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.
Your pictures are awesome! I want to be like you when I grow up! That’s for sharing you knowledge!
Thank You for answering my post.
I take pictures in Addison IL. I’m really just an amateur, I don’t have lots of equipment and do have a lot of experience.
I started doing photography for my kids soccer teams, then I was asked to do for the club. Now I have started taking pictures for a Football team and for the local HS. I used to only do soccer, but now doing other sports as well.
I have several concerns…
Can I take pictures of any kid? what if some parents do not want their kids photographed?
I do not post many any where because of this reason. I do not have a Social Media for my pictures, only my personal one, do some you post your work on social media?
Also, it is a lot of work and I do not make any money of this. What is the best way to start making a little of it? I do not plan to make this my way of living. I mainly do it because how rewarding it is to see the reaction of kids when they see them selves doing such a great job at something they work so hard for. For the HS, I send the pictures to the YearBook staff or the coaches. They use them how ever they want, some post them on their twitter accounts or whatever. Is it OK to put water marks on these pictures? I don’t now because it seemed weird to me. But now, I sometimes feel sad or something because I see my pictures used as profile pictures or find out that people are printing them.
You can typically take pictures of anybody, if for no other reason that they are at a public event. If a parent requests no pictures, then honor that request, but otherwise don’t worry about it.
You can post on a website, your social media, etc. You took the pictures, you own the copyright. I had a website (have since retired), posted the pictures to them, and even offered them for sale. Sales were minimal. On site sales are best, however you then need a person there to work the booth, plus it is helpful if you are providing that person pictures during the game.
Yes, you should watermark your photos. Take credit for your work. Again, you own the copyright. Also, since you are providing the pictures to the yearbook (for free), they should provide you with something. The HS I worked with had an ad for my website in the yearbook, plus they also had a banner that was displayed at the stadium (they made and paid for the banner). I provided them the copy for the ad and the banner, and paid nothing for either.
Hopefully the above answers some of your questions. If you would like to communicate directly with me, then E-mail me at: [email protected]
Question: What area of the country are you shooting in?
Nice work, William!
My interest in photography began with attempting to photograph my sons playing sports and getting frustrated with the results I was getting with my point and shoot camera. It has been a great educational process for me and distraction from my regular occupation. I now have a D610 and better lenses (70-200mm/2.8 my) and it has made a huge difference (expensive hobby!) but I am still learning and appreciate the tips you have shared.
You are welcome. I have a second article, just published by PL, High School Sports Photography Tips, plus I will be doing a series of articles with details of certain sports. Hopefully at least one of which you photograph.
Thanks William, almost exactly what I was thinking. For the Sigma autofocus speed is supposed to be a bit faster than the Nikon and Canon lenses. Crazy for a third party lens huh? But can search a little more in low light. I’ve been shooting motocross and will be shooting some football and wildlife soon. I know the 70-200f2.8 will be the most versatile. For wildlife 200 is too short for most things . I have a 180mm macro from sigma and it’s too short and macro lens slow in focusing. I’m going to get a full frame body next year. Probably the Nikon D810 . I want the resolution for my MACRO work and the af speed and iso performance for sports and wildlife. Thanks again probably go for a 70-200.
I have used the D800E for over a year on sports. I shoot a lot in the 1:2 and DX crop modes (and I have even shot basketball in the 5:4 mode). Even with a good zoom, there are often times when the subject is far away. I have the FN button set so that a quick wheel spin selects between the different crop modes. This reduces the amount of “junk” that I will have to crop out of the frame, increases my memory card capacity, buffer size, and reduces the processing time (among other benefits). I still shoot some in full frame, but the majority of my D800E (and soon D810) shots will always be in one of the crop modes.
William I have been looking at several lenses for sports action, some widlife pics while bowhunting and portraits. Here’s what I’ve been looking at and tell me what you think. Combo Nikon 300f4 with a Sigma 50 mm 1.4 art. Or Nikon 70-200 f2.8. Or the Combo Nikon 70-200 f4 with a Sigma 50 art. Most of the time I’ll have good enough light. I’ll be shooting on a Nikon D7000. I was trying to stay in the $2500 range or less.
With the budget restriction mentioned, you could get the 70-200 f/2.8, and not much else (maybe a good filter). I have not shot with the 70-200 f/4, however Nasim says it is a good lens, and as long as you don’t need the one-stop lower performance, I would recommend to go that way. The 300 f/4 is a good lens, though overdue for an update. For more reach it is a good choice, but it will not give you anything in the short range.
On a D7000, the 70-200 is an apparent 105-300mm lens (AoV), while the 300 is a 450mm lens. The Sigma 50 is also a 75mm lens. The numbers and reviews on the Sigma are good, however check to see what the reviews say concerning focus speed. In sports focus speed (which includes accuracy) are critical.
Do you have a second camera, or would you be changing lenses? If changing in the field (something to be avoided whenever possible), please remember to get out of the wind, to reduce any dust getting into the camera.
Hope this helps,
Great article and good tips.
I really enjoyed it.
Thanks for the inspiration!
Thank you for the kind words. The hardest part of this article was deciding which pictures to use. I shoot tens of thousands pictures a year, and even a quick review for this article took some time. Fortunately the numbering system I use for my photos helps me quickly identify people shots from action shots (and even which sport those people shots are associated with).
What I need is a “photographic” memory ;-) (plus a winning Lotto ticket to help pay for all the gear).
Not that I want to divert traffic from this great site, but if you’re interested specifically in sports photography, then the website Big Lens Fast Shutter is a fantastic resource. I have no affiliation with them, but sports photography is my main photography focus and I’ve found their topics of discussions to be very good.
For the last 3+ years they have written posts and done monthly podcasts covering basically nothing but sports photography and how to improve your skills for sports photography. If you’re just starting out, try to look up their older articles that kind of started from the basics and go from there.
Shoot w/ both eyes open? I never heard that; I shall try if it works on me. Thank You!
There is a trick to learning this, taught to my by my father (as I did not believe him when he told me about doing this). Put one eye to the viewfinder and close the other eye. Then close the viewfinder eye and open the other eye. Switch back and forth several times, being sure to take in the image of each when you switch. Start slowly closing one eye while slowing opening the other, so that you start seeing the two images at the same time. Eventually work yourself up to keeping both eyes open, and interpreting both images simultaneously.
Thanks for the tip; I will try.