Sport Photography Part 1

While photographing sports events I am often asked about the camera settings, techniques and the methods of post processing that I employ. With that in mind I thought I would share a few snippets with you. I am certainly no expert at photographing sports, but I have had quite a bit of experience over the years.


  • The Right Equipment: This will always be a compromise unless you have relatives who have won the lottery, or you are employed/sponsored by a large organisation. So you must first decide the areas of photography you wish to be involved in eg. sport, weddings, portrait, commercial, wildlife etc. Once you have made that decision, depending on your finance, you will then be in the position to decide on the equipment that best matches your requirements. So if you are just covering sporting events, your equipment will be more specialised than if you were trying to compromise on say sport and weddings. It would not make sense to buy a 500mm f2.8 lens and expect to use it for wedding photography, and conversely, you would not expect to use a 16mm f2.8 lens for sports photography. I am not saying you couldn’t, but it would not be very practical. So compromise is the order of the day. DSLR bodies are, in my opinion, essential together with zoom lenses, which are terrific value these days and can make a limited budget stretch much further. Buy the best quality you can afford then adapt.
  • Light: Unlike in a studio, when photographing sport you have very little choice as to the lighting available. In many cases you will be told where you can sit or stand and could find yourself confined to that area for the whole event. So you have to work with the lighting available to you. Whenever possible, have the light source behind you. This tends to evenly illuminate the players and is the most forgiving and flattering of lighting situations. If you shoot with the light behind you the success of your photos will then depend more on the action and composition, both of which you have total control over. If you find the perfect position is not available then you must adapt. Having the light off to one side, usually makes for more dramatically lit photos. The problem is your subject needs to be facing the right direction, and since you’re at the mercy of the action on the field, you will only be able to get well lit photos when your main subject is facing toward the light. In a sport like football or hockey where the players face every which way at any given second means your target subject will be facing the light infrequently and you could be missing some good action at the expense of good lighting, but, the shots you do get will be even better with the more dramatic lighting. The next test comes when you are shooting inside a hall, arena or under floodlights because now you have colour cast to contend with produced by the different forms of lighting. You have a few choices at this point. 1. You can set the White Balance on your camera to Auto and hope the camera sorts it out. 2. You can manually change the white balance settings to tungsten or fluorescent. 3. You can take a test shot of the 18% grey card you carry for these occasions (did I hear you say what card?) and set the custom white balance accordingly. 4. No Card! You can take a number of test shots from where you will be standing and set the custom white balance manually or 5. You can use post processing software and correct it there. Whichever method you use make sure you arrive in plenty of time to get set up so that you are ready for when the action starts. Some events will start in daylight and finish under floodlights so be prepared for the change. Plan ahead and make sure you have the settings ready so you don’t miss any of the action.
  • Camera Settings: These will depend on the type of sport you are covering and whether you are looking for normal action shots or something a little different. I will deal with the field sports and a normal action shot (sharp as possible). There are various opinions as to the mix of settings to use but find what works for you and apply it! For me it is simple. I usually want to freeze the action so my main priority is speed, speed and more speed. I would also like to blur the background as much as possible so I normally shoot with the lens wide open at f2.8 (depending on the lens you have of course) as this will also help maximise the speed, and the lowest ISO setting to limit the amount of noise in the image and to attain my minimum speed requirement (usually 1/1000 sec). So I set AV mode on the camera (Canon) , set the f number to 2.8 (wide open) and the iso to 800. These are my starter settings. I take a couple of test shots just before the start of the game and I am ready. Whilst shooting I control the speed by changing the ISO. As I said earlier, find whatever works for you and use it.

Click here to go to Part 2

Terry Fisher Photography


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