14 Sports Photography Tips to Wow Other Parents!

There’s something addictive about shooting sporting events. The rush and blur of the game mixed with the intensity of the athletes create an adrenalin rush like no other. As a former competitive athlete shooting sports is one of my favorite types of photography. Sports photography is all about capturing that moment.

Shooting sporting events is intensely challenging. You have to make split-second decisions about where to aim the camera, which athlete to focus on and when to push the shutter button. It takes a lot of practice and the right equipment to get it right. You need to practice the basics before you can get into more complex sports photography. Only after a lot of practice can you branch out and push the limits of shooting.

In this article, I will show you how you can capture great moments in your next sporting event to make all the other parents go Wow!

Example of an sports photography taken at a outdoor hockey game
Sports photography is all about the moment.

1. Camera for Your Sports Photography

I hate to burst the bubble of all those mums and dads out there shooting their children with an 18-55mm kit lens but an entry-level DSLR just won’t cut it. Sports photography is an expensive endeavor. The equipment you need is very costly. Be prepared to spend some money.

You need to purchase a camera with high frames per second (fps) rating. My ultimate dream is to own the Canon 1DX. It’s a great camera for shooting sports. If you like Nikon then choose the equivalent from their range of DSLRs. Just remember you need that fps rate. 14 fps will help you to capture a lot of great images. The Canon 7D Mark II has a more manageable price range and it will do the trick if need be.

Just remember the fps is very important for capturing the action.

Sports photography showing the facial expression of a young football player
Capture your subject’s facial expressions.

2. Your Glass Matters

Sports photography requires great lenses. The 18-55mm kit lens just won’t capture the action in the same way. Longer zoom lenses allow you to capture facial expressions. You need to be able to get close to the action. The following Canon lenses are great choices when shooting sports. I highly recommend the 70-200 f/4 lens (about $500 USD) or even better, the f/2.8 version (if you can afford it) it’s a highly diverse lens. It will not only take great sports photos but will serve you well in a variety of other situations (portraits, landscape, wildlife…etc). Here are some other alternatives to consider (or dream about)

There are three things to consider when choosing your lens:

  1. Image stabilization (IS, or VR in Nikon) – A great feature to have since you are most likely to not use a tripod when capturing your moving subjects.
  2. Zoom factor – In sports photography, you can not always be close to your subjects. So you need to be able to zoom in.
  3. Aperture – Aperture controls how much light reaches your sensor. You need as much light as possible so that you can increase your shutter speed without lowering exposure. Did that sound like Rocket Science? Then you better read this exposure triangle guide which will unlock your DSLR camera’s great hidden mysteries!
Photo of two players running. Taken from the side.
Side views of the action can help tell a story.

3. Use a Monopod

Most photographers will use a monopod when shooting sports. The combination of a large DSLR and a huge lens makes for a heavy load to carry. Unless you are very strong the use of a monopod is essential. I can manage to hand hold my camera and a large lens for about 3 hours but after that, my shoulders and arms need a break. I will use the monopod until my arms are rested and then move back to hand holding my camera. When I first started shooting with big lenses I could manage to hand hold for about an hour. Over time my strength has increased. Yours will too but having a monopod can really save your back.

Plus, it is easier to pan your camera and lock focus on your subjects with a monopod.

4. Wear Good Shoes!

You are going to be on your feet all day. This is just the nature of shooting sports. Be sure to invest in good footwear. You can’t take incredible photographs if your mind is focused on the pain in your feet!

Even Magnum photographer David Hurn will tell you the same!

Photo of a Olympian soccer player Rio Ashley Lawrence practicing in her hometown.
This image was about an Olympian practicing in her hometown. Great Job in Rio Ashley Lawrence.

5. It Takes Practice

It takes a lot of practice to get great shots. First, learn to follow the game and wait for the right moments to press the shutter. You might luck out at the beginning and catch a few beautiful images but practice will ensure you capture great shots each time. You want to make sure each time you use your camera you walk away “keepers”.

