” focusing, where you half-press the shutter button to lock the focus. The problem with this is that your subject can move before you have chance to take the photo. Instead, use Continuous Focusing mode (called “AI Servo” on Canon cameras) – this continually refocuses to keep the subject sharply focused at all times.
Action photography can be a tricky subject, but these camera settings will increase your chances of snapping some fantastic shots. The principles behind them are easy to apply to any sport, allowing you to quickly adapt and get back to concentrating on taking great photos.
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January 29, 2019, 8:00am EDT
A lot of people buy DSLRs and other cameras because they want to take good sports photographs; it’s one of the areas where your smartphone just can’t cut it. Here are the camera settings that will generally give you the best results.
The Gear You Need for Sports Photos
The biggest challenge with sports photography is distance: for most sports, you’re stuck on the sidelines while the action’s happening up to a few hundred feet away from you. Unless you want to sprint up and down the pitch, a telephoto zoom lens is the best tool for getting good shots.
For crop sensor cameras, a lens with a focal length longer than around 70mm should work quite well for most sports. I’ve shot a lot of sports photos with a Canon 18-135mm. For specific lens recommendations, check out our guides to the best lenses for your Canon or Nikon camera.
Now, with that said, it’s possible to take sports photos without a telephoto lens; you just have to be a lot more deliberate with your staging, and you will miss more shots.
Shutter Speed for Sports Photos
For sports photography, shutter speed is normally the most important setting. It’s what will freeze the action. What shutter speed you use depends on the sport you’re shooting.
Shutter speeds faster than 1/1000th of a second will freeze pretty much anything, even fast-moving cars. For most sports, however, you won’t need to go this fast.
Shutter speeds between 1/500th of a second and 1/1000th of a second will freeze any moving human, though fast moving balls—like tennis or baseballs—may show a little motion blur.
Shutter speeds between 1/100th of a second and 1/500th of a second will freeze most human motion. A fast sprinter or someone swinging their arms or legs will probably have some motion blur. There’s also the risk if you’re using a long lens that your shutter speed won’t be fast enough to prevent blur from the camera shaking in your hands.
In general, it’s better to go with a faster shutter speed than you think you need if you’re trying to freeze action. Most of the time, if I’m shooting in daylight, I try to use a shutter speed of at least 1/800th of a second.
The other option is to use a slightly slower shutter speed than it takes to freeze your subject. A bit of motion blur around the edges adds a sense of speed and action.
Aperture for Sports Photos
Since shutter speed is so important for sports photography, aperture takes a bit of a back seat. You need to use an aperture wide enough to give you the shutter speed you want.
This often means shooting with your lens’s maximum aperture: f/4 and f/5.6, two common telephoto lens maximum apertures, both work great for sports photos. If you want more depth of field, you can use something like f/8 or f/11; you just need to watch your shutter speed.
ISO for Sports Photos
Like aperture, for sports photos, your ISO choice is determined by what shutter speed you want to use. Our general advice when it comes to ISO is to use the lowest setting you can get away with and, while this still holds, increasing the ISO is often the only option you’ll have to get a fast shutter speed. You shouldn’t be surprised if you need to push it to 400, 800, or even 1600 to keep your shutter speed faster than 1/1000th of a second.
While shutter speed is normally the most important consideration with sports photography, I still prefer to shoot in aperture priority mode—and recommend you do. Just make sure that your shutter speed stays fast enough and if it starts to drop, open the aperture or increase the ISO.
High school gymnasiums can offer a multitude of photographic opportunities – basketball games, crowd shots, and other school events. But they can also have the most abysmal lighting conditions around. Just how do you get a clear photograph in a dark, often mixed lighting environment? With a little bit of know-how and preparation you can!
If you’ll be photographing volleyball, basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, or other indoor sports, these tips will hopefully help you to get a clear image.
The real problem with shooting in an indoor gym is that the area is usually not well lit. Normally this could be counteracted with a slower shutter speed to gather light, but that would produce a blurry image since the players are moving quickly. Shooting indoor sports is actually one of the most challenging photography situations there is. This creates an opportunity to test your skills!
