With the sports season starting, athletes at every level are getting their heads back in the game. The constant action and excitement of sporting events offer a ton of opportunities for photographers to test their own skills. Like athletes, sport photographers need excellent reflexes, lots of practice on the field and of course, reliable equipment.
Choosing the right Lens
Sports photographers are constantly on the move, and some venues prohibit bulky camera equipment, so load up your gear bag with the absolute essentials. Seasoned sports photographers use versatile multi-focal lenses that offer options for long distance and close-up shots. When capturing college-level games in stadiums, a telephoto lens with Image Stabilizer, such as the Canon EF 70-200mm F/2.8L IS III USM, allows you to capture football teams facing off at the scrimmage line from a high vantage point as well as zooming in as close as four feet from a quarterback poised to throw a pass.
If you’re shooting from the sidelines or in smaller indoor venues, a lens with mid-range focal length such as the Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM gets wide enough to show the entire court and close enough to capture a volleyball player reaching over the net to block a spike.
Boost your shutter speed
The most dynamic sports photos show athletes in action — a basketball player leaping to make a slam dunk, a wide receiver stretching to catch a pass, or a runner pumping their arms in mid-sprint. To freeze these moments, you’ll need to use fast shutter speeds. Keep your camera settings simple by working in Sports mode or switch to Shutter Priority mode for more control over speed. Faster shutter speeds — between 1/500th sec. and 1/1000th sec. — will freeze-frame the action with crisp results. With slower shutter speeds — from 1/50th sec. to 1/500th sec. — you can convey movement with the blur from the athlete in motion.
Capture every moment
Enable Continuous Shooting in Drive mode to catch moments of impact — the splash from a swimmer plunging into the water or the swoosh of a basketball through the net. Combine with Continuous AF (Autofocus), also known as AI Servo AF, to keep your subject in focus while snapping. The AI Servo AF feature allows the lens to maintain its focus for multiple shots, tracking your subject as you hold the shutter button. Use the uniform numbers as your guide for tracking players on the field as the contrast between the colors and numbers of the jersey make it easier to lock and maintain Continuous AF.
The demands of continuous shooting can drain your battery and fill your memory card before the game is over. Carry a couple of extra memory cards in your camera bag and use lulls between game periods to make switches so you don’t miss the overtime goal determining the playoff champion.
Be aware of your backgrounds
While you can’t control the action on the field, you can make the action look more exciting in your photos by controlling the visual details around the venue. If the bleachers full of cheering fans are too distracting in your compositions, look for angles with higher contrast between both the background and players. Use Av (Aperture Priority) mode to control the depth-of-field by setting the aperture to wider settings (f/2.8 – f/5.6), which will blur the background and draw the eye into the action of the scene.
For wide-angle shots, use a tilt-shift lens such as the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II, which allows you to control the perspective and increase or decrease the amount of focus in your image. In athletic events including competitive swimming or track and field, the tilt-shift lens can be used to blur the dividing lanes and draw the eye to the athletes taking their laps.
Aim beyond the playing field
Sporting events are about more than big plays and the final score. Seek out interesting compositions off the field, like the ticking countdown clock over the coach’s shoulder, fans erupting into cheers over a touchdown, and anxious players waiting to be placed in the game. Also, look for reactions of athletes after big game moments — the quarterback dejectedly walking off the field after a fumble or a point guard celebrating her buzzer-beating three-pointer — can be as compelling as the action itself.
Go wide with your compositions
Wide-angle lenses let you exaggerate the depth of the scene. On the basketball court, a low wide-angle view from the baseline can distort the distance between the player and the hoop. Use an ultra-wide-zoom lens such as the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L III USM to capture the overall environment — incorporating the playing surface and sidelines, the bleachers, and any external surroundings of outdoor venues into one image.
Take your compositions to the extreme with a fish-eye lens, like the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM, which offers a short focal length for crisp details in panoramic photos and curved angles for intense action. Get creative with the fish-eye lens to snap unique images of the pregame huddle or give the scrimmage a dreamlike quality.
Improve your sports photography game by regularly attending a wide variety of local youth, high school, and college games, from football and basketball to soccer and field hockey. Getting to know the rhythm of the sport, the players’ personalities and the team dynamic will help you develop your own instincts and enhance the quality of your photos. By the end of the season, you’ll be a champion sports photographer.