15 Amazing Tips for Strengthening Your Sports Photography Skills

Posted by Fotovalley | August 28, 2020 | Photography

Capturing fast-moving subjects/actions is always associated with sports photography, and is no less a challenge but a major one. When compared to commercial photography it certainly does come in a league of its own or could be said that it is entirely different.

The rush, pressure, and adrenaline involved with this kind of photography hands-down offer certain technical boons to you as a photographer. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting sports events – amateur or professional, you got to get on track with the best skillsets.


So how do you do it? Fret not, we’ve compiled some amazing tips for you to up your game that will get you a one-of-a-kind experience than everyday photography. Oh and if you do lack the time for photo color correction or overall post-production you could always seek the help of affordable photo editing or image editing services providers.

So ready to boost your confidence in sports photography by getting on with our practical tips to achieve more professional results? Let’s get on with it!

Always Learn to Predict Subject Movements

You can do this by doing extensive research and your homework on different sports events, the one you know, and don’t as every sporting event is different. You could do the research/homework by attending sports events as a spectator, or watch it online. Plant your eyes closely on participant behaviour, moves or transitions, and especially the visual cues. Look for dynamics and interesting elements of the competition and how long they last which will help you figure out your reposition timing while shooting.
It is good to get acquainted with the participants before the shoot, and make sure you ask and get their permission for photographing them. By doing so, they will give you a heads-up about some special feat they want to try. They will be more than happy to help especially if you promise to email them a digital copy.

References are a Great to Get Familiarized with Shots

As mentioned above, talk to competitors about your first-time sports photography opportunity and ask details on what kind of shots are best in the event. Trust us, this always works and they will be more than happy to give their input to you.
The other way is to study the top photos of pros as a reference where you’ll get an idea of the whole scenario. This also means you have to research magazines and websites as well as indicate the preference of their customers or readers. You can execute the same shots until you develop your skillset. It will also give you an idea about photo color correction or the entire post-production.
It will also help you notice that there is a considerable difference between commercial photography and while shooting sporting events.

How to Position Yourself

You could position yourself in context to the humans sporting provided their face is visible. Shots generally work from side-on to head-on angles and if you can get hold of the in-between well and good, as more depth sense is produced.

If you shoot racing cars head-on, they’ll look spectacular, but don’t do the same for horses, ponies, bikes, and motorbikes as they will look really thin in your frame. So, you should try shooting these subjects a little from the side-on or the halfway position between side-on and head-on.

Equestrian (horse-riding) photography is challenging and requires the rider’s face to be visible in the pictures, especially during showjumps. It’s because riders turn their face to either one of the sides to avoid hitting or making contact with the horse’s head. So, make sure you’re not on the opposite side or behind the direction as to where riders turn their heads.

For motorbikes and racing cars the other angle that always works for clicking marvellous photos would be to shoot them from behind.

Positioning with Natural Light from the Sun

Natural light is always a saviour for sports photography and the one from a slightly overcast day is perfect since sunlight is not direct. Although weather patterns are random, and you can’t expect the best lighting, so make sure you are adaptable to work in any condition.

Position yourself in a way that the sun appears behind you which will ensure that your subjects are well lit. The other way will only give you silhouetted subjects. We are not saying it is bad, because silhouetted images are ambient with its darkness. So you can try shooting some of that too.

If the subject’s face and his/her facial features are important, you should shoot them with the sun behind you for well-lit and detailed photos. It doesn’t matter if some areas of the scene become a little brighter or darker, as long as you get the face and facial features right.

You could opt for outsourcing photo or image editing services that are cost-effective if you’ve only started to build your post-production skills.

Positioning with the Background

Outdoor sports events mostly have multiple backgrounds which are advantageous to your sports photography shoot. In a stadium environment, you could easily make the spectators as a lively background. The other one is the playing field, where you should position yourself in a slightly elevated position to shoot in a slightly downward direction.

And with equestrian events, you wouldn’t have any trouble finding beautiful natural backgrounds or backgrounds that of competition fences, spectators, or even stables which are also aesthetically accepted.

Images with elegant and less crowded backgrounds are the best and can fetch you good prices from competitors.


Yours and Your Subject’s Safety Matters

Yours and your subject’s (competitors) safety is of utmost importance in sports photography. So prepare yourself well by understanding the associated risks and hazards especially if you’re new to a specific sport and don’t know about all the risks. Start by asking experts, where you could begin building awareness, or through someone in a position of authority. They will let you know everything, even safe places from where you could shoot.

Camera Settings and Equipment

As sports photography is for capturing fast-moving subjects it requires different camera settings and equipment compared to commercial photography. It is advisable to shoot from a distance using long lenses. Large subjects are best shot with a 70-200mm lens while smaller subjects require slightly longer lenses – 300mm or more. Shorter lenses can also be used but you to be closer to the subjects to get the best shots.