Recommended Camera Settings for Shooting in a School Gym
Usually, getting the exposure settings for a particular situation is easy, but photographing fast moving sports action in a dim environment is quite challenging. Here is a good starting point for setting your camera settings for shooting in a school gym:
- Use the largest aperture (lowest f-stop number) available on your lens. Ideally, you’ll have a lens with a max aperture of f/2.8 or f/4. Slower lenses that can only open up to f/5.6 will likely not gather enough light to have a successful shoot in a gym for photographing sports.
- Set your shutter speed to 1/500 or faster to freeze the action. Ideally, we’d shoot at 1/1000 but unless you have a very fast lens, this often isn’t feasible. You may find yourself at 1/500 or 1/640 which will show some motion blur on hands or feet when the players are moving around, but otherwise the image is too dark.
- Set your ISO to 1600 or faster. You’ll likely find that most setups will require ISO 3200 to properly expose the image. This will produce some noise in the picture, but some noise in unavoidable in indoor sports photography unless the gym is extremely well lit (rare).
- Set your focus to continuous so you can track the action of the players. This will be written “AF-C” on Nikon cameras or “AI Servo” on Canon cameras.
The ISO is the most important part of this equation. I highly recommend reading my article on setting the ISO for any situation if you haven’t yet.
None of these settings are ideal. Using an ISO that high will undoubtedly produce some noise in your photo. Shooting with a fast aperture will make focus more difficult. Shooting at a fast shutter speed makes gathering enough light difficult. Nothing is ideal when shooting indoor sports, but you have to learn to make compromises with your camera settings in order to get a properly exposed photo in a dimly lit gym.
More Tips for Shooting Sports Photos in a Gym
Do some scouting ahead of time. This will ease your anxiety and frustration. Take some test shots, specifically to nail your white balance. White balance means that the camera is trying to determine what the neutral color is and which color balance to apply to the photo. If you’re in a gym, you’ll see kind of a green, sickly light due to the bulbs they use. In most houses, the light is a yellowish color unless you’re using daylight balanced light bulbs in which case they will be more of a white color. The light changes everywhere you go – shade is different than the sunlight, etc. There are some presets for white balance in your camera so you can use these and it will get you pretty close to where you need to be. You can also set a custom white balance if you know you will be shooting somewhere in particular with terrible lighting like the gym.
Gymnasiums often have mixed lighting from natural windows spilling out light up high to tungsten lighting which can cause you photos to look orange. Ask if you can shoot some of your kids practices – this will be a good warm up for the main event and see exactly which camera shooting work the best. After adjusting your settings and shooting the practice, look at the photos on your computer to see how well the pictures turned out. From there you can adjust the white balance further than the settings could in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
Once you have your white balance and positioning in place, now you can concentrate on actually taking the shot. One thing to remember is to be sure to get to the gym ahead of time so you can choose your seat. The key to taking good sports photography is anticipating the action. During the practices, learn where to position yourself so you will have an unimpeded view of the action without getting in the middle of the action!
After you have done all the prep work and are in the precise shooting position, what should your settings be? Your DSLR does offer some standard modes – you know the little icons on the dial – look for the figure running. But those settings are an approximation and generally work best outdoors where there’s plenty of light otherwise you will get motion blur. If the sports mode works for you and you are happy with the results – great. If not, manually adjusting your settings is the next option.
Sports photography is about freezing the action so you will need a fast shutter speed of at least 1/125 or 1/250 of a second or higher. Anything slower and you risk blurring the players. You will probably have to increase your ISO – look in the range of 800 to 1600. Depending on your camera, it could introduce noise into the picture so experiment with different ISOs to see how high you can go before noise creeps into your photos.
For the aperture, the kit lens that came with your DSLR may work just fine outdoors but indoors that 18-200mm f4.5/5.6 may not open up enough. You may have to open up your aperture to f/2.8 which should give you decent depth of field. But that also means you might have to purchase or rent a lens that is capable of handling low light situations. Unfortunately, because it’s a sporting event, you probably won’t be able to use your speedlight or built-in flash. There will be too much concern that your flash will temporarily blind a player and interrupt or alter the play. Check with school officials to see what their policy is on flash photography.
