Inside: On the sidelines at every game sits a mom and dad with a camera waiting for the perfect picture at the game. Is this you? Our Ultimate Guide to Sports Photography for Beginners will give you all of the sports photography settings, sports photography tips and techniques as well as tips on the best sports photography equipment you’ll need.
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Ultimate Guide to Sports Photography for Beginners
The joy of parenthood aka “soccer mom” is sitting in the stands and cheering on your child/children playing a sport. Whether it’s basketball, hockey, football, baseball, track, soccer, rugby, swimming etc. naturally you want to preserve these moments. We try to freeze time for just a second, so that years from now you can look back and smile. So how does one shoot sports photography? It can be tricky because there is so so soooo much action taking place…right? Not to mention if you are shooting an indoor sport event or even a sports game at night in low light situations, it can be beyond tricky. (Low Light Photography Tips)
So let’s start with what I recommend for the best sports photography equipment. This can be a tricky subject because it truly all depends on your budget as well as your long term needs. So with that being said please glean what is best for you and your situation from my recommendations.
Sports Photography Equipment
I think it can go without being said…but just incase it is best that you use a DSLR camera that has very good autofocus and speed, and the ability to use different lenses. Hands- down if you don’t have this as a start you will be a very frustrated mom or dad trying to capture your child’s sports pictures. Why would you stay so frustrated? Because the best way to freeze action is with a dslr camera.
Thankful in the day in age we live in there are plenty of choices to choose from but all you really need is a 24mm APS-C camera. Entry level cameras like the Nikon D5500 or the Canon Rebel T6i are excellent choices.
If your budget allows and you want to step up in class, the Nikon D7200 or the Canon 7D II are good choices which offer better autofocus and speed then the entry level camera but cost significantly more. I personally started with a Nikon D3200 and later added a Canon 7D. Here is a great example of the two camera’s images taken a few seconds apart. Understanding what your camera can do will make a BIG difference how your final image will look. You don’t always need the most expensive gear to get a great shot.
The best lens for your camera when shooting for sports photography is a 55-300mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. Nikon makes a version of this lens, Canon has a 55-250mm version, Sigma and Tamron also make a version of this lens for- Nikon, Canon, and Sonly Alpha lens mount.
In my opinion, this lens gives you the best bang for your buck. Who doesn’t love that, right? It’s a versatile all around lens that allows you to shoot wide angle to telephoto zoom and everything in between without changing the lens. It can be used for sports photography or any other reasons for photography such as family functions, vacations, birthdays, recitals, etc. Even better because it allows you to use it most everyday for most every event/situation you’ll want to shoot pictures at.
In reality you want to be able to use your camera for more than sports pictures. So when purchasing this lens make sure you get the latest model which has optical image stabilization. This will help you get a sharper image then a lens that doesn’t have the optical image stabilization. When I purchase I always go with the newest model because of the increase in technology. It’s only there to help you and new technology is a beautiful thing.
Tips for Outdoor Sports Photography
- First set your camera to autofocus, on the Canon you should set the autofocus to the AI servo mode, on the Nikon, Pentax, and Sony you should use either AF-C or AF-A. These autofocus modes help you track moving objects. Remember sports is all about action and movement!
- Next you should set your camera mode dial, to S if you are using a Nikon, Sony, or Tv if you are using a Pentax or Canon. This is shutter priority mode on your camera. The general rule in photography is that you use a shutter speed that is equal to the long end of your zoom to shoot hand held. So that means with a 55-300mm lens you need a minimum shutter speed of 1/300 of a second to prevent blurring. This rule applies even with the image stabilization in your lens. So make sure you set your shutter speed to 500. This is a nice general speed that will freeze action and make sure there is no blur. Remember 1/500 of a second is a starting point. Dependent on where you are shooting you make need to adjust your ISO, so that you can shoot this speed.
- Drop your ISO: If you are outdoors and it is bright and sunny out you can drop your ISO to 200 or even 100.
- If it’s cloudy or overcast set your ISO a bit higher. You might also need to drop the shutter speed. Understand that at higher ISO you will increase the noise (the grain like objects in your photo). Experiment with your camera to see what noise level you are comfortable with. Noise can also be reduced in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop elements- in the end a little noise is better than no picture at all, right? We can’t always win for loosing!
Tips for Indoor Sports Photography
Shooting indoor sports photography is a lot trickier. You are probably wondering what some good low light sports photography settings would be or even if you are doing some night sports photography, these tips might help you.
