The summer after my freshman year of college, my father thought he’d do me a favor by arranging a job for me at a local convenience store (thanks dad). Among the many disgusting duties of the job, one of my least favorites was restocking the self-serve hot dog roller grill. After removing all the unsold charred and shriveled hot dogs, the burnt gunk accumulated from hours and hours of overcooking had to be scraped from the rollers. It was a truly gag-inducing chore. Now, at this point, I’ll bet you’re wondering what this has to do with sports photography? Glad you asked.
I have a confession folks. When my daughters were in junior high, Clueless was one of their favorite movies and I actually loved it too. I know it's kind of juvenile but what can I say, there was something about the quirky humor that just appealed to me. To this day, my daughters and I still quote the movie to each other in conversations. Among the many iconic scenes, one of our favorites involved the main character, Cher, being scolded for running a stop sign while driving to school. Cher blew off the mistake by explaining “I totally paused.” Why am I bringing this up? Well, if you haven’t already guessed from the title of the post, avoiding blur in your sports photography often means “finding the pause” when you’re shooting your kids’ sports action. Wondering WTF I'm talking about? Let me explain.
A couple weeks ago, I went to my grandson’s first basketball game of the season. Naturally, I brought my camera to take pictures. During the game, I noticed one of the dads from our team was taking pictures too. A few days after the game, we both posted a selection of our photos and tagged the team Facebook page. At the next game a week later, the dad came over and jokingly complained about my photos making his look bad. After we laughed about it for a few minutes, he compared our cameras and lenses and asked about the settings I used. There was wasn’t much of a difference. Finally, he said “Okay, I give up. What’s your secret?” My answer, which probably made him think I had a few screws loose, was simple: “I had a conversation with my camera.”
As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing better than watching your kids (or grandkids) play sports. No, it’s not all puppies and rainbows. There are endless evening practices, countless expenses and of course, there are those cold, hard, unforgiving bleachers. Lots and lots of bleachers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally worth it. When your baby gets a hit, makes a basket or scores a goal, all that time, money and effort (and yes, even all the bleacher time) is completely forgotten. It’s the best feeling in the world.
But it could be better?
Have you ever tried taking pictures of your kid playing in a basketball game or a volleyball match or a swimming meet only to be super disappointed with the results? Maybe the photos were blurry, or dark or had a weird color cast? We’ve all been there a time or two (or 20). Look, I’m not gonna lie. Taking sports photos indoors isn’t easy. The action is moving fast and the lighting usually isn’t great. That said, there are a few simple tricks that will absolutely improve your results without a ton of extra time, effort or expense. It’s true! Let me show you...
If you’re anything like most parents, you probably have a crazy amount of photos of your kids, am I right? Of course I’m right. I mean, who doesn’t love taking and sharing pictures of their kids? They’re smart, funny and adorable (in our completely unbiased opinions)! And don’t get me started about all those shots you took of them playing sports.
By the time your kids are old enough to play sports, there’s a good chance you’ve figured out the importance of planning as a parent. Remember when they were babies and you couldn’t run to the grocery store without planning for every possible need, problem and/or catastrophe? Whether you knew it or not, you were developing strategic planning skills that will serve you well as the parent of a young athlete and as a photographer. Let’s face it, just getting a kid dressed and ready for a game—along with a cooler full of snacks and drinks, sunscreen, bug spray, first aid kit, etc.—takes a ton of preparation. The good news is that if you add just a few items to your pre-game checklist, you can also be prepared to take some truly awesome photos too. And the best part is that they’re all fairly simple. C’mon, let me show you.
I’m not gonna lie, football has some of the toughest photographic challenges of any sport you’ll ever shoot. Just to name a few: there are 22 players on the field, all of them are moving at the same time, the field itself is gigantic (which means the action often happens very far away), games are played in all sorts of inclement weather and depending on the age level, the games sometimes happen at night. Any one of these conditions alone would be tricky for any photographer. Combine them into a single event and you have a photographic nightmare. Sounds impossible, right? Nope. It just means you have to know a few tips and tricks to navigate your way around. Oh look, we have five of ‘em just for you. Must be your lucky day.
I have a confession, folks. I’m usually pretty laid back but there are times when I’ve been known to get a little grumpy when taking pictures at sporting events. It doesn’t have anything to do with the actual photography, mind you. It’s just that there are a few recurring situations that can turn even the most chill person into a cross between Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil. (If you don’t know who they are, do a YouTube search youngsters. You’ll thank me.) Luckily, I’ve been doing this for a while and have learned a few tricks for dealing with these cringe-inducing situations. And just to prove I’m ever so delightful, I’m going to share my secrets with you, loyal reader. You’re welcome.
Raise your hand if you’re lusting after a new camera (*raises hand*). No worries. It’s perfectly normal. Nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m certainly not. I mean, it’s not like I pathologically search eBay and Facebook for new camera deals multiple times a day or anything (you know...in case that’s what you were thinking). Ahem...anyhoo, camera gear lust has been an common affliction among photographers almost since cameras were invented. But before you shell out hundreds (or even thousands) of your hard earned dollars, there are three super important things you need to do first. I know, I know. You’re really anxious to get your hands on that awesome new camera but hear me out first. You’ll thank me later.