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...
There are some photography blogs and websites (who shall rename nameless) that say you absolutely must have a high-end DSLR camera with a super fast telephoto lens when shooting indoor sports. I’m not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, if you have the financial means and are okay with spending the money, high-end equipment will definitely make things easier. But for most people, spending that much money on a hobby just isn’t an option. No worries though. With the right techniques and some creative thinking, you can get plenty of great shots with a compact camera or even your smartphone.
TALK TO YOUR CAMERA
No, I don’t mean you should literally have a conversation with your camera. (I mean, I suppose you could if it makes you feel better but it won’t help make your pictures any better.) To “talk” to your camera, you have to speak it’s "language" using the camera settings controls. Don’t worry, you don't have to become fluent or even high-level conversational. You just need to learn the basics. For shooting indoor sports, that means two key phrases: ISO and shutter speed. (Note: the following are just general guidelines. Every camera model is different so you may have to dig around in your camera menu a bit to find these settings for your specific make and model. Check your manual, search the Google machine or go to the manufacturer’s website for specific guidance.)
If you want more info on adjusting settings for indoor sports, the video below isn’t bad. He does include a smattering of techie details and the terminology is Canon-centric but the basic concepts apply to any camera. If you have a few minutes, it’s worth watching. (Note: Don't be intimidated by the pro-level camera he's using to demonstrate. Again, the basic ideas apply to almost any camera.)
If you think of a sporting event like a meal, the action on the court is the main entree, right? It’s the mouth watering steak or the tender lobster with a side of melted butter. But it wouldn’t be an very satisfying meal without an appetizer, salad, side dish, dessert and beverage. Same goes for photographing your kids games. Sure, you want to get plenty of action shots but there are all kinds of things going on during a game that help make up the overall experience. The fans, the coaches, the officials, the kids on the bench, they’re all part of the photographic “meal”. If you take a few moments to look around, chances are pretty good you’ll find a smorgasbord of interesting subjects to shoot. Don’t be afraid to load up your photographic plate with little bit of everything.
AFTER THE GAME
Remember how we said earlier that taking sports photos indoors is really hard? Well, that’s the bad news. The good news is that many of the problems can be fixed—or at least improved—with good photo editing software. We covered some of the major players here.
Want more good news? Other than Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, which require a $9.99/month subscription, you can purchase any of these professional level photo editors for under $100. Yup, it’s true. Here’s a quick rundown:
WHAT NOT TO DO
So we've talked about what you should do during and after the game/event to increase your chances of getting great shots. Now it's time to talk about stuff that could get you some seriously dirty looks from players, fans, officials and coaches. Some are worse than others but in my experience, they should all be avoided. In no particular order:
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’ll wrap this post up with a dose of honesty. Depending on the conditions and the equipment you have available, you could follow all of the guidelines I’ve outlined above and still be disappointed with the results. As I’ve mentioned several times, shooting indoor sporting events is a huge challenge, even for professionals. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. There’s no way I can promise success but these principles should at least give you a fighting chance. Besides, if you never try, your chances of disappointment go up to roughly 100%.