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Sports Photography: 11 Tips for a Sideline Parent
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Sports Photography Tips
The sports season is so much more than the game itself, it’s full of life lessons, friendships, and wonderful memories. Sports photography isn’t just about the action shot, storytelling is also important! Photos help us remember the stories of the season, the fun times, the camaraderie, and of course, the moments of glory! And as parents watching from the sidelines, we have the ability to capture all of this for our young athletes. Yes, the type of camera and lens you are using will play a part in the quality of the shot, but there are other things you can do without upgrading your camera to improve your sports photos.

11 Sports Photography Tips

Read your manual.
First things first. Do you know how to use your camera properly? Learning how to use your camera can improve your photography skills immensely. There is a ton of information in your manual. Keep it in your camera bag! I constantly refer back to mine. If you’ve lost yours, I recommend downloading another one online.

Follow the action.
You should know the basics about your sport and have a general understanding of what is going to happen during a game, so you can best position yourself to capture the action. During a soccer game, I tend to wander up and down the sidelines following the ball. During a cross country meet, I like to check out the course ahead of time and get an idea of where is going to be the best place to get a clean shot (meaning no background clutter of the crowd). During a game, you may find it easier to use a tripod or a monopod. A monopod gives you more freedom of movement on the sidelines. Although I myself don’t tend to use either of these all that often, they can definitely make a difference in the quality of the shot, because they eliminate a lot of the camera shake that takes place when you are holding your camera yourself.
Follow the action

Get close to the action.
Unless you have a really long lens, you are going to want to get as close to the action as possible and crop in tight. You don’t want a distracting background that will draw your eye away from the action. You can definitely crop your photo afterwards with your editing software, but once you start cropping, you’ll lose pixels. If you plan to blow a picture up to a much larger size, it can affect the quality.
Get close to the action

Try to keep your horizon even.
A tilted horizon can look creative, but in sports shots, it tends to look silly. You can keep it even with a monopod or tripod, or you may be able to straighten it with your editing software. I try to be aware of camera tilt when I am shooting sports, but I tend to do a fair amount of straightening with my editing software afterwards.

Use continuous shooting.
Continuous shooting helps you get the whole sequence of action. I don’t save every picture, but by taking the whole sequence, I’m practically guaranteed to get the important one! If I hadn’t been using continuous shooting, I never would have gotten this goal!
Use continuous shooting

Use a fast shutter speed.
If you have a sports mode on your camera, you can use that. You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. The shutter opens and closes quickly when you use a fast shutter speed, letting in less light. You may also want to experiment with a slower shutter speed occasionally if you want to try blurring the motion.

Try using a shallow depth of field.
To highlight your subject and blur the background, use a large aperture (or small f-stop), creating a shallow depth of field.

Pay attention to ISO.
Your ISO setting can be changed depending on your light sensitivity needs. The less light you have, the higher the ISO you will need to use. On a sunny day, you can use a low ISO like 100 or 200. But when you’re shooting a night game, you’ll want to use a higher ISO like 1000 or 1600 to help stop the action in a lower light setting. Be aware you may get a “grainy” look when you use a higher ISO.

Experiment with white balance.
You may have noticed the AWB setting on your camera. AWB stands for Automatic White Balance, and it means your camera is deciding your white balance for you. I’d recommend experimenting a little. I rarely use the AWB setting. I typically use the daylight and cloudy settings when I am shooting sports outdoors, depending on the conditions. When shooting sports indoors, I always use custom white balance. I tend to use the DIY method of taking a picture of a white piece of paper and adjusting my white balance from there using my camera manual instructions. However, there are lots of great tools available that you can purchase that would probably be easier. Adjusting your white balance makes a huge difference when shooting indoor sports like swimming and basketball. No more yellow tones! I also use custom white balance when taking pictures in the snow, but rather than using a piece of paper, I simply take a picture of the snow as my guideline and use that. Without the adjustment, your snow may take on a grey or blue cast.
Custom white balance

Invest in a lens hood.
A lens hood will stop unwanted light from creeping in from the sides, which reduces contrast and creates lens flare. Another big benefit to using a lens hood is to protect your lens from fingerprints and absorb some of the shock in case of an accidental blow to your lens. Compared to the price of your lens, a lens hood is quite inexpensive, so this really is a smart purchase.

Expand beyond the action shot.
Tell the story. The group huddle, cheering from the bench, celebrations after a score, even the pep talk from the coach on the sidelines…these are all part of the story. While action shots might be the mainstay, these shots are just as important, because they show camaraderie and team spirit. Years from now, kids won’t remember the scores of the games they played, but they will remember the moments they shared! And in the end, this is the most important take away our children will have from their youth sports careers!
Expand beyond the action shot2

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Michelle Nahom – Guest Post

Michelle Nahom is a sideline mom with three kids who are involved in a variety of sports, including soccer, cross country and track, BMX racing, and skiing and snowboarding. She blogs at A Dish of Daily Life about parenting and youth sports, as well as her favorite topics, photography and social media! You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.
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8 Comments
  • December 15, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Thanks for having me Courtney! Sports are my favorite thing to photograph – my kids and their friends are very well documented through the years! :)

  • December 16, 2013 at 6:16 PM

    Such a great tutorial Michelle! Never thought about the lens hood. I’ve got some of them, but never found it really useful. It just looks more “professional” if you have it on the lens. So now I can use it for its real purpose!

    • December 16, 2013 at 8:44 PM

      I’m so glad you found it helpful Chris! I love my lens hood…it’s saved me a couple of times on my big lens, and it is really helpful with blocking out flare. :)

      • December 19, 2013 at 2:37 PM

        The one thing that really bugs me is, why the heck are lens hood so expensive?

  • K
    January 13, 2014 at 1:20 PM

    I love that group huddle shot. That’s a seller right there. I’ll have to pass that idea onto my husband when he does tournaments. I am sure that the thought never crossed his mind. He’s excellent with everything that falls under the umbrella of photography EXCEPT candids. I used to do wedding with him before he got into full-time with sports. I would have to point out shots to him to get at the reception. Those were always the ones the couple like most, not the ones they posed for.

  • Stanik Kolarik
    May 4, 2015 at 3:13 PM

    I did not learn anything new, but I commend your article
    Stanik
    http://www.stanislavkolarik.cz

  • JC
    May 17, 2017 at 11:30 PM

    Michelle you missed the MOST important secret in sports photography……backs and butts do not make good shots.

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