Sadly, there is not an easy solution to ugly gymnasium photos, but these tricks will at least get you better photos. With time, you will learn more of what works and what doesn’t. Luckily, we can adjust quite a bit while post processing.
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You’re so busy getting all those great actions shots don’t forget to get the team and group photos. Don’t forget the team photos that help document the occasion the effort, emotion and success. Team photos can be successful before or after the game or after the awards ceremony. Just as you are with the action shots you will need to be quick and organized. If not you will have whining and complaining athletes as well as parents, and guaranteed the next time you try, few will stay around. So be quick, efficient and people will respond.
When & What to Wear
There are three primary options for when to take the team photo. They can be taken prior to the competition, immediately after or along with the awards ceremony. Depending on the event it might a formal affair or simply a quick team photo to remind everyone who on the team or at the tournament.
The advantages of doing it before the game or event is that everyone is typically in a good enthusiastic mood, no one has lost yet, and their uniforms and hair are perfectly arranged, or as good as it will get. The challenges are they might not all come wearing their uniform as you requested and they might arrive late which holds everyone up. If you are attempting to do this before-hand get the word out in advance if you can, tell them all what to wear and encourage them to be on time. Also, make sure it’s okay with the coach because they often have a very specific plan for warm-up and will want extra time if you’re going to take photos to no disrupt it.
Taking a team photo after the competition or event can be good since all the athletes are present and in the team uniform. Many like the post game photo because it shows them more in their real attire and look, sweat on their faces, dirt on their shoes and uniforms and faces with the emotions of losing or winning. If this is the plan, then make sure to let the athletes know before they start removing jerseys or shoes, catch they won’t want to put them back on. So hustle them together before any of that occurs.
Location & Lighting
The where to take this photo will be dependent on what’s available close by and how many athletes will be in the photo. Can you choose a location that compliments the sport and eliminates distracting backgrounds. Is their a geographical items to capture as part of it. Are there physical items that can play a part such as the goal posts, the stadium, the bleachers. Fortunately some post photo editing may help fix some of the background, but if you can generate a good angle or find a good background you will be better off. It’s a challenge but you must also contend with the light. Ideally allow the sun to light their faces, but invariably it will be too bright and they will close their eyes. If the group is small enough you can use “fill flash” to remove the shadows from faces or another trick is to have everyone open their eyes just in time for the photo.
Take charge and get the athletes organized. You may want to enlist parents or other observers to assist. Make sure all bags, balls, towels or other sports gear that is a distraction in the photo is removed and out of the way. It will often get tossed behind or to the side, but will still be in the way of your photos. Enlist a parent of sibling to run around and pick everything up and put it in a single pile out of the way. Each sport and the number of athlete participants and the location you have chosen will affect the way you organize and pose them. From a doubles tennis team of two through a soccer team of 21 or a football team of 40+ you may have some real challenges.
A good way to get some posing ideas is to look at professional sports magazines or websites. For example, world cup soccer poses are a bit unique with two rows of players the first row squatting on their heals. Each sport may have it’s own way or typical way to shoot team photos. The key factors are to position, balance and spacing. Position the athletes so everyone is visible. That might mean the first row is sitting, the second kneeling and the third standing. But just as with your action shots you need to see everyone’s face. Balance is next, be a bit symmetrical, not all the tall athletes one side, nor allow the standing row to roll off to the left a few more feet than the kneeling row. Spacing means ensure the athletes are tight together, no huge spaces between them either horizontally or depth-wise, what looks like a small space to use will appear much larger and disproportionate in the photo.
Make it fun & fast
Whatever you do make it fast, get them in position, take a couple shots and be done with it. Their athletes and kids and they don’t like posing for photos. They want to have a photo taken don’t get me wrong, but they don’t want to wait around for it, so be quick about it. Make it fun as well, be creative, after the serious shot take a crazy one they always love that. Make sure to include the coach and if you have a MVP or goalie or someone to highlight put them in front with the ball. With soccer teams we always like to lay the goalie down in front with the soccer ball, and they always appreciate it.