Lenses with image stabilization can highly tone down blurs caused through shakes but cannot compensate for moving subjects.

The shoot settings should be of Shutter Priority (TV or S shooting mode) which will help you control shutter speed and the camera will automatically set a suitable aperture and ISO level.

Your lenses should have fast shutter speeds capable of reducing or eliminating motion blur while shooting fast-moving subjects. Shutter speeds faster than 1/focal length is always best or go for the fastest shutter speeds in your camera.

The “Panning” Technique for Sharper Subjects

The “panning” technique will allow you to shoot your subject through tracking and keeping the subject stationary in the viewfinder. Plan way ahead before your subject arrives as to where you want the click to take place while tracking. Keep space in the frame while you smoothly track the subject with the camera by following their movement. Hit the shutter button at your desired position and continue the smooth camera movement and don’t stop even after the shutter press. What you get is a much sharper subject with blurry backgrounds that put primary focus on your subject to make it stand out.

Play with the Blur Factor

This is also a panning experiment but involves slightly slower shutter speeds that cause the background to blur even more and some intentional blur on the subject. This intentional method causes the subject’s fastest-moving parts to blur. It could be the wheels of a car, bike or motorbike, or the legs of a runner or horse. Even though it’s a risky strategy it always conveys a sense of subject movement and produces stellar photos.

The Space Factor

Spaces have to be present with moving subjects in the direction of their movement. Without that space, for the subject to move into the whole photo will feel cramped, due to the overly tight crop.

With good space in the movement direction or front of the subject, the audience will get the perspective as to where the subject is going, even if it’s limited to several feet of space. It accentuates the sensation of movement that adds a dynamic and aesthetic feel.

Depth of Field

Since it’s a speedy type of photography, it’s always important to keep your subject in focus. Fast shutter speeds and largest available aperture are key to this as it captures maximum as light in a brief click window. Although large apertures are known to create a shallow depth of field where the foreground and background become blurry or out of focus but the subject stays in focus.

This works well but makes sure the field of depth is not too narrow as it might keep the important parts of your subject out of focus. We got a solution for that too – just tweak your camera’s ISO setting. It makes your camera sensor much more light-sensitive helping it adapt to a slightly lower aperture setting. The result – better-focused subject due to a larger depth of field.

Be Highly Adaptable

Each photographer has a unique skillset in sports photography. Even though the technical part is a norm to everyone, the method of execution is entirely different. And it all comes down to how you adapt to sports. Motorsports are fast and will require an enhanced awareness although its creative requirements are generally low-key. For slower sports competitions the time windows are more than brief that gives freedom to bring more technicality and creativeness.

So learn your subject well in an initial shoot, as it will help you know how they perform so that the next time you shoot them it becomes much better. It’s all about being adaptable and entirely aware of your subject and how you capture their improvisations


In-camera Previewing

It’s better to check your results with the in-camera preview option (LCD display) while shooting, especially when there are significant variations in subject position or lighting drops due to clouds. Do this only if you think the composition is affected by such circumstances and don’t check every single shot, as it causes the camera’s battery to drain much faster. So check your photos at times with this method, or else when you get back home you might be disappointed if you find several bad compositions in your camera.

Drama, Emotion & Humour are Important as Well

As explained at the start learning how to predict the sports and subject is vital since everything happens fast with sports. You should have that intuition to keep you ready all the time to deliver a prompt response. It will help you capture all the drama, the subject’s emotion or reactions, or even the humorous incidents.

It could be a horse out of control, a race car or motorbike losing its grip mid-competition, or a competitor/subject’s reaction to victory or losing – none can be left out. So you must capture all the highs and lows of the competition and the competitors.

Yes even though it isn’t something you can rejoice upon, it is part of the game and is meant to be captured. It will give you some dramatic and stunning compositions that make sports photography unique.

Be Consistent First – Perfection Comes Later

With sports photography, you need to have an impeccable sense for timing and it’s all about how you shutter the shots perfectly. The timing factor also varies with different sports with some requiring considerable timing, while some don’t.

You should know if you should press the shutter button half a second early or half a second late. In motorsports no matter what you do the results will look similar as everything is fast. It is in momentary actions (something like jumping) you should have exceptional timing.

Well, it takes hard practice to develop that. So what you can do is build a consistency factor first by shooting the same things every time. You might not get the result you want but the same results every time. That is consistency. So you keep on shooting and finally, you will learn to improvise as there is heavy trail and error involved allowing you to reach perfection.

We are still stressing on the fact that it’s not a walk in the park and that it is very difficult. So learn to hit the shutter through delayed or early button presses depending on the sports or situation. Trust us you’ll develop that sleight of hand much better as time passes, and will be finally able to get perfect results, no matter what.

Winding up…

In all its glory sports photography is a beautiful curve to achieve in the domain with a different kind of experience. There is an adrenaline rush that makes your senses more keen and adaptable giving a more assertive feel about your overall proficiency.

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