10 Sports Photography tips for beginners

10 Sports Photography tips for beginners

Capturing the action of a thrilling sports event, whether it is football, rugby league, soccer, tennis and everything in between, is a wonderful feeling for all involved. But just how can we get those shots we see in the magazines and newspapers?

I will be giving you my top 10 tips on sports photography for beginners, hopefully improving your sports photos dramatically!

What you need and some pre-tips:

You will need a digital SLR camera, or a camera that allows you to set your own shutter speed. If you aren’t using either of these then chances are you won’t be able to capture very good sports photos.

When you first arrive at an event, particularly children’s sports, it’s important to remember that you need to seek permission to take photos. Once you get the a-ok we are ready to shoot!

1. Have a lens or zoom range that is AT LEAST 200mm.

A focal length greater than 200mm is obviously a lot better as it will allow you to get close to the action and without being able to zoom in, you won’t be able to isolate any of your subjects. Two common beginners lenses are the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR or the Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM.

2. Do NOT use full automatic mode.

This is a common mistake made by amateur photographers. They will usually set their camera in full automatic mode or a pre-mode labelled “sports” or “action”. While these may work OK on occasions, to really take to the next level you need to use a semi-manual mode.

3. Use a fast shutter speed.

In sports photography, you want to ensure that the shutter speed on your camera is fast enough to capture the quick moving bodies of the athletes. A shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second is required to freeze movement. Try not to go below 1/500th of a second.

4. Use Aperture Priority mode.

The modes on a typical DSLR are Automatic, Program Automatic, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual. Displayed by the letter A on a Nikon camera and AV on a Canon, the aperture is our f/stop number, which determines how much light is taken into the camera’s sensor. If you aren’t using a digital SLR camera, you don’t need to worry about setting an aperture, but rather a shutter speed, which we will get to shortly. When we set the camera’s aperture in aperture priority mode we are allowing the camera to determine the shutter speed. On a bright sunny day, this is usually the best setting to use. Many professionals for sports photography use aperture priority mode. What we are looking at doing in this mode is setting a very large aperture, which is a small f-stop number, such as f/2.8 or f/4. This will ensure that the most possible light is allowed in, which in turn tells the camera that a fast shutter speed is needed for the correct exposure. When there is more light in the camera it will allow for a faster shutter speed, thus helping to freeze the action.

5. Watch your ISO.

Shutter speed, as you can tell, is very important. To determine the correct exposure we use 3 components, which are aperture, shutter speed and ISO. When shooting in a semi-manual modes such as aperture priority or shutter priority we need to set the ISO ourselves considering the location, time and conditions of the event you are photographing. For a bright sunny daytime soccer match for example, a low ISO of 400 will be perfect as there is plenty of light available for the camera to use. However if it is a dull overcast day, there is not as much light and we need to be able to tell the camera this by setting our ISO. On a darker day you will need to increase your ISO, usually to around the 800-1200 mark.

6. Use Shutter Priority Mode if Aperture Priority isn’t available.

This setting is best used for non-SLR photographers who only have a camera that enables shutter speed settings. As many people reading this won’t own an SLR, it is important to remember that you can still capture some great shots. Most cameras including point-and-shoots will enable the users to set a shutter speed. Instead of telling the camera how much light to let in, as we did with aperture priority, using shutter priority mode enables us to tell the camera directly what speed we would like the shutter to be. The camera will then decide on what aperture – or f/stop number – to use. As mentioned earlier, at least 1/500th of a second is needed. You will need to take test shots when setting your shutter speed manually, in case you set it too high and are not letting enough light into the camera.

7. Use a fast auto-focus and burst mode.

In order for the camera to keep up with the fast movements we want to set it to continually focus on our subject or subjects rather than lock on to one spot. On top of this, we must also set our camera to take multiple images, usually referred to as “frames per second” or “burst”. Locate both of these on your camera and ensure that they are switched ON when shooting sports. If you have the option to set how many frames per second you would like your camera to take, always set it to the maximum whether it be 3, 4, 5 or more photos a second. This increases our chances of capturing that money shot.

8. Position yourself correctly and know your sport.

The best thing you can do is to position yourself with the sun behind your back. This ensures that a lot of light is hitting your subject out on the field of play, which reverts back to letting as much light in as possible and freezing the action with those fast shutter speeds. It is also helpful if you know a lot about the sport you are taking photos of as anticipating where the ball or the action may be is going to help you get the best shots possible. Follow the action with your camera, ensuring that you are zoomed in close enough to have the majority of the frame be the player themselves.

9. Take lots and lots of photos.

Whether it be a soccer player kicking the ball or a tennis player serving, once you have your subject in the frame you can half-hold the shutter button to focus and then hold down to fire away and capture as many photos per second as you can, thanks to the previous burst modes we have set. In this day and age with digital photography we are fortunate to be able to see our results immediately. There is absolutely no harm in finishing a sporting event with 2000 pictures on your camera!

10. Shoot from a low angle, such as your knees and use a monopod.

By shooting from your knees you are capturing much more of a dramatic angle as well as letting in more of a clear background rather than other athletes and grass. The lower perspective gives the photo excellent depth and it’s a technique that you will see all pro photographers doing. Also look to purchase a monopod and use it, even if your lens and camera are not heavy. It is very beneficial in helping you keep your camera steady and balanced while shooting from different angles, particularly your knees.

I hope that with these tips you can capture some awesome pictures. We would love to see your results.