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Top Tips for Getting Started with Sports Photography

Marianne Stenger
25th June 2019

Summer just wouldn’t be the same without all the exciting outdoor sporting events we look forward to each year, from Wimbledon and Royal Ascot to the football, cricket, and rugby world cups that only come around every four years.

If you’re a budding photographer, local sports matches and fitness events can be great training grounds for getting to know your camera and experimenting with new techniques.

Of course, photographing fast action and coming away with sharp and well-focused images is no easy task, especially if you’re accustomed to shooting posed portraits. So if you’re not sure where to begin, here are some tips for getting started with sports photography.

1. Invest in the right type of lens

If you want to start shooting sports events, the right type of lens can make all the difference. Most sports photographers use telephoto-zoom lenses with wider maximum apertures, as these allow them to get in close and freeze the fast action without physically moving in closer.

When shopping for a lens for sports photography, look for something that covers the range of 70-300mm. Also, keep in mind that a wider maximum aperture (lower f-stop number) equals a faster lens, which will make it easier for you to capture fast action.

Of course, as a beginner your budget will be a lot smaller than that of a professional, but brands like Tamron or Sigma make excellent entry-level zoom and telephoto lenses that are a good deal more affordable than those from Canon or Nikon.

2. Use a faster shutter speed

Starting with a shutter speed of 1/500 is a good rule of thumb for sports photography, as this will enable you to freeze fast action such as someone running or kicking a ball. On a bright sunny day, achieving well-exposed photos with a shutter speed of 1/500 shouldn’t be too difficult, but it can get tricky if you’re photographing a sporting event indoors or later in the day. So take some test shots beforehand and raise the ISO if necessary to let more light through to the sensor.

Of course, there might be situations where a shutter speed of 1/500 isn’t fast enough, such as when you’re photographing race cars or motorbikes. So if you want to know more about shutter speed and how it can affect your photographs, check out our beginner’s guide to shutter speed.

3. Use burst mode and continuous focus mode

Whether you’re photographing a football player chasing down a ball or a gymnast executing a complicated move, you aren’t going to get a second chance to capture that important moment, so your camera needs to be ready to shoot in an instant.

Burst mode, continuous shooting mode, or sports mode allows you to shoot several photos in quick succession by simply holding down the shutter button. This ensures you will never miss the most important moment of a jump, sprint, or other athletic manoeuvre.

Most cameras also have different focus modes including one shot, autofocus, and continuous focus. Generally, the best one to use for sports photography is continuous focus mode, as it allows you to keep fast-moving subjects in focus while you track them with your camera.

4. Find the right angle

It can be tempting to just start shooting from your place in the audience, but if you have the option of moving around, spend some time taking in your surroundings and checking where the light is coming from. You will want the sun to be coming from behind you to avoid backlit photos and also let plenty of light shine on your subject so you can keep your shutter speed fast.

It’s also worth shooting from a few different angles to figure out what looks best. For instance, you might crouch down on the ground and shoot from down low, or maybe you’ll decide to find higher ground and shoot from above instead.

5. Try to anticipate the action

One thing that can also be very helpful when it comes to capturing the most important moments of a sports match or event is to try to anticipate the action and position yourself and your camera accordingly. 

The only way to do this, of course, is to get to know the sport you want to photograph in and out.

Once you have a better understanding of the rules and strategies involved, you’ll be able to make better educated guesses about an athlete’s next move or where the ball and the players might end up from one moment to the next.

It can also be fun to capture the expressions and emotions of both the athletes and the audience after a goal has been scored or a move was pulled off successfully.

Want to turn your favourite action shots into a striking sports-themed photo book or professional portfolio? With Bob Books you can create your own top quality photo books in a variety of formats. Find out more about the types of photo books we offer or browse our bookshop to see some examples of the beautiful photo books our customers have already created.