You love capturing your kid’s big achievements and memorable milestones, but when it comes to snapping photos at their sporting events, taking high quality, clear images can be a challenge. Whether they’re scoring the winning goal, hitting their first home run or just jogging on the field, the one thing all sports have in common is motion. As an amateur photographer, motion can be one of the most difficult things to master, but you don’t want to miss out on shots of your little athlete in action so what do you do?
We put together some simple tips so you’ll be able to improve your sports photography in no time whether you’re using a DSLR camera or just your phone. Try them out and use your new skills to take photos for a team photo book at the end of the season.
If there are any photography terms that you aren’t familiar with throughout this article we also have a glossary of common photography terms you can reference for simple definitions.
Learn the sport
Before you worry too much about mastering camera settings, consider learning more about your child’s sport. If they play a sport you’re not familiar with it will make taking photos more challenging because you won’t be able to keep up with the fast pace. Luckily kid’s sports don’t move as quickly as the pros, but being able to predict what might happen next is a great way to start improving your photography. When you know what’s happening on the field you’ll be more likely to snap a photo at the peak moment of action.
Shoot in bursts
If you’ve ever missed the perfect shot by waiting too long to hit the shutter button, this tip is for you. Most smartphone cameras have a built-in feature called burst mode which allows you to capture multiple photos per second. The best part is that you don’t even have to change any settings to use it! Instead of just tapping the shutter button once, hold it down until the action you’re trying to capture is complete. Afterward, you’ll have the ability to choose the clearest shot to keep. Keep as many as you’d like, but be diligent about clearing these out as they’ll take up more storage than a normal photo.
Choose your focus
As great as phone cameras have become, they lack some of the control you get from a traditional digital camera. Luckily, there are a few underutilized features that will not only improve your action shots but all of your pictures as well. Autofocus is typically good at choosing which part of the frame to focus on, especially if someone’s face is the focal point, but you can actually choose where you’d like the camera to focus just by tapping the screen.
Additionally, most smartphones allow you to adjust exposure within the native camera app. Look for instructions on how to adjust exposure on your specific phone, and you’ll be on your way to brighter images. Both of these simple changes will drastically improve the quality of the photos you take with your phone.
Turn off the flash
Not only will bright flashes be distracting for the players, it actually won’t make much of a difference in your photos because at most sporting events you will be considerably far away from the players. Also, the flash on most point and shoot cameras sends light parallel to the lens, creating a flat image that you definitely don’t want in sports photography. Lighting can be hard to control, but outdoors on cloudy days are the best because it reduces the harsh shadows on people’s faces.
Switch to sports mode
If you’re a beginner photographer, most digital cameras offer a sports mode setting that’s easily accessible from the mode dial and usually looks like an icon of a person running. This special mode automatically optimizes your camera settings to capture the fast-paced nature of most sports. Typically, it increases your ISO and shutter speed, reduces the f/stop and adjusts the autofocus. Some pros even opt for shooting in this mode so that they can concentrate on the action, not on their camera settings.
Shoot from a low angle
It can be all too tempting to zoom in directly in on your child, after all, that’s why you’re taking the photo, but don’t forget about the background. It can be just as impactful to get some of the elements of the field or the fans in the bleachers to really capture the moment. A good way to get the field and a clear view of your subject in the frame is to shoot from a low angle. If you have permission, shooting from the sidelines instead of up in the bleachers can make a huge difference. The dramatic angle will make for a more interesting photo. Even if you don’t have special tripod equipment, getting down on your knees can assist you in getting that shot from down below while keeping the camera stable.
Up your shutter speed & ISO
If you’re using a digital camera and want more control over the photograph, the first place to start is your shutter speed. In technical terms, the shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter is open to expose light to the camera sensor. Increasing the shutter speed will freeze the action in the frame, but in turn, let less light in. To make up for this, increasing the ISO will help brighten your photos. A good rule of thumb to correct for this is to use aperture priority mode set to a large aperture. This will allow you to control one element that increases both your shutter speed and ISO to ensure that your photos are sharp and bright enough to see all the action.
Shoot in JPEG, not RAW
Most professional photographers shoot in the RAW format because of the increased possibilities in editing for adjusting settings like exposure and sharpness. Different photographers have their own preferences, but switching to JPEG mode for action shots is generally recommended. JPEG images can be written to the card faster allowing for burst photography, which is helpful when shooting photos at a sporting event. Another benefit of JPEGs over RAW photos is that they’re quicker to export and have smaller file sizes if those are things you’re concerned about.
Edit and crop later
The right cropping and editing can take a photo from ordinary to frame-worthy. When capturing action shots it can be challenging to get the framing exactly right. It’s more important to be in the moment rather than fretting over the rule of thirds. You can always crop and straighten a photo later to fix any framing mistakes. Similarly, shooting too zoomed in, especially on a phone camera, can cause an image to lose its quality and become grainy. Resist zooming in and try getting closer to the action instead or simply crop in to get closer to your subject. Once you’ve successfully edited your photos, consider fun ways to display them like a photo wall or photo board in your child’s room.
Capture moments before and after the game
All the photo-worthy action isn’t limited to the gameplay itself. You can get some of the best shots before the game even starts during the pre-game warm up. There are actually benefits to shooting photos during this time because everyone’s guard is down. You also might get permission from the coach to get a little closer because you won’t be disrupting gameplay or distracting the players. Additionally, the post-game handshakes are a great time to capture the teamwork and sportsmanship that sports are all about.
Even if you’re not a professional photographer, there are tricks out there that will take your photos to the next level. For example, try panning the camera while you take your shot to create that streaked look that implies motion and speed. Just hold down the shutter button, follow the action, and see what you get. Or maybe try out the panorama feature to capture the stadium where the games take place. Let your creativity take over, and don’t worry about making mistakes. That’s the beauty of digital photography, you can just delete photos that didn’t work out!
Whether you keep the pictures for yourself, create photo prints for friends and family, or turn them into personalized gifts for the whole team. You’ll be glad you took the time to learn when you look back on the memories in years to come. Sports photography is a high energy environment that poses its own unique photo challenges, and just like the sport itself, practice makes perfect so get out there and keep trying new things. Once you feel comfortable shooting sports photography, you can try your hand at other photography projects to continue developing your skills.