Outdoor Sports Photography on a Budget - The Technique

February 28, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


(Photo - Nikon D7200 / 300 mm / f4

1/1000th Sec / f4 / ISO 640)


Outdoor Sports Photography on a Budget

The Technique

I've covered the Gear & Settings for Outdoor Photography on a Budget in an earlier Blog.  This particular Blog looks at technique.  A few simple rules can really help your sports photography.

1 - Sports Photography is really Action Portraiture - It's all about the Face!

Sports photography is really Action Portraiture!  And it's all about the face.  So make sure you focus on the face and capture the players' agony or ecstasy of the moment. So you will want to photograph the players coming towards you so you can see their face.  Photographing the back of a player's head as they run away from you is not the shot you want.  

2 - Get as Low as You can Go!

Don't stand up!  Sit.  Kneel.  Squat.  Get down low!  Pros will typically bring a camping chair and sit if they are given a single spot allocation at a major game.  The lower viewpoint really does add to the overall 'feel' of the shot.  Those folk who spend all the match standing up - and maybe using a monopod - will definitely miss a trick because their viewpoint was too high.

3 - Shoot wide - leave space between the hands & feet and the edge of the viewfinder

If you want to shoot a group of players, leave room in the viewfinder for their hands & feet!  I tend to zoom out from the group until I get a good border around the viewfinder image which is clear of hands & feet.  You can always crop in later when you are editing.  But you can't put in cut-off hands & feet if you take the shot too closely zoomed in.

4 - Shoot close - Head & Shoulders of One or Two Players

As in portraiture they will be times when you want a full length portrait (ie including the hands & feet!).  And there will be times when you want a head & shoulders portrait.  Again, I tend to shoot a little wide and then crop in during editing.

5 - Watch the Background  

Just like normal portraiture, beware of the background.  If it is 'busy' - full of the crowd, advertising boards, a car park, etc it will be a distraction.  Sometimes it is impossible to avoid but often by changing your viewpoint - moving left or right a few paces - the background improves.

And whilst you would not want to take all of your shots from the grandstand, a grandstand view can help make the playing surface - typically green grass - the background which can give a very pleasant background.

6 - What about the Ball?

Obviously you will want some shots which include a player with the ball etc.  But not every shot needs to include the ball.  My approach to sports photography is to treat it like portraiture so if the ball is in shot, that's a bonus.  But, typically, only about half my shots will have the ball etc in them.

7 - Running Past? Running Towards?

As I touched on above, you will generally want to shoot the player as they run towards you.  Pictures of backs of heads are not that appealing.  Remember, you want to see - and focus - on the player's face - and that means they will be running towards you.

8 - Sideline or Goal-line?

You want to be as close to the action as possible, so you want to be right on the side-line.  (But do keep an eye out for the play and NEVER get in the way of any of the players!)

Sideline shots can be good as players run towards you.  Goal-line shots are obviously good.  I tend to do some research before the game and position myself near the goal-line of the weaker team as this is probably where the stronger team is going to score.

9 - RAW or JPEG?

Many sports photographers shoot JPEG.  (As indeed do many wedding photographers.)  If the light is reasonable JPEG is absolutely fine.  Typically I shoot both RAW and JPEG but if the lighting is good I go straight to the JPEGs in the editing process.

If I am shooting a night game - or an indoor sport - I will mostly use the JPEGs but if there is a shot in which I need to recover a considerable amount of detail in a deep shadow area I will then go to the RAW file.

But, by and large, for outdoor daylight sports - and indeed for well-lit indoor sports - JPEG are the way to go.

10 - Personal Look

Purists will protest but for my JPEG shooting I normally have 2 personal preferences dialled into my camera.  I set the JPEG mode to VIVID - which gives the colours a bit of a boost.  (This reminds me of the saturated colours I got when I used Kodachrome 64 slide transparency film.)  And I dial in an under-exposure of - 0.3 stops.  (I have found that I just like my final shots being a little bit 'dark & moody'.)  You will have your own preferred 'look'.  Which might be very different from mine!

11 - Practise makes Perfect

Practise makes perfect.  The more sports photography you do, the better you will get.  So, crack on!

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