When I first started taking pictures at my daughter’s softball games, I learned very quickly that sports photography isn’t as easy as it looks. I made all kinds of mistakes, wasted lots of money on expensive film and processing and even got yelled at a time or two (Turns out spectators don’t appreciate it when you block their view of the game. Crazy, right?).
The good news is that I learned a lot from all those mistakes and now I’m going to share some of that hard-won wisdom with you. I can’t promise Sports Illustrated results right away but with a little practice and a few key tips, you can learn to get action shots you can be proud of.
SHOW UP EARLY, KEEP YOUR CAMERA OFF
If you can manage to show up 15-20 minutes before game time (not an easy thing to do when young kids are involved) take some time to wander around while the players are warming up. For the first few minutes, don’t even take out your camera. Just focus on observing as much as you can and ask yourself a few questions:
Once you’ve established a good feel then you can start taking a few test shots. Now’s the time to tweak settings if you’re comfortable doing so. If you’re not as familiar with the controls, see if your camera has a “Sport” option on a dial or menu. Sport mode will automatically adjust your all your camera's settings for shooting action shots. Shutter speed will increase so you can freeze the action and the ISO setting will automatically set to the proper level based on the amount of light available. (ISO stands for International Standards Organization which is an international standard for sensitivity to light.)
ANTICIPATE THE ACTION
Even though kids don’t move as fast as adults, action sequences still tend to happen super fast. Developing a sense of when those sequences are going to happen is a critical part of getting the best shots.
Start by simply observing games as closely as possible. See if you can spot any patterns to the flow. For example, in baseball when a batter hits a grounder to the opposing shortstop, a long-time baseball fan will instantly recognize it as a perfect opportunity for a double play. The sequence will start with a throw from the shortstop to the second baseman, followed immediately by the second baseman throwing to the first baseman. An experienced baseball photographer will see that play coming a mile away and be in perfect position to capture several great shots throughout the entire sequence.
Of course, each sport will have its own unique patterns but if you watch carefully, you’ll begin to develop the ability to not only spot them but also capture the action as it unfolds. It takes a bit of time so don’t get frustrated if you miss a few shots. Just keep watching closely and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. The more you understand the game, the better you can photograph it.
For some additional tips on anticipating sports action, check out this video from FroKnows. Sure, he looks a little...unique but he makes some excellent points.
When I first started out, cameras used film (yes, I’m that old) which made it crazy expensive. Thankfully, those days are long gone. Modern, ultra-fast, high-capacity memory cards are relatively inexpensive, and can hold hundreds of high-resolution photos. With that in mind, there’s really no reason not to shoot as much as possible. When in doubt, keep shooting.
Whatever type of camera you’re using, check to see if it has a “burst mode” setting that will allow you to hold down the shutter button and take a “burst” of shots much faster than you could manually. Through sheer law of averages, you’ll greatly increase your chance of capturing a truly special shot.
Another camera feature that can help is the " continuous focus " setting. It does pretty much what you'd expect: it causes the camera to continuously refocus the camera for each shot even while the action is happening. Not sure if your camera can do that? No worries, that’s what Google is for. A quick search of your camera model and the term “burst mode” or "continuous focus" should tell you if your camera has that functionality and how to access them. If not, don't panic. You should still be able to capture action shots. It may just take a little more trial and error.
I’ll be honest, none of these tips are going to guarantee professional quality results right away but they can definitely make a difference. That said, taking the time to do a bit of pre-game location scouting, learning to anticipate and shooting lots and lots of photos will almost certainly improve your results. As always, if you have specific questions, comments or even just want to share some photos or a tip of your own, please reach out and let us know. We’d love to hear from you and/or see what you’ve been shooting.