In sports and wildlife shooting, it’s all about getting that one particular moment that happens within a fraction of a second. Mastering the techniques to shooting sports will be able to help you progress as a photographer as those skills can be used in other forms such as photojournalism, weddings and street candids. My mentor, who has shot NY Knick games, has been kind enough to pass along some of his knowledge to me.
Here are 7 quick tips for those of you wanting to get better at shooting sports and fast action. Hint: You don’t need a camera that shoots 8fps like the Canon 7D, but it can help.
Note: Several of the photos in this article are from a recent trip to a Medieval Festival where the chance to really use the correct lenses and a better quality camera was presented to me.
1. Get The Right Lenses
To shoot sports, you’re usually best off with telephoto lenses. A lens with a max aperture of F2.8 will do well because you can do more with less light, and you can always stop it down if the lighting permits. As for focal lengths, you may find yourself shooting more at the longer end of your lens.
For the stuff I’ve shot, 135-200mm has usually done fine. To be fair, I’ve shot with an Olympus system where the lens’ crop factor is 2x or with a Canon 5D Mk II where there is no crop factor. Don’t spend too much time zooming in and out though or else you can lose your shot.
2. Use a Monopod if You Can
While a monopod is not always an option, it can be a life saver if you are going to be shooting for an extended period of time. This is especially true with longer lenses. Monopods, like the Manfrotto 679B, help you reduce camera shake and make more effective use of slower shutter speeds (see tip #6).
By letting a monopod hold the weight of your camera and lens, you will be slower to fatigue and your back, neck and arms will thank you the next day. Most importantly, you’ll get more keepers out of you day’s shooting, which is what we’re after anyway, right?
3. Frame it Tight
The above photo could be tighter depending on the photographer’s preferences. However, this framing shows an exciting moment, that this is a spectator sport, emotions, etc. While these two infantry men were dueling, the knight wearing red knocked the sword out of the hand of his combatant. This image captures that exact moment right before he fell.
Ensure that your framing shows what you want to get across and nothing more. That’s very important in sports photography as we usually see lots of wide to telephoto shots when watching the game from the comfort of our living rooms.
4. Capture the Emotions
Emotions are everything in a game and every athlete displays them. Shooting these emotions during exciting moments can work out well to your benefit because it will help you with portraiture, street candids, weddings, etc.
In sports, it’s all about the players. Basketball and tennis players always display emotions and it’s easy to see because their faces aren’t obstructed. In a game like football, it can be harder to capture these moments and it requires more from the photographer because body language has to be read. The photo above shows off the distress in the green knight as he’s dangerously close to his opponents axe.
5. Time Your Shot to Pull Off an Exciting Photo
This all varies on which sport you’re shooting. In baseball it can be a well-timed slide, the moment the ball hits the bat (or right before it), an excellent catch, etc. In basketball and football, the athletes can be in the air. Those are amazing shots to catch and require high shutter speeds and often high ISO shooting.
Granted though, if you pay attention well and predict the athletes movements you don’t always need to shoot at 8fps. I’ve never shot above 3.5fps for sports. It’s all about looking through your viewfinder, framing in tightly to really focus on what you’re looking for and releasing the shutter button at that critical moment. In the above shot, the point of the game was for the mounted knight to destroy his opponent’s standard (which was placed on his head.)
6. Use Shutter Speed to Show Motion
You can use shutter speed to help show off the action that’s going on in front of you. Whether you are using a fast shutter speed to freeze someone midair or using a slower shutter speed to convey a sense of motion by panning and creating a blur, shutter speed is a key component of the sports photographer’s creative vision. Use it wisely and you will create motion within a still image.
7. Keep Your Eye in the Viewfinder (most of the time)
The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. You need to always pay attention because you will never get another chance to get a shot like the one that you missed. Take your eye out of the viewfinder if you get lost and need to figure out what’s going on. After that, focus on what you’re going to shoot and follow that subject accordingly.
What other tips for shooting sports and action do you have to offer beginners?