3. Tell a Story
A few years ago, several photographers from a little American magazine tried something different for football. Instead of shooting at eye level, they laid as low to the ground as they could in the end zone with a wide angle lens. What did this do to their pictures?
It presented them with a new angle to help tell the story. Who were these people, you ask? Now, everyone does it. When shooting, be original and try something different. At each event I cover, I look for as many new ways to approach it as possible. I primarily work as a professional motorsports photographer, shooting mainly NASCAR, but at each event there is a new setup. This allows me to try new backgrounds, new angles, and new shooting locations.
You don't have to be shooting professional sports to try something different. Even when I photographed high school football, I would always look for new angles and ideas. By trying something different, you allow your creativity to flourish and capture something that everyone else doesn't have.
In the picture below I shot through a racecar's windshield and caught the driver preparing to hit the track. This may seem like a no-brainer, but don't forget your surroundings. Whether it be a stadium full of cheering fans, to the tailgating outside, the surroundings present unique opportunities to capture the spirit of the game without shooting the action itself. Before tip off of a basketball game, court side is also a great place to shoot pictures of team spirit.
Even after the game begins, don't forget the surroundings. If you have a wider lens, such as a Ever wonder why sports photographers carry so much equipment? It's because we like to build bigger muscles while walking.
All joking aside, once you are on the sidelines or in the middle of the action it's hard to run to your bag and change equipment. Many sports photographers use one of three things to carry their equipment while working on the sidelines: Photo vests were cool a few years ago I had one but now they are impractical with all the lenses you need to carry and quickly have access to.
I prefer using a good belt system. My belt system has 6 holsters that can be used at any one time, each ranging from large lens holders to one meant just for a flash. The belt system allows me to quickly change between lens and keep all my compact flash cards together in safe place.
On the sidelines, this allows me stay prepared for the action with a variety of lenses and, since it has covers for each holster, also offers rain protection for outdoor sports. The key to having a good system is finding one that fits well and works for your specific needs.
Visit your local camera store, try them out, and see what works best for you. The key to capturing the perfect shot in sports comes down to relatively few things.
One of the most important things is glass. Sports photography, unlike any other type, occasionally requires the biggest and most expensive equipment available. This allows you to shot from anywhere around the stadium, including the end zones in football, creating the perfect head on shot.
I say occasionally for a key reason. As we mentioned earlier, cameras now can do cool things with high ISO settings. When buying good glass, it's not like buying a new camera body. A good lens will last at least 10 years with proper care and maintenance.
Every sports photographer is guilty of "chimping". If you're unfamiliar with the term, this definition will clear everything up. Essentially, chimping is when you check every photo you take on the LCD.
Why is this bad? It takes your eye off the action and puts it on the camera. This is bad for two reasons: When you chimp, you take your eyes off the field and the action. If you're shooting football, you can easily be run over on the sideline when not paying attention. While reviewing your pictures is ok, there is a time and a place to do so. In sports, after the shutter clicks there's no second chance. You must move on to the next play. A slow shutter speed? Along with trying something different you should try a different shutter speed sometimes.
If, however, you want a cool blurry background shot, it works great. Many professional photographers from Getty Images and Reuters use this technique to add energy to their pictures and create great looking clean backgrounds. When shooting professional or college sports, flash photography is typically strictly prohibited. Flash can distract the players and cause coaches to go crazy.
There are a few exceptions, including basketball and other indoor sports, but on-camera flash is usually never allowed. For indoor sports, schools typically have very powerful flashes or strobes installed in the rafters of the gym, allowing an ideal amount of light to fall on the playing surface.
These flashes are then synced to your camera using a Pocket Wizard. When shooting outdoor sports such as football or baseball, you should never use an on-camera flash. This is why ISO settings are so important.
Now, if you are shooting a local sports event or a lower-level event, such as high school football, then flash is usually acceptable. But like many sports, the fast action and lack of good light indoors makes for a number of challenges. A few years ago I was at a workshop where one person asked a Sports Illustrated photographer what gear they need to shoot sports. The reasons boil down to these: Ah, the thrill of sports! A few of my friends waiting for the action to resume during a time-out.
Photo copyright Reed Hoffmann. At most college games, credentialed photographers are allowed at each end, to one side of the basket the other side is for the cheerleaders. Being in that first row means you sit on the floor. You quickly learn to bring a floor chair to save your back. Action under the basket with the mm lens. Shooting the far end with the mm lens and a 1. Sports photography is all about anticipation.
They try to anticipate when the action will occur, and press the shutter button just before then. Having said that, they do shoot bursts. They press for the shot they hope to get, and let a few more frames run just in case something else happens. And they do blast away when something unexpected happens, like a floor scramble for the ball.
So a camera with a fast frame rate is important. Most sports photographers want cameras that are capable of frames per second. Since the action is constant, fast and erratic, you need the best autofocus systems made.
This is why I always tell people that sports is the most expensive kind of photography they can get into. Landscape, portrait, close-up, or weddings can all be done well for a reasonable investment in gear.
It requires big bucks.