11 Sports Photography Tips

By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor


A picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve all heard that idiom and realize that the essence of the meaning is that a complex idea can often be understood easier with a single image rather than a bunch of words.

An image can quickly communicate pain, happiness, sorrow, joy and other emotions or actions that humans easily recognize through their own shared experiences.

When I first started covering news and sports I had several cameras with me at all times. I started with a Pentax K1000 and then moved on to a series of Minolta’s, Canon’s and Nikons with an assortment of long and short-range lenses, filters and lighting accessories. I also had the advantage of having both a black and white and color darkroom at my disposal in both my college and workplace.

Today it’s a lot less complicated with smart phones, digital and point-and-shoot cameras.

But if you’ve been assigned the task of capturing stunning images of your upcoming sporting event and photography is not your strong suit, don’t worry. Capturing memorable photos is easier today than ever.

Tip #1: Shoot lots of images. Professional photographers keep their eye on the action and continue firing the shutter almost continuously to capture those stunning moments we see on the front page of the newspaper or the cover of a magazine. It’s not all luck … keep shooting.


Tip #2: Change your perspective. Most people are guilty of standing in one position and hoping the action passes by the lens. If you want dramatic still images, change the perspective. Move above the action. Crawl on your belly. Sneak up beside the athlete or zoom in close. The images that capture the raw emotion, sweat and tears are memorable.

Tip #3: It’s all about the venue. A high school gym or stadium is completely different from photographing in a college or professional sports arena that may be well lit or rigged with strobe lighting. Prepare for dark and grainy action shots if lighting is limited. With college sports or daylight photography, the lighting and action shots are easier to manage. The longer the shutter stays open the more light enters. Stop action with a fast shutter speed of around 1/1000. Similarly, a higher ISO setting of 1600 to 3200 is more sensitive and allows a faster shutter speed for the lens used. Don’t set the camera to automatic if you can avoid it.

Tip #4: Built-in flash is worthless. Don’t use a built-in flash on your camera unless you are taking team or group shots. Flashes can be dangerous to participants and will do little for your photography other than causing red eye or washout. Experiment with aperture settings, f/stops and ISO values. Use the Auto ISO feature with max sensitivity to ISO if in doubt.

Tip #5: Don’t forget the spectators. Capturing the action on the field or race course is the highest priority, but don’t forget to look for crowd shots. You want to photograph what was happening around the event. Look for fans standing along the barricades cheering their team to a win. Try to photograph spectators along with the action if possible to provide more perspective to the viewer.

Tip #6: Athletes are people, too. When athletes take a water break, wrap a knee with ice or just need a break from play, the dirt, sweat and emotion is a powerful visual of what was happening. Move to the benches, tents or water cooler to show a different view of the event. Don’t forget coaching moments when the team is huddled around the chalkboard.

Tip #7: Avoid background distractions. Bleachers full of cheering fans behind the action provide some insight for the person who didn’t attend the game, but remember to focus on one or the other and blur the action when necessary. Banners, billboards, empty stadium seats or portable toilets detract from the message. If possible, step in another direction and cut those distracting elements from your field of view.


Tip #8: Get in front of the action or in it. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but when you can get directly in the action – such as under a basket at a basketball game or alongside the net at a volleyball game or tennis match, move in and provide your audience with the sort of up-close view they rarely experience.

Tip #9: Glad bag shots. Before the event starts, spend a little time capturing images of all the people and things that make this one event unique. Photograph volunteers arranging branded water bottles. Stage the trophies and medals for a beauty portrait. Photograph the banners, signage and scoreboards. And don’t forget to shoot some images of the equipment that will be used: think cleats, jerseys, bike pedals, balls, hockey pucks. These are the images that can be used to produce a package to tell the whole story of the day.

Tip #10: Beware the sun. This may be obvious, but make sure the sun is not directly behind the subject of your photo unless you are attempting a silhouette or artsy shot. Allow the sun or artificial light to shine on the subject either from the side, directly above or head-on.

Tip #11: Sports are about people. We want to see faces. Remember! Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes. If the action is moving away from you, stop and reposition or wait for the action to move in front of you. Your photography may not show a player’s eyes open and that’s okay, but do try to show the face – grimace, sweat, blood, tears, smiles and all.

Now get out there and have some fun!