Beginner’s Guide to Sports Photography

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  By Jonathan Ma
Beginner’s Guide to Sports Photography

Sports photographers are usually those who love sports themselves. The passion for a sport can lead to a someone to invest hundreds, if not thousands, in photography equipment in order to capture the emotions, skills, and the excitement of it all. Some sports photographers focus on just one sport, and others like to photograph a large variety of sports. Whichever route you decide to go, there are some basic beginner’s principles and guidelines involved in sports photography. Let’s take a look at these together:

  • Background Context
  • Go Wide or Go Home
  • A Different Perspective
  • Black and White
  • Action Shots

Background Context

This concept is highlighted in many of my articles, and for good reason. Do you see the large crowd in the background of the photo above? The presence of the crowd helps the viewer to imagine what is happening. It provides background context to the photo. Otherwise, it’d just be a skater doing a trick alone. But since we know there’s a crowd, we can infer that this is possibly in a big town where skating events are often held. The audience is also impressed with the skater’s abilities, which gives the skater some credibility. For this reason, it’s always recommended that a photographer looks for ways to add background context into the photo. The easiest way to do this is to zoom out or change angles until you find a background that gives some context to the scene.

Go Wide or Go Home

In this photo, we see that the photographer has taken a very wide-angle photo. They were able to capture the entire baseball field, which helps the viewer get a sense of scale. The viewer can also picture the scope of the whole scene. Photos like these are great to compliment close-ups because the viewer can then understand the context behind the close-up photos. For this reason, it’s good to always carry a camera with a wide-angle lens at sporting events.

A Different Perspective

Notice where the photographer would have to be in relation to the ball in order to take the photo above. If you said, “at the same level as the ball”, you’d be correct! By getting down low, the photographer was able to capture the scene from the angle of the ball itself. The technique helps the viewer to view the scene from the ball’s perspective. Of course, the ball is the main subject in the photo, so it is reasonable to focus all attention on the ball as it travels towards the hole on the left. As a photographer, never be afraid to experiment with different angles. It’s a technique that should be ingrained in all professional photographers.

Again, what angle was the photographer shooting from in the photo above? That’s right, they were shooting from the ground. As a result, the emphasis is not on the runners themselves. Actually, the main focus is on the runners’ legs, their equipment, and the rocky trail itself. Through this perspective, the viewer can guess that these runners are professionals, have the necessary equipment, and are fit enough to run on such a rocky trail.

Black and White

Sometimes a photo can look even better in black and white than in color. For example, take a look at the photo above. The repeating shapes, forms, and figures make a great pattern on the pavement. Each bicyclist is wearing a similar shirt, bicycle shorts, a helmet, and riding a similarly sized bicycle. The only difference is the numbers on their backs, which aren’t really visible anyway. Photos like this that have repetition in shapes are great for black and white. Marathons, triathlons, and other sports where there are many athletes competing at once are good opportunities to take black and white photos.

Action Shots

Action shots are by far my favorite type of sports photography shots. In order to capture the moment like in the photo above, the proper equipment is needed. First, the photographer will need a camera body that has fast auto-focusing capabilities and a high fps (frames per second) burst rate. An example of this would be the Canon 7D Mark II DSLR. Second, a fast lens is needed. This means a lens that has a low aperture, for example, the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II lens. And third, a reliable, sturdy tripod is necessary. After acquiring the equipment, the photographer will need to practice anticipating the athletes’ movement and patterns in order to keep the focus on them while they’re moving around. The keeper rate of sports photography can be quite low, but the photos that do turn out well are well worth the effort.

Happy shooting!

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Jonathan Ma

Jonathan Ma is a freelance writer and professional photographer. He grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the United States. The natural beauty that surrounds this area has helped him to learn to appreciate art and photography. Jonathan's favorite styles of photography are nature and sports photography. He enjoys learning and teaching others what he knows.

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