Sports photography is a very broad term. It is closely related to photojournalism, but also to vernacular (daily life) photography.
Sports photographers in this area work with wire agencies, newspapers and magazines. These positions range from staff photographers to freelancers.
These photographers are hidden in VIP areas, shooting from afar, or on the field, capturing closer to the action. Depending on the sport, the photographers find themselves between the sportsmen and the spectators.
Other photographers sell their freelance work on stock websites. These are also good for advertising purposes, helping to build brands.
Sports photography includes other, more specific photography fields. Here, you need to incorporate portraiture, action, group shots and behind the scenes shooting.
You have little to no control over the posing and background, so camera angles and perspectives are very important.
Our guide will help you start, improve and work on capturing amazing sports photography.
Sports photography is an area where the cameras are very important. DSLRs and mirrorless systems are the usual go-to choices for photographers.
Yet, if you are the sportsman and cameraman, then action cameras are for you. They can stick to you, showing your path and surroundings.
To be able to capture a whole range of sports, your camera will need high-burst continuous shooting mode. Al-servo mode is necessary for focusing fast-moving subjects.
Being able to house different lenses is a great benefit for sports that need different shots.
As most sports photographers use DSLRs, this article gives you the best picks. This type of digital camera can cover all sports, from boxing to football.
You have no doubt seen sports photographers touting very expensive equipment. No matter what your allocated budget is, you will find a DSLR in your price range.
Even upgrading your camera body will give you faster shooting and focusing modes. You will still be able to use your other camera gear, such as lenses.
Depending on your sports subject, you may need a specific lens. If you are shooting your subject from a distance, a zoom or telephoto lens is what you will need.
If you can get close to your subject, then a wide angle or zoom lens will work well. Having a few lenses will help immensely, as you can cover all angles.
It will let you photograph different styles, from details to wide-angle action shots.
A zoom lens will give you versatility. You are able to change the focal length when you need to photograph a subject as they move farther away from you. This means less time changing lenses, so you can stay on the action.
Sports photography requires photographic equipment to help you grab the best image possible. These go from simple stabilisers such as monopods to clothing to help you photograph in cold conditions.
A monopod is a great addition to your sports photography gear. They are fast to extend and even faster to move. They take up to two-thirds less space (and weight) than a tripod.
Some can hold over 20 pounds of camera and lens gear. These are also great for cramped space situations. Like when hundreds of other photographers surround you aiming for the same shot.
Lightweight, compact and versatile. What isn’t there to like?
For sports photography, you will need equipment other than the basic camera, lens and stabiliser. As you are photographing high-speed action shots, your memory cards will need to keep up.
The last thing you want is to miss a great shot due to your camera processing burst images. If you are wiring images to photo agencies, a fast card reader is necessary to download the images to your laptop.
A shoulder strap is great for fast access to your camera, and can even house two cameras. It will also save your back from heavy camera equipment you have in your bag.
For more equipment tips, see our article here.
Here are some great tips for the gear you use for sports photography. They will give you the best chance of photographing action-packed images.
An LCD loop helps protect your eyes from being burnt to a crisp when photographing towards the sun. Other extreme weather conditions will force you to wear protective gear. Make sure you have it.
Another example is not depending on your lens stabiliser. This doesn’t help much if firing multiple images, and it drains your battery. Just try not to shoot with a shutter speed under your focal length.
Winter sports is cold. This extreme weather can affect your camera equipment and your body. Both of these also affect your mood. To ensure you are photographing as long and as much as possible, read our article here.
Plan ahead. Will you have access to indoor areas? Will you need food and drink? A place to charge your batteries if need be? Wear appropriate clothing, such as waterproof clothing and gloves. Bring spares just in case.
Your camera can be affected by changing from cold to warm environments. Condensation can build up on the interior of your lens. Not cool.
How To Photograph Sports
Photographing sports is no easy feat. It can be a stressful environment. Especially if you have deadlines to meet and hundreds of other photographers stepping on your toes.
Your session could be disastrous and have you wondering if sports photography is for you. Or it could be a wonderful experience. As a beginner, you will benefit from time, space and ultimately, freedom.
