In response to requests from comments on my earlier “Sideline Photography Tips“, this article will address shooting High School sports. I have specialized in sports photography for years, shooting almost every High School sport played in Florida. Please note, I am semi-retired, and though I do sell some photos, I don’t make a living at this. These tips are for people looking to shot sports for themselves, their family and friends (and maybe the occasional sale).
You must first determine which sport(s) you are going to shoot, and the location(s) involved. Unfortunately most High School venues are poorly lit, so a camera with a High ISO capability is almost always a necessity, unless you restrict yourself to daytime events. The next necessity is fast glass, f/2.8 or faster (though there are exceptions). Some sports can be shot with a flash, in which case slower glass can be used. A decent sized buffer is always a plus, otherwise you have to be very careful when shooting bursts.
Shots taken inside have different issues than those done outside.
Taken outside in the rain. The fast shutter speed “freezes” the rain drops.
My bad, as a faster shutter speed would have made the impact of the club and ball clearer.
Is the above iron-clad? No. I have shot night time soccer using a D3S with a 300mm f/4, plus a D800E with an 85mm f/1.4. This required me to be moving around a lot, especially when the players came close, as I would have to back up to keep them in frame. So always be sure to pack a couple of water bottles along with your kit. You can be on your feet for a long time (I once shot a 13 inning baseball game without a break), and getting dehydrated is no fun.
Access to the sidelines is best, but may not be available at all locations. Check with the school, coaches and officials. Have a professional looking business card to show you are a serious photographer (even if you don’t intend to make sales, you at least give them the impression that you are a serious photographer). Understand and work within their rules and restrictions. Giving the school a few pictures for their yearbook also helps earn you a place on the sidelines.
If possible, work with two cameras. One with a fast zoom (like a 70-200 f/2.8), and the other with a smaller and faster lens (like a 50 f/1.8 or faster). Working with three cameras can be done, however I have always found that to be too cumbersome. I personally use a harness to hold the heavier camera+ lens combo, and carry the second combo using the regular camera strap.
A rare double header, however;
The ladies proved they can do it too.
Some sporting events are impossible to shoot by yourself; such as Track and Field. Multiple events (for example: Long Jump, Track and Discus) are frequently happening simultaneously. It is like trying to shoot a five ring circus by yourself. The best you can do is shoot parts of each event.
Try for shots fans can’t get from the stands. This was taken during warm-up.
I shoot in NEF, normally 14-bit lossless, and process in DxO Optics. While some cameras are better than others in their JPG processing, and shooting JPGs will increase your buffer capacity, the poor lighting conditions are best corrected by processing raw files.
My night time settings (these will vary some depending upon conditions):
I shoot in Manual mode, with the lowest possible f-stop, and try to use a shutter speed of at least 1/800th of a second. Too slow of a shutter speed introduces subject blur, and/or camera shake. You can mitigate camera shake with VR, however that drains your battery. I use Auto ISO and set my cameras to between 1/3rd and one full stop above the lowest STD ISO for each camera.
For focus always use AF-C. One advantage of the new D810 is the menu option that allows me to turn off the AF-S option, so I can’t accidently switch during a game (which I did once during a basketball game). I normally use either Single Point or 9 Point focus, though the new Group Area Focus option on the D810 appears promising, and I plan to test it on a night time football game this week.
If shooting in NEF, turn “OFF” all in-camera corrections: Auto distortion, Active D-Lighting, Vignette control, Long Exposure NR and High ISO NR.
Before leaving home: Format your memory cards. Your memory cards should be high-capacity and speed (and always have some spares). Make sure your batteries are fully charged (and have spares). Clean your lenses and/or filters. If shooting multiple cameras, sync their time settings. When you combine the pictures together, and sort by time shot, they will automatically sort in order. Turn Image Review “OFF,” and Rotate Tall “ON.”
While shooting I use the Storage Folder menu option to help keep track of which half, quarter, inning, etc the pictures are taken in. When I download to my computer, I copy the folders and the pictures, so that they are automatically sorted into each appropriate time frame. Combining the pictures into appropriate folders from the two cameras is simple.
For file naming I use a six digit number for the date (YYMMDD), followed by a dash, then a three digit number which tells me the sport and level, followed by another dash, then either a four or five digit number for the shot within that time frame (for example: a first quarter shot might read 141001-222-1095. Looking at this number, I know the year, month and day shot, that it was Boys JV American Football, and the 95th shot of the first quarter). If the middle three digit number had been 706, then it would have been from a Varsity Girls Soccer game. Feel free to use any naming criteria you wish, this is what works for me.
Know the area and people. In some places it may be okay to leave you camera bag alone, but in others you might find this too risky. Using a backpack for your gear can eliminate this worry, but does increase the load you have to walk around with.
Unusual shots, such as this violent collision, are also good to capture.
A successful steal of home. The ball had barely even been pitched, and is not in the picture.
Have fun. This is a lot of work, but can be very rewarding (emotionally at least), plus you never know when you might capture that special shot.