For sports photography, your camera needs to be ready to capture the action as it happens. Shoot in continuous mode with fast auto-focus to allow you to move around quickly and cover the action as it unfolds. Shoot in JPEG rather than RAW for max buffer speed to get as many images as possible without missing a thing. To get closer to the action, use a lens with a zoom range of at least 200mm. You want to get as close as possible to isolate your subjects.
Sports Photography Tip #1 – Know Your Sport
The key to sports photography is anticipating the action. It’s vital that you know the sport inside out so you can predict what will happen and be ready to capture the highlights with your camera. It’s about more than just knowing the game, you also have to work with the location.
Have a look around beforehand to scope out the best vantage points to shoot from and move between during the event. Being in the right place at the right time is crucial for taking shots of those defining moments. If you’re at the London Marathon, it’ll be hard for you to shoot from more than a few locations across the route. Find your spots at the start and finish lines, as well as a point deep into the race when the runners are more spread out. Choose a spot atop an incline to capture a trail of runners in the background coming up the hill behind your subject.
Be sure to get those key moments of your sport on camera. For golf it’s the moment the club makes contact with the ball. For a competitive diver, you want to capture the point just after they leave the platform when their upward motion ceases and for a split second they’re suspended in mid-air. Above all you need to have the knowledge to be able to predict the key moments you need to capture. In fact you need to be just as ready as the players themselves.
Sports Photography Tip #2 – Tell the Whole Story of the Event
Why not try something a little more in-depth? Sports photography doesn’t begin and end as the event does. Looking for interesting sports images before, during and after the action is important to create a narrative for the game. Capture details such as the nervous anticipation on the athletes’ faces beforehand, defining moments during the game as well as the tidal wave of emotion that follows any sports event.
Never stop shooting, what happens after the final whistle blows tells a part of the story you wouldn’t want to miss
If you’re following runners at the London Marathon, you’ve got plenty of opportunity to do this. Get shots of runners warming up before the race, or use a vantage point to show the atmosphere of runners in eager anticipation at the starting line. At turns during the race, play with framing to capture the runners against the backdrop in a more unique way. Capture them at water stations as they cool down with a splash. At the finish line take full-body shots of the runners as they cross the finish line and capture the elation on their faces. Don’t pack up once the leaders have finished, there are plenty of interesting photography opportunities later with the fun runners and casual joggers.
Sports Photography Tip #3 – Get Creative with Angles
If you can, move around the event you’re shooting. You need to find angles that no one else is shooting from. We all know what the world looks like from five or six feet off the floor, so get up high or down low. Whether you kneel on the floor or find a new vantage point above the action, make your shots truly special by finding new ways to preserve the events. Add even more variation to your sports shots with a mix of close-up, mid-range and shots from afar.
If you’re shooting from below, make good use of a monopod to keep your camera stable. A photo from below will give you a more dramatic angle with the added advantage of a less-cluttered backdrop against the sky or a ceiling instead of the crowd or other athletes. Shots from below add an interesting depth and perspective that pros love to use.
Sports Photography Tip #4 – Create Separation from the Background
For a more professional look, get some separation between your subject and the background. You want the focus on the athlete with the background blurred. If you’re zoomed in, use a wide f/stop such as f/2.8 for max separation between the athlete and the background. A poor or distracting background is the one thing that will ruin even the best shot, so it’s important to compose your sports photos against simple backdrops. This is another reason to really pay attention to your positioning at the event to make sure you aren’t ruining everything else with a poor perspective from the start.
Sports Photography Tip #5 – Above All, Don’t be a Chimp; Don’t Watch, Shoot!
Don’t wait for the perfect moment by looking through your viewfinder to check after each shot (“chimping”). If you can see it in there, you’ve already missed it. Shoot as much as you can, in the age of digital you can just get rid of the bad shots later. Capture as much of the action as you possibly can with continuous shooting so you don’t miss a thing. After all, we aren’t in a studio so you can’t ask the athlete to just “Do that again!”