Remember to make team and group photos part of your sports photography, and you will have more great photos to share and enjoy!
Your favorite player just rounded third base and is headed for home. Your daughter is finishing her dance recital and is ending with the perfect plie. Your son is getting ready to shoot the game winning goal. All of these moments are just a click away…if you have the knowledge and equipment.
Sports photography isn’t easy. It takes the right equipment to get that perfect shot. Slow cameras and lenses will leave you frustrated and missing the shot. A basic knowledge of the sport and an indepth understanding of your camera’s settings will also help you get the perfect shot.
1. Owning the right equipment is critical. Investing in the proper equipment can be expensive and overwhelming. Fast lenses and DSLRs are not cheap, but purchasing the right camera and lenses from the beginning will ensure that your images are sharp and recorded quickly. Cameras that have a high frame per second count are a top priority when shooting sports. Continuous shutter mode is an important feature in sports photography. The more images you can take in a rapid burst, the better your chances of securing the best shot. Also, you will want to make sure your lens can keep up with the camera. Purchasing a fast lens with a wide open aperture and a long zoom will ensure you can shoot in almost any lighting condition at a variety of distances. Most point and shoot cameras are not able to keep up with the demands of sports photography. Ultrazoom cameras are a better option, but some lack good image stabilization at the long telephoto end of the zoom. Also, adjusting the zoom by way of a toggle can be frustrating. It only takes a split second to miss an important shot. Some mirrorless cameras are able to autofocus very quickly and they all offer a variety of lenses including long telephotos.
2. Know your camera, know your settings. Most sports move quickly. There’s not a lot of time to fiddle with your settings in the middle of a basketball or football game. Knowing your camera and its settings is a vital part of getting that perfect shot. Make sure to read your manual so you know the fastest way to access important settings and modes. It is also important to spend a great deal of time with your camera learning how to change the settings without missing a beat. This only comes with repeated practice. After a while your camera will feel like an extension of your hand and it will be second nature to change your settings without looking.
3. Pick a great vantage point. A big part of getting the right shot is being in the right place. If you can be on ground level with the players that is ideal. The closer you can get to the action, the more emotion you can evoke in your images. If you can’t be close to the action, you will need to make sure you have a long telephoto zoom lens. Again, try to frame your image as to make the viewer feel that they are a part of the action. Most times I will try to single out one or two players for each shot. This allows me to capture the feelings and emotions of each play instead of simply recording the play.
4. Capture the emotion. The emotion of the player in an photo makes the difference between a good image and a great image. For some players this takes great patience and a lot of shutter releases to get the perfect shot. In other cases, the player exudes passion in every play. Just keep clicking. Another important thing to note is depth of field. Having a lens that gives you an aperture of f2.8 or f/4 will be very helpful when creating a soft, defocused background. It will also help to separate the subject from the background. My personal preference is to shoot in aperture priority while shooting sports. I like to make sure my aperture is wide open (f2.8 or f4), my shutter speed is high (at least 1/125 second for slower sports, but I prefer 1/250 second or higher) and an ISO that allows me to keep these in balance. I generally shoot at 100, 200 or 400 ISO for outdoor sports. For indoor sports, you might make to bump up your ISO to 800 or 1600. Just make sure you camera can easily handle 1600 ISO without too much noise.
5. Insure your equipment. This is an important, but easily forgotten tip. When you spend a large amount of money on your cameras and lenses you want to make sure that you can get reimbursed if it gets hit by a ball or knocked over by a player. Insurance companies have rider policies that cover camera equipment. Also, if you are a part of a professional photographers group most of them offer additional insurance for your equipment.
6. Edit, edit, edit. Get ready to spend some time editing your images. We highly recommend Adobe Lightroom for editing large amounts of images. Lightroom allows users to quickly choose the images they wish to keep and then add presets to the images. Presets give the images that extra edge that most people enjoy looking at. In Lightroom you can change images to black and white, boost color or adjust exposure — just to name a few.
