Sports photography is one of the most exciting and challenging types of photography. Capturing the action at its peak is your ultimate goal; this requires planning and skill. Here are a few tips to help you become better at capturing that "peak action" that is the hallmark of great sports photographers.
Know Your Sport
In order to capture those magic moments in sports that excite and thrill the fans, you will need to be able to predict the peak action. Peak action occurs at the point of impact as in baseball and golf or at the height of a jump as in basketball or track and field. Capturing this peak action requires knowledge and timing. You must be prepared to shoot when the action occurs and this requires an understanding of the game.
Get to know the coaches and the players. Learn who the stars are or who may give you a great reaction. Some of the greatest shots in sports history have come after a shot or a play. Coaches will give you some great shots when given the chance.
Get as close to the action as possible. No sport is going to allow you to be on the court or field-of-play. However, you may be able to sit near the sideline or goal-line at some events. Other times you may be restricted to the stands. It is important to get there early in order to have the best opportunities.
Also, be sure your field of vision is not obstructed. This may be nearly impossible to do in a crowd. However, with a little planning and maneuvering you should be able to set up for some great shots.
Position yourself so that you have a clean background unobstructed by unsightly objects such as trashcans or other photographers. You will want the focus to be on the players and not on background noise.
Sports Photography is about Timing
This is a reflex that is learned through practice. You must know enough about the sports to be able to determine when the peak action will occur. For instance, during a basketball jump-shot, the peak action occurs at the top of the jump; in football it can occur when a player dives for a shot; in golf, when the ball is struck. Knowing this information instinctively is what makes a sports photographer great.
The best advice for any would-be sports photographer is to keep your eye on the ball. That is where the action occurs. For instance, in baseball, the peak action occurs when a ball is hit, thrown, or caught. This is where your attention should be focused.
Another tip for capturing the peak action is to pre-focus your camera for action shots. At a baseball game you might pre-focus on home plate; in basketball, the rim; and in hockey, the goal. By pre-focusing you will give yourself a better chance at capturing a great shot. Professional photographers will carry an extra camera that they can pre-focus for situations like this. This type of specific focus is called zone focusing.
Practice make perfect in sports photography. You can not rely on just luck. You must practice in order to train your reflexes to react in an instant.
Lighting can present a challenge in sports photography especially in dimly-lit gyms. To compound the problem, flash in not permitted to be used in many venues such as gymnastics. You will need to rely on wider aperture openings and faster shutter speeds in order to compensate for the lack of lighting. The same hold true for poorly-lit outdoor fields such as high school stadiums. Outdoor day-lit venues are easier to manage as they give plenty of natural light.
Sports photography can be the most rewarding type of photography but it takes knowledge, preparation, and great timing to accomplish. By following these tips you will be well on your way to capturing those great sports moments we all cherish.
See also: Sports photography equipment