I have a confession to make. Every so often, I get a little distracted and forget to bring my DSLR camera when we leave for my grandson’s games (my wife calls them my “senior moments”). On one of those “rare” occasions (more side eye from the wife) a couple years ago, I noticed a few parents using their smartphones to take pictures and thought “What the heck, it’s worth a try.” And boy am I ever glad I did.
I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, I’ve tried taking pictures with my iPhone. It never works. The pictures always look like they were taken by a chimp with an anxiety disorder.” Yup. That was pretty much my experience too. But, I stuck with it, read everything I could find about iPhone photography and have gotten to the point where I can usually capture some pretty decent photos. Don’t get me wrong, there are limits to what you can do with an iPhone camera. Sports Illustrated won’t be asking to use any of my iPhone shots for their cover, that’s for sure. But if you have the right tools and know a few simple tricks, it doesn't have to be that complicated either.
Note: Yes, I’m aware some of you have an Android phone rather than an iPhone but I decided to focus on the iPhone for three reasons:
THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT
The built-in camera app on an iPhone is fine for everyday photography needs but when it comes to sports photography, you’ll want a little more control. Luckily, there are multiple apps that can give you a higher level of precision with the camera settings as well as adding some additional capabilities. Some of my favorites include:
Keep in mind, as fan-freaking-tastic as all these apps are, this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s available. There are tons of apps on the iOS app store for camera control, photo editing, special effects and photo sharing services. Way more than we can cover in a single post. No worries though, we’ll be talking more about mobile photography topics in future posts including apps.
No matter what sport your child plays, the one thing they all have in common is that there’s stuff moving. Whether it’s kids, coaches, balls, bats, rackets or clubs, things are flying around, usually at a high rate of speed. Shooting photos of stuff in motion is a classic photographic challenge. That’s where burst mode comes in. Essentially, burst mode allows you to hold down on the shutter button while the camera takes multiple shots very quickly which greatly increases your chances of capturing a quality photo. Most modern cameras have this ability, including your iPhone.
For clear and simple instructions on how to shoot and edit photos using burst mode on an iPhone, take a look at this video from the folks at iPhone Photography School.
When you’re trying to capture freeze frame photos and have positioned yourself close to the action, it can be helpful to move the camera along with the action to keep the main subject in focus and adding an interesting motion blur in the background. This technique is referred to as “pan-motion” photography and usually involves slowing down the shutter speed on a DSLR camera but your iPhone has built-in software to try and capture the best shot during a pan. Using the burst mode setting will help even more. The results aren’t always perfect but when it does work, the shots are very cool.
WHERE THE ACTION AIN’T
It’s true, there’s nothing better than nailing that perfect freeze frame image of your son or daughter making a play. But, if you’re limiting yourself to only shooting action shots, you could be missing out on a whole range of compelling photos. Take the time to get a little creative and you’ll discover tons of photographic opportunities with subjects that either aren’t moving very quickly or at all. A pitcher as he’s winding up, a coach chatting with a player, a free throw shooter concentrating on the rim right before shooting, swimmers or runners in the ready position before the start of a race are all examples of slow or non-moving subjects that can still make for highly dramatic photos. Even inanimate objects help communicate the overall game experience in their own way, especially if taken from an unusual angle or framed with an interesting composition. (Click on any thumbnail below to see the full version.)
The iPhone camera has always been widely regarded as one of the top smartphone cameras on the market. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make it even awesomer (yes, I just made that word up). In fact, there’s a humongous range of iPhone photo/video add ons and accessories for just about anything you can imagine and a few things you can’t. The range is too extensive to cover in a single post but we’ve picked out a few that, if they were to show up in our mailbox, we wouldn’t be too upset. (Fingers crossed my wife will read this.)
At the end of the day, I’ll always choose my DSLR over my iPhone if given a choice. That said, the iPhone camera is more than capable in a pinch and can even do a few things a DSLR can’t. In fact, it’s definitely worth experimenting with a few iPhone apps and maybe even an inexpensive lens kit. Regardless, the important thing is to keep shooting, keep having fun and keep capturing those memories. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
BONUS iPHONE TIPS