Tips for getting better sports photos

by Henry B Posted on September 08, 2010

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Do you want to take sports photos that look like the covers of sports magazines? If so, this article is not for you because most people don’t have the professional grade equipment or the field access necessary. However, if you want to take the best sports photos you can with amateur equipment, this article may help you because I will give you tips I have found useful.

In general, sports photography is not any different from other forms of photography. Granted, sporting events usually have fast action which means that you generally want to use a fast shutter speed, but general photo taking principles still apply. Such things as depth of field are still very important. In this article, most example photos were taken from photo books posted in the Shutterfly Gallery sports category.

1)  Focus on a person or position
It helps if you have a particular person of interest playing the game because then you can follow this person on the field of play with your camera. This is especially true with continuous movement sports such as soccer and basketball. If you don’t have a person of interest, you can focus on a position such as pitcher, batter, quarter back, etc. Here are two examples:


(Image by KarenP39)


(Image by CurtisTeam)

2) Facial expressions show the emotions
To me, photos showing the emotions of playing the game are the most rewarding and memorable. While the expressions of the players involved in the action are usually great, don’t forget about the players not involved in the action or the coaches and fans. Here are two examples:


(Image by KarenP39)


(Image by CurtisTeam)

3) Dealing with fences and other obstructions
The best way to handle fences and other obstructions is to change position so they are not in the way. When this is not possible, try to get as close to the fence as possible. Of course, I’m talking about a chain link fence. Also, use the biggest lens you have and set the aperture wide open to give the smallest depth of field. The reason is that the fence will be less of a distraction if it is too close to be in the field of focus (for more on depth of field please see  Turn good photos into great photos with depth-of-field by Earl J). Here’s an example showing the difference a focal length change on a 70-300 mm zoom lens makes:

Notice how the fence almost disappears in the 300 mm photo.

4) Use higher ISO instead of flash at night or indoors
For night or indoor sporting events, a flash is usually useless because of its limited effective range. Thus, using a higher ISO is the best way to go. While some quality may be lost, you will still be able to get good action photos. For example, I used an ISO of 3200 which allowed me to shoot at 1/1000 sec for the following night game photo:

5) Don’t forget the equipment, the fans, or the scenery

Finally, some terrific photos can be obtained by focusing on some of the equipment used for the sport as shown here:


(Image by Tabatha F)

Also, don’t forget to take notice of what is around the field of play because it may add to the photo as shown here:


(Image by SarahM47)

So, take your camera with you when you go to that sporting event whether it’s a professional or an amateur event. After all, there is always the opportunity for a remarkable and rewarding photo.

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  1. Joey Says:

    Your article was once again filled with helpful tips. I have a niece and nephew who are in sports. I was only at one of my nephews baseball games. i was able to move to get out of the way of the fence on some shots, and others it worked to blur out the fence. I need to study up on aperture settings.. I was also at one of my niece’s soccer games and it was fun trying to get action shots and one of the group huddled together (I got several of those). I Did get some of the soccer balls but not of the crowd. I like the example photos you used above. Once again another helpful article.Its really fun seeing the kids in action. I like the tip about Facial expressions show emotions!!

  2. shannonr Says:

    wow defintiley needed these tips, i love to take pictures of my son, he is 4 and just getting into the sports now. He started soccer and will be tball soon, and by the life of my i have the hardest time getting sports shots! These tips will definitly make me think and hopefully just hopefully get a few good photos :)

more about Henry B

I first became interested in photography in 1969 when I purchased my first 35 mm SLR. I switched to digital photography in 1999 and bought my first DSLR in 2003. I retired in 2004 which means I can spend more time doing what I like. I got involved with photo books because they allowed much more than merely organizing photos. Additionally, stories can be created or documented much more clearly with a combination of photos and text.

View all articles by Henry B »

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