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7 Tips for Shooting Sports from a Pro

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  • 7 Tips for Shooting Sports from a Pro

    Shooting sports on a consistent basis gets repetitive and it can often show in your work leaving you an unhappy shooter with few images that really speak about the sport you shot.

    Breaking your own mold and leaving your comfort zone can often be the best thing for a photographer to do to. So in that light, try to follow a few of these guidelines and you'll be on your way to taking better photos of the action as well as the moments that portray the emotion of the athletes.

    1) Get a new perspective. Nothing is more boring then a shot taken from eye level. Get down low. Get high. Get to the level the athlete is at. Put your photo's viewer in the moment. Lie on the ground in the rain and mud if you have to! I was once told by the Director of Photography at the Charlotte Observer newspaper that "photography is a contact sport. If you don't come home dirty, bruised, sore and have not done your job." I live by this quote and it is truly one of my favorites.

    2) Anticipate the moments. This goes way beyond sports photography to photography in general and photojournalism in particular. If you know that the ball has just been intercepted by the cornerback, common sense says to shoot the cornerback running down the sideline with the ball, but odds are the quarterback who missed the throw is going to show some pretty intense emotion. Place yourself in the best position to anticipate the moments where an athlete can vent their frustration or show their excitement, and then hammer the shutter.

    © Jamey Price/Charlotte Observer

    3) Go tight or go wide. With sports photography, I have found that often it is either or when it comes to focal range. Tight shots often give you a better sense of feeling of being in the moment, but a wide angle perspective can have the same effect showing the entire situation. Professional sports shooters will tell you not to be afraid to crop. Get rid of anything that is unnecessary in the photo.

    4) Watch for distracting lines and objects. As mentioned in #3, get rid of everything that is not essential to the photo. But that also means knowing where you're shooting and what potential trouble areas there are in your backgrounds and foregrounds. If a lamppost has the potential to be sitting in the frame of a killer shot, you might as well have not taken the photo. Distracting lines and objects can make an incredible photo simply mediocre, so use your eyes and scan the viewfinder for what draws your eye, then eliminate it if it is not needed.

    5) Compose for interest. Negative space and the rule of thirds can often be put to good use in sports photography. Though the general consensus is that negative space is a bad thing, it can often be a photographer's best tool...if the background is clean and not distracting. You can also tilt the camera to give a more interesting shot, or go for the same effect in post processing. If an image looks ok to you, but not incredible, try giving it some angle and often, an average image can become spectacular.

    © Jamey Price/Danville Advocate Messenger

    6) Use the light. Sports is about more then the action on the field. Using the ambient light around the field, pool or track can make your photos pop with excitement. For instance, light pockets can make the athlete stand out from everything else around them creating an awesome looking image where it is clear that the athlete is the subject and nothing else. Similarly, look for different sources of light. This biker was standing in a small pocket of light so I exposed for his jersey and the rest of the scene fell underexposed as I had wanted it.

    © Jamey Price/Charlotte Observer

    7. Get into the game! The more I personally get into the game, meet, race or event, the more I shoot, the more excited I become and the better my photos are. Its ok to get your emotions up as long as it doesn't effect your image making. Remain emotionless as to the score or result but absolutely get involved with the competition because your emotion should be transfered into the photos.

    © Jamey Price/Eclipse Sportswire

    Jamey Price is a professional sports photojournalist based in Charlotte, North Carolina. More of his work can be seen on his website at
    Last edited by JameyPrice; 05-12-2011, 03:08 AM.

  • #2
    Could you offer tips on shooting indoor sports? Flash or no flash? Special equipment? Shutter speeds and ISO setting recommendations? My first attempt at indoor sports was a roller derby match inside a skating rink. I used an on-camera flash (430EX II) and large aperture (2.8)but still needed to bump the ISO to 1600 which gave me a lot of noise. What should/could I have done differently to improve my shots (reduce noise, red-eye, etc.)?

    Picasaweb gallery:
    Picasa Web Albums - Nikki - Silicon Valle...