- Increase your ISO: Dependent on where you’re photographing your child, there may not be enough light to shoot clear pictures. So to start you should increase your ISO to either 3200 or 6400. Don’t be afraid to play around with your settings, that is the beauty of a DSLR (digital!)
- Once again set your autofocus either to AI servo for Canon or AF-C or AF-A for Nikon, Pentax, or Sony. You should set your mode dial to A. This is aperture priority mode. In this mode you set your aperture to the widest setting.
- You may also need to adjust your white balance for either tungsten or fluorescent, because of the indoor lighting colors being different. By setting the white balance you are telling your camera what kind of lighting situation you are shooting in so it can balance the light colors for you in camera vs. post processing (editing).
- Make sure your optical image stabilization is on, this can be found on your lens, as this will help shoot hand held at a slower shutter speed.
- Lastly turn off your pop up flash. In most indoor settings you are too far away for the flash to be effective.
What about an f/2.8 lens?
I recently upgraded my gear to a Canon 5D Mark III along with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Yes, I am able to take some amazing shots freezing the action with my new gear.
Ultimately you must decide, if spending a minimum of $1200 on a lens is worth shooting a few shots indoors. In my opinion unless you’re getting paid, the lens is not worth it.
I’ve also been asked about monopods and this is a tricky subject as well. A lot of venues don’t allow spectators to bring monopods or use them for safety reasons. Because of this I would say that you should not use a monopod indoors.
So my advice is to try the steps here and see how your photos look. If you can’t capture the action try shooting when things are relatively still. For example, if your child is preparing to shoot a free throw in basketball or giving his teammates a high-five.
Capture the emotion of the game. See if you can capture your child celebrating a good play or talking with his/her coach. Anytime you can capture emotion your images will be so powerful. Whether it’s the disappointment, the victory shout or the excitement of about to score with a run to home base.
Lastly, always try to capture the ball in frame to give context to your picture. Anticipate the action. This may not happen on the first shot, so try again. Don’t be afraid to over shoot and then in the end you’d rather have too many photos than not enough. As Photography Mad states use the image burst mode setting on your camera. As they stated -“Bear in mind that shooting in burst mode will fill your memory card much faster than taking individual shots, so make sure yours has plenty of capacity, or take a spare along. If you’re running out of space, use half time or time-outs to delete some of your bad shots.”
For example, if your child is on first base and you think the steal sign is given get ready to capture the action at second base.
Don’t ignore the quiet moments, capture pictures like your child sitting on the bench with their friends, warm up drills, or waiting in the on deck circle for their turn at bat.
Be mindful of your surroundings. Balls and pucks have a strange way of always finding the person holding the camera, so pay attention. Don’t get too close to the field of play, you don’t want to become part of the action.
Lastly enjoy your child’s sport moment and have fun. Yes, the memories are so important so have fun capturing them, but when you are happy with a few shots, don’t forget to also set your camera down and enjoy the game. That is half of the fun and half of the enjoyment.
What Sports photography questions do you have? Have you had struggles you can’t quite seem to conquer? Let us know and we’ll circle back around in the comments below and try to help you out.
My name is Tori Evans. I am a documentary sports and lifestyle photographer. Photography and a passion for sports have always been a part of my life and I have turned that passion into a career that has allowed me to capture some of the best athletes from across the states.
In my early 20s I modeled for various photographers which landed me in magazines such as FLEX, OXYGEN, and Muscle Mag. I have always enjoyed being in front of the camera-excited to see the photographer’s vision come to life.
By age 30, I had become a stay-at-home mom of 2 beautiful girls. Like most moms, my girls were growing up fast right before my eyes. I wanted to capture every moment. That is when I got my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D3200 with kit lens 18-55mm and 55-300mm. I took my camera to a college football game to capture our family experience and that is where I fell in love with the sports side of photography. That moment I knew I wanted to be a sports photographer.
My experience in shooting action sports has grown into an ability to keep things quick, light and fun while always turning out great images no matter the conditions. My photos are meant to tell a story and evoke an emotion. Documenting moments that are honest, raw, and familiar making each viewer feel a connection to them.
In 2014 I decided to try my hand at professional sports photography which opened the door to many successful opportunities. I have established myself as a known name in the action sports industries in my area. My photos have graced the covers of many military organizational magazines and have been seen on billboards and marketing campaigns. I am taking that candid documentary style to a broader audience, and bringing a fun approach with me in every shot!