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Would you like some basic sport photography tips? Sports photography techniques are a lot like nature wildlife photography. In fact, many of the cameras and lenses you already have as a nurture photographer will work wonderfully as sports photography equipment.
Here is a beginning guide to sports photography settings and equipment, the types of sports photography you may want to try, and a general sports photography tutorial full of helpful basic sports photography tips and techniques.
You all know me best as a landscape, nature, and wildlife photographer, because those are my first loves. So you’ll notice that I will make some comparisons that cross over, though there are also some sports photography techniques unique to the genre.
Know the Sport
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If you want to get the best bird photos, you study up on the birds to find out when and where to go and how to best approach capturing those images.
The same principle holds true when shooting the next Larry Bird (NBA legend) or Mario Andretti (racing legend) in a sports setting. To get consistently great sports images, a knowledge of the sport you’re covering is essential.
Where does the action happen? Is it slow-paced or rapid, or slow in general with bursts of action? If it is a team sport, what positions on the team are involved in most of the exciting action? Is the sport more about finesse and strategy or physical prowess?
Knowing the answers ahead of time helps us determine some of the other variables such as which sports photography equipment to choose, and what sports photography settings are likely to result in the best images.
Sports Photography Equipment
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Mirrorless cameras and DSLRs are both excellent as sports cameras, with the lenses trending more towards telephoto and fast apertures.
A camera with rapid and accurate autofocusing is preferred over other models, though most of the most current digital cameras we’ve been testing lately will have more than enough speed and accuracy.
Being able to set a high ISO that still delivers high-quality images is another important aspect. Current cameras are generally pretty good in this regard also.
The lenses trend more towards telephoto, though a normal or wide lens is also useful for establishing shots. How much telephoto will depend on the sport and the venue, so back to the first of our basic sports photography tips, know the subject.
Some sports can be captured with short to medium telephotos while others are best shot with longer lenses. Take a look at the lenses used on a football or soccer field as opposed to a tennis match or a prizefight. The bigger the area of action, the longer the lens needed seems to be an axiom for sports photography.
As with wildlife photography, the faster aperture lenses are in demand for sports. These will give you opportunities for faster shutter speeds and for selective focus. Zoom lenses and single focal length prime lenses are both worthwhile gear.
Other necessary or beneficial sports photography equipment will include monopods, rapid access bags, holsters, belts, and straps. I also like to use rigid lens hoods on my lenses, both to reduce glare from bright light and for an added layer of protection from frontal lens impacts.
Sports Photography Settings
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If you already know how high you go with the ISO in your camera and still get great-looking images, then this lets you control your other exposure settings for best advantage. A high ISO is often valuable in those sports that are played indoors or outdoors at night.
Artificial light color balance can be all over the place within a sports arena because of the mixture of light source types. High-pressure sodium vapor lights are common, but you might also have a mix of direct sunlight, cooler skylight, fluorescents, and incandescent lighting.
Additionally, the lighting types and conditions can change during the event, such as a football game starting out with afternoon Sun and ending under stadium lights. So shooting in RAW could be a good idea. You may also want to use a custom color temperature setting or carefully decide on what presets will work with the lighting you’re under if capturing JPEG image files.
Autofocus is the preferred method of focusing for many pros in the field. AF technology has improved to the point that its speed and accuracy is better than we can do on our own.
You can still control it by choosing your focus points and what setting, continuous or single shot, to use. Helpful hint: continuous AF with a centered group of focal points can be utilized in many, varied situations.
Unless you’re attempting a special effect of panning along with the action and having a slow shutter speed, faster speeds are generally used for their action-stopping power.
Peak of Action
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Peak of Action is a sports photography technique usable across the types of sports. Here’s how it works: Almost all movements have a point in time where the action peaks.
For instance, a high jumper at a track meet jumps up, clears the bar, and falls back to the ground. The point in time when their body was no longer traveling upward but before it started to fall is the peak of action.
Swinging a baseball bat, tennis racquet, or golf club has a similar but slightly different peak of action, often right at the end of the swing. A football play action pass and a basketball slam dunk also have certain times where the peak of action technique can be applied.
Not only is peak of action a powerful storytelling tool for a single image, it also is less dependent on super-fast shutter speeds, since the most rapid part of the action is rarely the peak of the action, photographically speaking.
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Developing an awareness of where we are and what’s happening all around is beneficial for being able to follow the action and determine where to point our lens and when to expect some action peaks.
It also is a good safety reminder in our basic sports photography tips. Don’t get your lens (or your face) smashed by an errant ball or javelin or a kicking and jumping bull on the loose. Stay safe! And have fun with your sports photography!