We have just scratched the surface of taking great sports photos. We would love to hear more tips from our readers. Help other photographers by posting your ideas and suggestions in our forum.
Sports photography is a large topic, and would require extensive review to truly do it justice here. However, a brief overview of how to get the best sports shots can be found in these four handy tips. Grab your camera and get ready for some sport, as I’m going to show you how to get those shots that the newspapers love!
1. Don’t forget that camera!
I find that DSLR cameras are best for sports photography. Obviously, sports photographs are action shots, meaning that you’ll need to have good reflexes to snap that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Point-and-shoot cameras often experience what is called shutter lag, or the time between you pressing the button and your camera taking the image. For ‘happy snaps’ (vacation shots, etc.), this does not matter, as your subject will usually stand stationary for longer than the period of shutter lag. However, in sports photography, quick timing is everything. Compact point-and-shoot cameras usually have the longest shutter lag and rangefinder cameras have the least shutter lag out of digital cameras. However, the shutter lag for DSLR cameras is insignificant.
Generally, the greater the lens focal length, the wider your shot will be. This is a consideration in sports photography, as soccer and football pitches can often require great lens focal length.
2. Avoid background clutter
Take a look at any good sports photograph, and you will notice that the background clutter has been reduced. A shot on the far side of a field will often feature spectators, advertisements, and other distractions which can wreck your brilliant shot. If it is not possible to distinguish the subject of your shot from the background, the shot might not be worth using. Remember though, if you have no other option, this may be your only choice.
3. Placing your shot: rules to keep in mind
The rule of faces: A subject’s facial expression can make or break a shot. If you plan on selling your sports photographs, keep in mind that many editors want to be able to see the emotion on the sportsperson’s face—that is, a photo covering a play from behind may be passed up in favor of one covering the same play from in front, showing the player’s face. If it’s not possible to get a shot of a player’s face, a ‘back of head’ shot may be your only option, but be prepared for rejection by some leading photo editors.
The rule of thirds: Centering the subject of a photo can often be useful, but many photographers live by the “rule of thirds”, which dictates that important compositional elements of a photograph should be placed on one of the intersections between imaginary vertical and horizontal lines dividing the photograph into thirds. Advocates of the rule of thirds argue that this technique creates more energy in the photo than a centered shot.
4. Blurring is good
Budding photographers are nearly always instructed to minimize the blur in their photographs. In non-action photography, blur can be a bad thing. There’s nothing worse than getting your photographs back from developing, only to find that the subject of the photograph is indistinguishable from the background due to blur. However, in action photography, blur can be good, as it implies movement. When you see a soccer ball sliding through the air, your eye does not capture the image as still, so nor should your photographs. Do some practice using varying shutter speeds to get that optimal blur. It could make or break your shot.
There you have it. Four handy hints to getting the best sports photograph possible. If it’s not possible to get into the action, why not capture it with a photograph?
About the Author:
Julie Spaulding is the owner-operator of howtodevelopfilm dot com, a source on film developing.
Also here is a photographer sharing his tips and tricks with the sport of rugby which can also be applied to many other sports photo situations:
In this video you can learn more about the camera settings and gear recommended for sports photography. It also includes insightful tips about composition and lighting.
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One of the more challenging aspects of youth sports picture days is the proper posing of team photos. You could have perfect exposure, focus, and composition but if the kids aren’t posed properly the products will still look unprofessional. Like anything, the more time you spend practicing the better you will be at it. The problem with that is that you don’t want to learn on the fly and immediately create a lot of unhappy customers in your community. With the popularity of social media these days, it isn’t uncommon for one of your photos to end up on Facebook which could do significant damage to your reputation before you know what hit you.
Consistency in high volume photography is vital. When photographing a league of 3,000 players things need to be consistent. It is extremely important to develop a set of tools that can be easily repeated. By creating a set of charts, diagrams and other tools you can help ensure consistency whether shooting one team or 100.
