Tips for Sports Photography

Athletic competition combined with photojournalism has always captured my interest. It always intrigued me to see an athlete suspended within a millisecond of competition. Motionless flexed muscles, facial expressions, flying jerseys, and airborne turf and dirt are fascinating to me. A high school/youth team lives a lifetime together in the few short months of the season. The players and their fans experience every human emotion on the field, the sidelines, and in the stands. My aim is to capture these moments. I want to concentrate my efforts on the things that make an athlete feel special and confident.

I’ve compiled of list of tips that I follow while shooting sports and action images.  Here are some non-technical tips:

  • Stay alert; stay alive.  I can’t remember where that safety tip came from.  It might be a remnant from my Army days, but it holds true in sports photography.  You can’t preserve the action if you’re not paying attention to the game.  Also, when football and basketball players come flying out of bounds, it sometimes seems as if you might be at a NASCAR event instead.
  • Get as close as you can to the action.  A really tight shot of a touchdown pass is killer.
  • With that said, I try to get the ball in the frame as often as possible—100% if I can.  The picture needs to tell a story.  Having the ball in the frame adds valuable description to your story.
  • If you can, get the game official making the call in the frame.  This also adds to the story.
  • Include the fans.  Whether in a frame all by themselves or in the background of an action shot, fans are a plus.  Although they aren’t competitors, they are a part of the action.
  • Document the huddles, the sidelines and the water cooler.  A lot of amazing things happen here.  Often, these things go unnoticed because most people are reaching for their popcorn or running to the bathroom or concession stand.  These are the places teammates will encourage and praise each other for an epic play or discuss their strategy.
  • Try to capture angles and perspectives that the fans can’t see or don’t have access to.
  • You can get amazing shots if you wait for the reaction.  I’ve had difficulty training myself to keep the camera up after the great play is made, but sometimes I do remember.  I’ve captured some great shots that show real emotion.
  • Just like at weddings, why not document the details of a competition?  You can get great detail shots of the ball in the pitcher’s circle between half-innings, the opponent’s spirit sign that is complete opposite of how the game turned out, or the scoreboard at the end of the game.
  • Most importantly, I always try to avoid casting an athlete or coach in bad light—even if they’re from the other team.  Having played sports all my life, I am pretty familiar with good positioning, form, footwork, sportsmanship, etc.  If I capture an image of an athlete that is not flattering in this regard, I’ll delete the image… UNLESS it’s a really good image… as in a touchdown pass, home run hit, or face-smashing kill.  No one wants a picture of themselves double-dribbling.  Once, I witnessed an outfielder opening a new bag of sunflower seeds… with a batter in the box… and a pitcher on the mound.  I did capture some images, but ultimately decided to delete them.  However, making this call is sometimes difficult.  Another time, I witnessed a coach argue a really bad call… a really, really bad call.  The coach was really irateuncharacteristically irate.  The back and forth between him and the referees would have made for some really great images with a lot of emotion, but I decided to put my camera down.  At the time, I felt it was not fair to cast the coach in this light.

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Here are some technical things to keep in mind:

  • Always use a fast enough shutter speed to stop the motion.  Some photographers actually prefer to show a little blur and imply movement, but I don’t.  I’m in the camp that everyone on Earth knows that people move when they play sports.   Therefore, I don’t need to remind you or suggest that in my sporting images.  (I’ll save that for waterfalls and traffic.)  I like to stop time as much as possible.  This is more difficult to do in low-light situations, but always use the fastest shutter speed possible.  During Friday night lights or inside a gym, my fastest shutter speed is usually 1/500th.  Occasionally, I get lucky and can hit speeds up to 1/640th but have to use a pretty high ISO.  In sunlight, stopping action is a delight at speeds of 1/2000th of a second and faster and I usually shoot at an ISO of 400 or less for really sharp, crisp pictures.
  • I always shoot sports wide open.  I hardly ever shoot less than F2.8.  When I use my 50mm 1.4, I shoot about F2.0.
  • My outdoor daylight settings are usually around: F2.8, SS2500, ISO400
  • My outdoor nighttime settings are usually around: F2.8, SS500, ISO2000
  • My indoor settings are usually around: F2.8, SS640,  ISO1600

I hope these tips give you a great starting point to start capturing your own great action images.  Good luck!  Until next time, be positive, be happy, be healthy, and don’t forget to be photographed.


san antonio wedding photographers ata-girl photography since 2010I started Ata-Girl Photography Co. in 2010 and I am one of the premier San Antonio wedding photographers who is available for local and destination weddings. In addition to wedding photography, I also specialize in high school seniors and family portraits in San Antonio and the surrounding areas. I am a professional photographer who enjoys documenting the important milestones and captivating moments in people’s lives. I firmly believe that the unique set of circumstances I have faced in life has prepared me to take a personal and genuine interest in my photography clients. When I’m not photographing a wedding, family or high school senior, I enjoy watching my daughter play softball, hiking, cycling and listening to Elvis!