It is an area you will need to practise extensively. You will need to learn how to focus fast and shoot faster. Those spidey-skills are needed to judge when a player will run left, even though it looks like he is going right.
Your camera settings are the most important area to focus on in sports photography. These will differ depending on the type of sports you are photographing.
Generally, the highest speed Continuous Shooting drive mode is for fast action shots. To freeze action, you’ll need ISO 400+ and a fast shutter speed.
You might find that if your images look pretty good in-camera, shooting jpegs might be a good idea. This allows your memory card to record them faster.
Choose Shutter Priority (S) mode as this allows you to focus on the shutter speed. You are then ready in any situation to freeze the moving subject.
Focusing while shooting sports photography can be a frustrating pain. Your photographs have the potential to turn out blurry. Perhaps you miss a perfect frame while trying to focus.
Your camera settings have a huge impact on your sports photography. This is how you capture the sportsman, the sport or the surrounding location.
There are many different modes for the different sports you capture.
If you have a fast-moving subject, the mode AI Servo AF for Canon (or AF-C for Nikon) is a great help. This is a continuous focus mode that follows the subject and keeps them sharp.
Read our article here for nine more tips on focusing and how to get the best from your images.
Sports photography is not for the faint-hearted. It can be tough to grab those perfect shots. Here are five ways to help you get good results from the first few sessions.
Knowing the sport is key. This will help you track the person, the ball or the action so that you can capture them well. You will know if the golfer is about to celebrate or curse. Both make great photographs.
Move around. Don’t stay in one place, otherwise, all your images will have the same angle and perspective. Having different images gives you a choice during post-processing.
Do not forget your surroundings. The setting and the audience of the sport help reaffirm the importance of the game and its atmosphere.
This is just one pro tip in sports photography. Preparing yourself to use a high-ISO if there is a lack of light is another. This is perfect for extra-time scenarios for when the sun goes down.
Most importantly, do not ‘chimp’ at the wrong time. Chimping is when you look through the images you have taken.
Yet, at the wrong time, this can distract you while the action is taking place on the field. Pick your times carefully.
You will no doubt encounter high-speed action scenes. Sports that incorporate motor vehicles will need different techniques to sports games.
Sports photography that looks at high-speed situations needs a fast shutter speed. This setting allows you to ‘freeze’ the moment.
Focusing on an area where the sportsman will arrive will give you time to prepare, is another great tip.
Photographing them where they are will already be too late. also, try an incorporate a shallow depth of field. This differentiates the focus, separating the subject from the background.
This is a great way to show the viewers of your image what is important. Read our article for more high-speed photography tips.
Motion blur often frustrates new photographers. But this blur can also create artistic, almost magical images that would otherwise be bland and boring.
They are great for sports photography, where faced paced action requires capturing. Here, Shutter speed can also open up new possibilities for intentionally blurring the background or the subject.
What we miss from single images is an idea of movement or motion. Blur uncovers this, and its a creative tool worth uncovering.
Read our article here on motion blur photography, using it to your advantage.
Go-Pro cameras have been the market leader in action-cameras since their arrival in 2002. They are small, lightweight and can be attached to anything. Go-Pro’s even have underwater cases and are very robust.
These action cameras have survived many extreme situations. People even attach them to themselves to show them in their own sports environments.
They have a wide-angle lens, which allows you to capture the sportsman and surrounding areas. These devices are a perfect way to get up-close-and-personal with most sports.
One of the great attributes of this camera is the burst mode. This setting captures images every few seconds to ensure you really have the shot you want.
Now that you have tried a few different sports scenarios, it is time to build on that knowledge and improve. You will no doubt see that successful sports photography incorporates a huge amount of risk.
Following one football player might distract you from action happening somewhere else.
Yet, you might know that this specific player tends to celebrate in a very extravagant manner. This could bag you the best image of the game.
Photograph the sport and show its story. It’s highs and lows, the failures and the wins are what shows the emotion and atmosphere of the game.
These are things that the viewers can relate to. It bridges that gap, making the images more interesting.
Yoga is a sport practised all over the world. Yoga photography or photography of yogis in the midst of their poses can be a very beautiful thing indeed.
