How I Shoot Sports

My son Grant playing football and baseball this year has given me the opportunity to shoot a lot of sports, and it’s really been a lot of fun.

I’ve never gotten to shoot sports nearly as much as I would like. I love shooting portraits, but sports is a really cool change of pace. I honestly can’t wait for Grant’s games to come around each week so that I can shoot them.

I’ve had several people ask me how I get the shots I do, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my shooting style when it comes to sports. Let me say right away, though, that none of this is going to help you if you don’t have a DSLR camera. A point and shoot is not going to get you good sports shots, no matter how you set it up. The “sports” scene mode will help, but even that can only go so far. The get shots like the ones that I got below, you’re going to need a DSLR camera and interchangeable lenses. Just no way to get around that.

But if you have a DSLR, here are a few things that might help you:

Fast and Furious

One of the keys to getting great sports shots is to not be afraid to take a picture. By that I mean that the shutters on most DSLRs these days are rated to at least 50,000 releases. Most will go many, many more than that. Decent memory cards will hold in the thousands of pictures. So, turn the shutter release on as fast as it will go and hold it down for as long as you can.

That’s how I got the shot above. It was shot with a Nikon D90, which will shoot about 5 frames a second with the optional battery grip attached. I set it for that and then just held it down when the ball was snapped and let the camera rip off about 15-20 shots. This was probably the ninth or 10th shot in the progression, but it was the one that counted.

The Need for Speed

One of the biggest complaints people have about their own sports shots is that they are blurry. Most of the time, that is directly tied to shutter speed, which is different from the release speed that I was talking about above.

Release speed is how many times the shutter releases a second. Shutter speed has to do with how fast the shutter opens and closes to give the sensor access to light. I shoot most of my portraits at a shutter speed of anywhere from 1/120 to 1/250 of a second. And while that might seem fast, it’s not fast enough to freeze sports action. Even at that speed, there would be some blurr.

The shot above was taken at 1/1250 of a second and as you can see, the action is frozen completely. Drop the shutter speed down to portrait level and everything would just be one big blur.

Go Long

To get decent sports photos, you really need a good zoom lens, at least 200mm in length. I shoot most of my outdoor sports with a Sigma 150-500mm lens. It’s nicknamed the “Bigma” because it’s more than two feet long when the zoom is all the way out. I can get really close with it and it’s what I used to get the shot above.

But you don’t necessarily need a lens that big to take decent shots close-in. If you have a continuous autofocus mode on your camera and a reasonably sharp 200mm zoom, you can get close enough. You might have to crop it in a little, but it’s possible.

What’s Happening?

Most sports shooters adhere to the television philosophy of a sporting event and only pay attention when something is “happening.” But often there is a lot happening when nothing is “happening.”

You can’t really tell it, but the shot above was taken between plays. Carter had just scored a touchdown, and Tristan, who plays on the line on offense, just picked up the ball and was running to the sideline with it. The look on his face was pure joy, and I just happened to catch it because I was paying attention at a time when most shooters wouldn’t be.

Anyway, that’s a few of my tips. Hope they help.

Filled Under : Philosophy , Photography , Sports

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