    Example shots:
    From Silicon Valley Roller Girls

    From Silicon Valley Roller Girls


    • #3
      Sure! In looking at the two shots you posted, the first is definitely a keeper. You captured a good moment, you're low to the ground and the background is nicely faded. Well done.

      The second, there isnt a whole lot you can do. The flash kind of blew out the scene. What I suggest is that you mess with the settings on your camera. When gym lighting is no longer giving you sharp images that freeze the motion, try mixing it up with slower shutter speeds. Off camera flash with a strobe and remote would also work well.

      The old saying that "its not the gear that makes the photographer" holds up in most cases, but not in gyms. It really is the gear you have in places with poor lighting. 1600ISO is high but not really high. Try using a good noise reduction program to help eliminate that. Make sure youre shooting at the lowest aperture you feel comfortable with. The more light you can get in the camera, the better.

      I hope that helps some.


      • #4
        Thanks, Jamey--appreciate the quick response and helpful feedback. The first photo is my favorite of the shoot but, unfortunately, most of my 400+ shots looked more like the second. 1600ISO is not a lot on full-frame camera's but on my 40D it yields so much noise that, at full resolution (or even 50% of the orig. resolution), the noise renders the photo unusable. I will look into a noise reduction software, as you've suggested.

        Question re: using an off camera flash. What kind of set up do you recommend for a one-person photographer (i.e., I don't have a Sherpa to hold my flash or other accessories for me). Should I just get a hot shoe-to-hot shoe cord and hold the flash with one hand and the camera in another (or maybe I should be using a tripod or monopod? Though, with action sports, a tripod seems like it would be bulky and impractical). Should I try using a diffuser or other accessory on my flash unit (430EX II)?

        Interesting that the two photos I posted were taken with the same ISO, aperture, exposure and flash settings. In the originals, both were over-exposed and I did a lot of tweaking in RAW to adjust exposure, color, sharpness, etc.I also cropped both, but the second one was a much tighter crop than the first and think this might account for the lower quality image results. I've re-posted the originals of the two photos I posted previously to show their overexposure. Both were shot wide open (f/2.8) yet one gave me some background blur (as would be expected at f/2.8) while the other (the second photo) did not. Why is this? Is the flash destroying any bokeh the wide aperture might have produced? Also, I had bought the flash the same day as this shoot so I didn't have time to play with it or learn the settings; consequently, I set the flash on full auto...would I have been better off setting it to manual and powering down the flash? Lastly, all my shots have exposures of 1/250 -- the max sync for my camera/flash. Would you recommend using my flash's high speed sync function to obtain faster shutter speeds?

        Sorry to ask so many questions -- I appreciate your time and patience very much!

        Photo 1 original (resized, but no RAW adjustments or cropping):


        Photo 2 original (resized, no RAW adjustments or cropping):



        • #5
          Permission to use photos in a photography class

          I'd really like to use some of these pictures (the one of the Kentucky footbally player and the black and white one of the Roller Derby) to teach my middle school students about the rule of thirds. Do you mind if I use them for a demonstration in my classroom?


          • #6
            I'd really like to use some of these pictures (the one of the Kentucky footbally player and the black and white one of the Roller Derby) to teach my middle school students about the rule of thirds. Do you mind if I use them for a demonstration in my classroom?


            • #7
              Totally off topic, but do you know Bert Fox and/or Gary O'Brien?
              Nikon D300, D700, Sony NEX5n
              Zeiss 2/25; 1.4/50; 1.4/85

              Please read the rules before posting a critique thread. Rules here.


              • #8
                Originally posted by jdepould View Post
                Totally off topic, but do you know Bert Fox and/or Gary O'Brien?
                YOU BET! Great guys. Bert and Gary both taught me a lot


                • #9
                  Hi All,

                  I am new to this forum and also to the photography world. I enjoy photography since my college time but now trying to mak it as a profession. I am interested in wedding photography so learning under one in my city.

                  However I always keep on looking for tips and tactics for photography on internet and just found DPS.
                  I am happy to be here as I can find many tips here that will surely help me in my work. These are nice and I'll try to improve my work based on it.
                  Thanks for this and forgive if its a wrong place to post this. ..