Some people will recommend that you shoot constantly during a game. Holding down the shutter button and firing randomly at anything that moves will not guarantee you good shots.  Plus, you will then have to go through all those photographs and cull the terrible images. It’s not worth the time. Save yourself some effort and learn to be a little bit picky in what you photograph. It’s important to anticipate the play and know when something is going to happen. Essentially, you have to develop your “Spidey” senses for the action.

A photo of a hockey player running towards the camera.
Keep practicing and you shall improve your craft

Now for some technical tips

There’s more to it you know.

Sports photography has some technical requirements too.

You need to understand how your camera works. Knowing how to use your camera effectively is also important. Consider these 5 tips next time you shoot sports.

5. User Shutter Priority Mode

Choose the proper camera settings. While the occasional motion blurred image can be beautiful most sports images are “tack” sharp. This means that you need to shoot at a shutter speed of at least 1/500th of a second. If you are shooting professionals or high-level athletes 1/500th won’t be fast enough.

Take a few shots prior to the start of the game and be sure your camera settings are right. I usually use either the shutter priority mode or the full manual mode of my camera to give me full control of the shutter speed. This way, I can easily adjust it to freeze action on the ground.

6. Pay Attention to Your Exposure

Aperture and ISO are just as important as the shutter speed. If you are shooting indoors, you may need to use a larger aperture to let a lot of light into your camera’s sensor. This is why it’s essential to have a 2.8 lens. Most of my indoor photography happens in a hockey arena. I can typically shoot children’s sports at 1/500th, f 6.3 and ISO 8000. Each arena is different however so always take a few test shots before the action begins.

Important tip: Arrive early! Use the time to scout the best shooting location and test out your camera settings.

7. Slightly Overexpose

In order to clearly see the faces of athletes be sure to shoot images that are very bright. A helmet can cast a shadow over an athletes face. Their expressions are so important in creating a great image. When choosing your settings consider overexposing your images just slightly. You don’t want to totally blow out all the highlights but brighter is better.

This is another area where your large aperture is going to come in handy.

A photo of a young ice hockey player taken with a slightly overexposed settings by a sports photographer
Slightly over expose the shots to capture facial expressions

8. Use Continous Focus Mode.

Be sure to choose the correct focus mode. I shoot with a Canon camera and the setting is called AI Servo (in Nikon cameras it is called Continuous/AF-C).  Continuous focus mode means that your camera will continue to adjust its focus as the players move either closer to or further away from your camera. Speaking on focus, you may want to try back-button focus method to avoid having to re-focus every time you shoot. This can especially come in handy if you want to keep a certain player/spot focus on your shots. For example, when shooting a goalie, I take focus using the back-button focus method and shoot around him without worrying about the focus. Read our back button focus guide if you need more info about this.

9. Use Burst Mode

Use burst mode to help you to you shoot a series of images that tell the story of the game. There’s no need to hold down the shutter for a series of 8 shots but try to capture action in 3 or 4 shots. If a player is heading in for a breakaway you can use burst mode and then choose the best image after the action has stopped. When things move fast, this can be your insurance policy!

A photo of tow young ice hockey players going for the puck. Taken with a high burst mode using a DSLR
Think about the story this photo tells.

There’s an awful lot to learn when first shooting sports. I’ve covered a few of the basics. There’s lots more to discuss for another time. If you’ve got some great tips for shooting sports then, by all means, leave them in the comments. Don’t forget to include examples of your work. We want to see some great actions shots. Keep checking back because I plan on writing some more articles about sports photography. I will delve deeper into the tricks of the trade. You can also check out some of my work over at Xplosive.

Photograph of the pro-boxer Aurey Cox
Aurey Cox a pro-boxer. Here he wanted to show everyone how much concentration it takes to be a boxer.

Are you shooting a sporting event soon? Why not join us here at PhotoBlog.com and tell your photo stories! We have a great community of supportive bloggers who share their photos and stories of everything from sporting events to great outdoors. Come, join us!

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9 ports photography tips

About the author

Erin Fitzgibbon

Erin FitzGibbon is a Portrait, Sport, Fine Art Photographer and Writer from Ontario, Canada. When she's not taking photographs or writing articles she loves to escape to the backcountry for week long adventures with her family.

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