As a dedicated sports photographer I have shot many different sports, mostly concentrating on the action. However, some sports require more attention than others, and all of them have “dead” or non-action time. During such time you can either review the shots you recently took, or look for “opportunity” shots; a chance to catch people unawares, to photograph them as they really are, instead of how they look when they pose for a picture. I have always preferred candid shots over posed shots, and feel that such shots are “truer” visions of the subject.
A sample candid shot. He was watching the coach while I was watching him.
Years ago (back in the film era), I used to shoot with Kodak 2475, which allowed me to shoot without flash and still capture images. I admit the film was grainy, but I could catch my subjects unaware in ambient light. No matter how dark the shot was, I would just push it in the darkroom to get a picture. A technique I developed from those days I still use on occasion.
I shoot with both eyes open, one to the viewfinder, and the other searching and watching around me (this is especially important in sports, as it also helps to keep you from being blind-sided!). When I spot a likely subject for a candid photo, I will focus instead on a different subject at the same distance, and wait for an opportune moment. Then I quickly turn and snap the shot. While this technique does not always work (the subject may move in the meantime), the chances of catching them unawares are greatly increased.
With the advances in digital photography, especially more capacity and higher ISOs, taking such shots without a flash are even easier than they used to be. High speed AF is another welcome addition, reducing the necessity to depend upon the old technique.
I normally shoot sports with two cameras. One is used almost exclusively for the on-field action (for example: a D3S with a 70-200 f/2.8), and the other is used for the close-in action and candid shots (for example: a D800E with a 50 f/1.8). If shooting in daylight conditions, or on a larger field, then I might use other gear choices.
Sideline football shots are perhaps the easiest for such an arrangement. There is usually plenty of downtime between plays to catch some candid shots without missing any of the on-field action. In addition, football gives you the ability to move around (large sidelines!), which is an advantage not available in some other sports. Baseball is another sport that has plenty of downtime (I believe somebody once referred to baseball as “Ten minutes of action crammed into three hours.”), however you don’t have the same mobility as you do on a football field sideline.
The subject in the above picture was sitting in the dugout during a break in the action (a pitching change).
If you prefer mobility, then stick with football, lacrosse, soccer, and my personal favorite: horse polo (a polo field is nine times the size of a football field).
An on-field candid shot, during a break in the action at a lacrosse game.
And lets us not forget that ladies play sports too.
Please note: Not all places will give you such mobility to roam the sidelines. Some locations give you an assigned spot, or restrict you to a small area. Meet with the people and teams where you will be taking pictures, find out their restrictions and honor them. Also, talk to the officials, to find out if there are any restrictions they have (and there usually are some). Note: Do this with the officials before each game, as some will let you do things that others will not. You could get banned from the field! Meet and greet the people each game. The more familiar they are with you, the more accepting of you they will become, and you thereby increase your chances of getting better pictures.
Taking a picture of the official, and giving it to him, is always a way to get into his good graces.
And you might consider giving the coaches some free pictures also.
Occasional fan pictures should also be taken.
Always keep your eye open for a funny shot. You never know what a parent might buy.
If possible, hang around after the game ends. People are celebrating (or not), and that is always a good time to catch some candid shots.