Small Team Sports
Examples of small team sports are baseball, basketball, flag football, and soccer, to name a few. A small team will have anywhere from 6 to 16 players. It will be extremely rare that you have a league with an equal amount of players on every team. In this example I will use baseball, which is our second most popular sport, behind tackle football. Baseball teams are going to average around 12 players when dealing with a standard recreational league. Travel Ball, sometimes referred to as “Select” leagues will typically have more players because they play all year and it’s a more elite level of play. When starting out, standard Little League, Pony Ball, or local Park and Recreation leagues will be your most typical customers.
I cannot stress enough the importance of using posing charts or diagrams for team photographs. Even if you are starting small and doing most of the shooting yourself, using charts will always help speed up the process. I have been doing this a long time now and when I go to shoots I still need to use the charts to make sure I’m posing properly. Also, using charts ensures consistency across the league. You will have siblings on different teams and you don’t want a parent to get two team photos that are posed completely differently. Many parents get Memory Mate plaques that include team and individual photos to hang on their wall at home. It is important that you have consistent photos to maintain a reputation as a professional.
Common Posing Setup for a Youth Sports Team
In the sample image above, our chart tells us that for a team of 11 players we have the five shortest players in the front row seated cross legged. The middle row will have four kids on both knees up tall (not sitting on their feet). The top row will have the two tallest players standing. Now, let’s cover how we got them into this position.
Depending on your preference, you can have the same photographer take the team and individual photos or separate them into two camera stations. This really depends on what you like best. The benefit of splitting them up is that you can make sure your strongest photographer is shooting teams. However, this does add an extra layer of complexity in tracking the image numbers and it can add a little more time to the process. At my shoots, my photographers take both the individual and team photos. This is why we have assistants there to help the photographers pose the kids and keep things running smoothly. Also, if you have a good system and charts, all of your photographers should be comfortable posing teams. Either way, before you take the individual photos, ask the coach to get the players lined up by height, shortest in the front, tallest in the back. When posing tackle football teams you will put the tallest kids at the front of the line, but for small sports you start with the shorter kids. Count the number of players and use the team posing chart to see how many players will be in each row. You will always want your rows to be uneven with players filling in the gaps. Each photographer should have a rope in with their gear to make sure the kids line up straight. Follow these steps to properly pose the team.
- Place the rope in a straight line on the ground and have the first row of kids sit right behind the rope. Once they are seated and lined up straight, immediately remove the rope before you pose any more kids.
- Have the next four players get on their knees in the “gaps” between the kids in front of them. Ask them to make sure their feet are close together behind them.
- Have the standing players fill in the gaps between the kneeling players.
- Make sure to use a very brightly colored rope, preferably a thick one so you don’t forget to remove it before you take the photo. This will save a serious Photoshop headache later.
- For younger players, you should show them exactly how you want them to pose. For the middle row, get down on both knees and show them to sit up tall, not to sit on their feet.
- Point to exactly where you want them to stand or kneel. I go as far as putting my foot in the exact spot where I want them to show them exactly the right spot. This is especially important with young players.
Youth Sports Team Posing Diagram (Click to Get Full Size Copy)
One of the more difficult things about posing teams is understanding where to place coaches. It’s hard to know exactly how many coaches each team will have or if team parents will also want to be in the picture. Plus, with young teams, the coaches are going to be a lot taller than the kids and they may or may not have matching jerseys. I like to have coaches flanking the team whenever possible. In the sample above, we were able to place one of the coaches in the middle to fill in the gap left by having an odd number of players in the photo. Like all other aspects of high volume photography, it gets easier with practice.
After everyone is in place you want to look all around the outside of the team to check for distractions in the background. Once you see that you have a clean shot, you are ready to take the photo. Make sure to tell the players you are about to take the photo by saying something like, “1, 2, 3” to get them all looking at you. You want to take at least four photos of the team. This will give you a few choices when deciding on which one to produce. You will almost always have some shots with kids’ eyes closed or other distractions so taking a few extra pictures will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
As you can see, there is a lot more to running a successful high volume photography business than just snapping off a few photos. Team photos can be one of the most difficult aspects of youth sports photography. However, if you use a solid system with the proper tools to ensure consistency, you will make your job a lot easier and you will have more fun doing it!