It is very similar to portrait photography, yet there are differences. Namely, the yoga performer is in the middle of a pose where the camera needs to follow them, not vise versa.
Having a DSLR with a few basic functions is necessary. As a photographer, knowing yoga will help you capture it better. Read our article here for more information.
Getting in the business of sports photography can be a tricky process. You can start off as a freelance photographer, but you will need to rely on your portfolio. This allows you to sell your digital images on stock websites.
Working for a newspaper or a magazine requires patience and a lot of emails. They probably have a multitude of people on a waiting list, so don’t expect to start working immediately.
Joining an agency might be a great first step. they can help you organise your photo shoots and will sell your images for you, keeping a commission for themselves.
The business side of sports photography can be frustrating. No matter how you get started, you will need a very good portfolio. This will allow you to get more work and grab the attention of magazines or newspapers.
Depending on who you work for, you will have different briefs. Some might ask for something specific. This will give you pointers on what o photograph but can limit to your creativity.
There is nothing stopping you from selling your images on stock websites such as Alamy. This is possible from when you are starting out, to being a weathered sports photographer.
Making money is the difficulty. It is a very fast-paced area, where news outlets need images ASAP. You might find yourself working for free before you are able to land a paid job. Patience does pay off. Talent, even more so.
The Olympics is a very prestigious event for a sports photographer. Each and every country joins the Olympics in one area or another. Half that amount join the Winter Olympics, over a series of events.
This area has the capacity to give you the best surroundings and the most intense atmospheres. You will be able to photograph many different sports, utilising many different styles.
It is also an area that receives the highest amount of readership. Here, millions of people will see your images and your name too. A great way to make yourself known.
When you immerse yourself into an area of photography, you get to see it from the inside. You have a different view from those looking in from the outside.
Your passion allows you to see all of the inner workings, and that is what fine art sports photography embodies.
By focusing on these small details, you can use them to create something conceptual. The idea of photographing sports in a fine art way is almost unimaginable.
Yet, with composition and utilizing perspective, you can evoke emotions from your viewers.
Post-Processing Sports Photography
There are many ways you can post-process your images, and these come down to the purpose of the image. You will process your fine art images differently than those needed by a wire agency.
If you are photographing for a newspaper, your images will need subtle editing. Here, you will focus more on the metadata of the images.
This allows you to work fast to send the images to beat the deadline.
Fine art sports photography images can be converted into black and white. You can use some extreme adjustments to create very dynamic images, that would look better on a wall.
Creating an action sequence can help show you movement in a still image. These images show you the flow of the sportsman and their equipment in their environment.
It also has the capacity to show many ‘tricks’ or styles instead of just one. This is a very interesting way to show sports such as skiing, snowboarding or skating.
Creating one of these sequences involves photographing the subject mid-flow. By using a burst mode, you capture many continuous images.
These are then stacked together. The end result shows you many shots of the sportsman in the same environment.
Adobe Lightroom is the go-to post-processing software for all areas of photography. Lightroom has two main functions. It acts as a fast and accessible library for all your images.
These can be put into folders, and attached keywords can help you organise them. The other area is the editing of your images.
It has a no-nonsense platform. Here you can adjust the exposure, or even correct your lens’ distortion.
A program such as Lightroom is none destructive, so you can always revert to your captured image. You can even export to Photoshop if you need more complicated post-processing.
Photomechanic is a program specifically designed for photojournalists. Its platform focuses on speed and necessary information.
If you were photographing for a news agency or magazine, they need the images as soon as humanly possible. Some even before the game has finished.
This means you not only need to photograph a great image but also select, upload it, edit and then send it. Photomechanic has been designed around these areas. It loads screen previews very fast, allowing you to select an edit quickly.
Auto-processes make the job of editing many images at once a breeze. Syncing metadata also becomes very easy.
Presets are a great way to process many images quickly and efficiently. These presets are pre-designed adjustments that need to be imported into your Lightroom. These are then used at the click of a button.
They are also very tweakable for better adjustments, more specific to your images.
This a great advantage that allows you to apply the same white balance or exposure to hundreds of images in one go.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
Thank you for reading...
if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.
It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free!
I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:
You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!
Thanks again for reading our articles!