As a sports photographer, there are so many moments you don’t want to miss: Hail Mary passes, walk-off grand slams, last-second full court shots. As we head into Super Bowl Sunday, here’s everything you need to know to become a great sports photographer.
Know the game.
You don’t have to know every single penalty – but you should know the basics of the sport you’re covering. The more you know, the more you can anticipate what action is going to happen.
Let’s say you regularly cover baseball – maybe even one particular baseball team. Pay attention to the players and their rhythms. You’ll soon learn a pitcher’s stance right as he is about to throw – and you’ll be ready to snap the shot!
Also, be respectful of your surroundings. Do not use on-camera flash since that can distract the players. And, you never know when a player or a ball is going to come your way – so pay attention to the game!
Get the right lenses.
In sports photography, the bigger your lens – the better. Since you’re not able to be on the field of play, a lens with a large focal length will allow you to get close to the action and isolate some of the players. If you’re just starting out, aim for a less with a focal length of at least 200mm. (It’s also not uncommon to see focal lengths of 300mm, 400mm, or even 600mm!)
Some sports photographers will shoot with two cameras: one with a prime lens for more intimate sideline portraits and one with their telephoto lens. If you have more than one camera, this is a great method, but if you’re only shooting with one, the telephoto is a must.
Secure your camera settings.
There’s a lot of quick-moving action in sports photography. Your camera needs to be fast enough to capture all of that motion, so you’ll need to use a shutter speed of at least 1/500 – really anywhere between 1/500 and 1/2000. It will also be helpful to set a large aperture (around f/2.8 or f/4). With a lot of light in the camera and a fast shutter speed, you’re more likely to get the action frozen in time.
Hit your angles.
Don’t take all your shots from an upright standing position. Shoot from your knees to get a more interesting perspective. Or, if you have time, head up on the bleachers for a bird’s eye perspective of the game.
To tell the full story of the game, you should also capture the fans in the stands, the players on the sidelines, and the coaches/refs as well. Give your audience an immersive feel of the event!
Never stop shooting.
Try setting your camera to “burst” mode. With the ability to quickly take 3-5 photos per second, your chances of getting the “money shot” increase. In addition, just because the play is technically over doesn’t mean you should stop shooting. Moments of celebration – especially from NFL players after a touchdown, for instance – can be really compelling and interesting shots.
Don’t forget the extras.
Outside of your DSLR and your telephoto lens, there are a few other items that will prove useful as a sports photographer. Since you’ll be taking a lot of pictures, you may need multiple camera cards with fast processors. Monopods are great for stabilizing your shot especially if you’re shooting from your knees. If you’re photographing a 90-minute game with no breaks (looking at you, soccer), a shoulder strap for your camera, whether you’re using one or two, will help with any back/shoulder pain.
Have any other tips for becoming a great sports photographer? Let us know in the comments!