With the summer weather reaching its height and the school bells preparing to ring in the next school year, it’s time for many sports to start their try-outs and pre-season (or post-season) practice sessions. Football is the biggest one in the United States at the moment but baseball, basketball, tennis — and for the non-athletes, marching band — are also in the mix even if their official seasons have a ways to come before they start. That means that it’s time for parents and sports fans to gear up to capture the action. Our friends over at Photo.net have a great in-depth guide on perfecting sports photography but we’d like to give you a few quick and simple tips to try from the stands if you’re not one of the lucky few who can get access to the sidelines.
1) A lens can, in a small way, make up for not being on the sidelines — If you’re trying to get the best action shots you can, you’ll want to be as close to the action as you can be. However, access to the sidelines is a very difficult thing to come by especially at college or professional sporting events. So, if you know you’re going to be in the stands and if you know you’re not going to be allowed to get up and move or choose your own seats, carry the following lenses with you: a wide-angle lens (to get good shots of the venue and the overall match), a mid-range zoom lens (great for if your seats aren’t too far away from the sidelines), and a telephoto lens (good for if you’re far from the action). Using these can help bring the action in closer to make up for the fact that, physically, you’re not in the thick of it.
2) If you’re not a sports fan, take the time and effort to become one — If you’re a parent or a friend who is just wanting to record the game or get shots of your particular player, then there isn’t a need for you to be able to quote NFL stats, to be able to recite the Baseball Rulebook, or to know the history of Wimbledon. However, even if you are there just to support one (or a few) players and get some shots of them, it will definitely be to your benefit to have a good understanding of the game and to be able to make a few predictions about how certain strategies might play out. Yes, yes, in football, every team’s own playbook is a heavily guarded secret. However, it’s still worth your time to learn how the various downs are decided, if a pass is likely to be an interception, an incomplete, or a fumble, how base-stealing works, and when a penalty shot will be granted for a foul if you’re going to photograph football, baseball, or basketball games. Knowing the rules will help you determine where the action has the best chance of happening within the next few seconds, allowing you to focus in on it — especially if it’s your child or friend who’s going to be in the thick of it.
3) Get a tripod. Get a tripod. Get. A. Tripod — Sports are fast-paced and there’s very rarely a do-over. If you missed a shot, you’re not going to get a chance to get that same shot later. The very nature of sports is going to require you to use a fast shutter speed, a high ISO, and a wide aperture. These three things together mean that camera shake — even if your camera’s chip has built-in image stabilization — will be a factor. Eliminate it by getting a tripod.
4) Be aware of the situation around you — While you’re not going to be on the field of play (seriously, would you want to drag an expensive camera and lenses out to where the players could ram right into you and break it?), if you’re on the sidelines, having the players or the ball hit you is a possibility (and in baseball having the ball hit you in the stands isn’t out of the realm of reality). However, no matter where you are, there are going to be other people there. If you’re on the sidelines, it will be other photographers, coaches, referees, and players. Do your best to stay out of the coaches’ and refs’ way because they have a better reason for being there than you do. Other photographers will probably be fairly courteous but expect a good bit of jostling and competition for the best spots. If you’re in the stands, try to make certain that your photography isn’t causing the people behind you grief by making it impossible for them to watch the game. Also, if you’re filming or shooting from an aisle, keep an eye out on people going to and from their seats and on kids running around.
5) If you’re allowed into a practice session, be doubly aware of your surroundings — If you are photographing a practice or a try-out event where you’re allowed onto the field and can actually get within a few feet of the athletes, make certain you know what’s going on around you. In high contact sports like football especially, it’s easy to get accidentally bowled over or run into by the players who are focused on doing whatever their coach has set them to working on and not whether or not there’s a photographer in their intended path. A good grasp of practical physics and geometry can help you figure out not only where to be for some shots but also where not to be.
Follow these general guidelines and take the time to read up on some more in-depth sports photography tips and you should be able to come home from the next game with respectable shots to show off. If you have any questions or further tips, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
– da Bird