About the Author
Andy Stockglausner is a Marine Corps Veteran and he owns MVP Studios and The Marine Corps Gift Shop with his wife Michelle. MVP Studios provides youth sports, event and school photography services all over Southern California. MVP Studios provides high volume photography consulting packages starting at $1,000.
I’m just going to say this outright. Taking indoor photos of sporting events is hard. I’m not saying it’s impossibly hard, but it is most certainly a challenge to any photographer. If you can come away from a shoot with a photo that’s both properly lit and sharp, you’ve probably outdone everyone else at the event. Here are a few things you can do to get rid of that pesky motion blur.
Have a look at this one:
Thanks to Traci Scoggins for the image
Okay now this one:
I think we can all agree that we like the second a lot more than the first. Why?
- It’s much more dramatic. The players are frozen mid-air, and because of it, you can feel the suspense.
- There’s more color contrast, making the figures stand out more from the background.
Always keep the shutter speed high
Both of the above are caused by the same thing, a faster shutter speed. Most sports photographers aim for shutter speeds in the 1/500s to 1/1000s range. This is what allows you to freeze the motion. In the second image, the photographer appears to have had enough light to get away with using a fast shutter speed. Everything in the image is illuminated quite well.
And this brings me to another point. You can’t always tell what sort of indoor venue you’re going to be shooting at. Some of them are very well illuminated, like the one in the second photo. Some of them could definitely use more light (like the first one). When you don’t have enough light, it’s hard to shoot at a fast shutter speed. You often have to make other concessions. Let’s talk a bit about some of those.
1.) Using flash to add more light to the scene. Some venues will allow you to use your flash. Many of them will not. I’m going to guess that the photographer of the second photo used no flash at all. You can tell because there is no distinct flash reflection on the shiny floor or anywhere near the athletes. I’m also going to guess that on-camera flash is strictly forbidden in a professional event like this one.
As a matter of fact, many professional sports venues have strobe lights installed up in the rafters. If your camera uses some kind of master/slave flash system, you can trigger the upper lights without distracting the athletes. Because the light is so far away, it looks much more natural than the light you get from using a flash head on. There is a chance this is how the photographer got the shot.
Most of the time, you should avoid flash at big games and indoor sporting events. It’s just the respectful thing to do.
2.) Bumping up your camera’s ISO speed settings. There is no doubt in my mind that the photographer of the second image used one of the higher (if not the highest) ISO speed settings on his/her camera. By increasing the ISO speed, you are effectively making your camera process the light faster. This means you get double the light for the same shutter speed. So, to get the same amount of light, you can increase the shutter speed and also get the motion freezing effect.
Changing the ISO speed is one of the first things I do whenever I shoot indoors without a flash. There’s only one problem with it. At very high ISO speeds, your images end up becoming a bit grainy. This is the tradeoff you have to make. You have to ask yourself which is worse, the grain or the motion blur? In this case, I’d say it’s the motion blur, which is why I’d advise increasing your ISO speed as much as possible so you can get rid of the blur.
3.) Increase the aperture and get up close. If you have a zoom lens with an aperture that’s on the wider end of things, you can use it to keep your shutter speed high. This technique can work really well when you’re going for a more portrait style image. The only issue is that as you increase the aperture, you also decrease the depth of field. It will be harder to get everyone in the scene without blurring out some of the other players in the background.
There are times when the blurring is a very good thing, as it can be used for artistic effect. There are other times when it just makes your viewer wonder what’s going on. The second photograph was not taken using a wide aperture. You can tell because you can easily see everything in the background. My guess is that the photographer chose something “safe” like F8.
If you can get up close and take an action-portrait,
you can get shutter speeds fast enough to freeze the action.
Here’s the irony of this whole thing. It’s actually easier to take those super professional photos of pro athletes. Why? Because their facilities are designed to be accommodating to photographers. It’s probably not so with your kids’ local gym. Those are designed to minimize cost while maximizing play time. The lights don’t need to be bright because it’s not as if there are going to be a lot of T.V. cameras in there all the time. It’s a challenging photographic environment, and you’re just going to do what you can with it.
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