Stories That Teach Life Lessons

How Most Professional Photographers Cover Athletics


Access is crucial for any sports photographer. Even if you have the most sophisticated collection of glasses on the market, you won’t be able to use them without access. If you have access, you have a 40% better chance of succeeding. What are some of the other factors that contribute to success?

You need the ability to plan ahead and maintain focus for extended times. It’s important to be well-versed in and interested in a wide range of activities, not just the ones that are currently trending. Last but not least, a healthy dose of good fortune never harmed anyone. Besides getting exciting shots, what else should you aim for?


The backs of people’s skulls aren’t all that interesting. I believe that we are so accustomed to seeing features that we don’t even notice them anymore. When feasible, we would appreciate seeing the athletes’ faces. Drama and excitement are amplified by grimacing features. Unfortunately, there are competitors who appear unmoved by victory. The quality of a sports photograph can be greatly enhanced by including the subjects’ faces.


It’s likely that maximum excitement is what you seek. While chance may play a role, a photograph of a softball game without the ball in view just isn’t the same. The viewer can determine what sport it is just by looking at the ball, whether it’s a hockey puck or a shuttlecock. You can’t judge how close a play was, how bad a toss was, etc., without the ball. The action at a base must be tight in baseball and softball. The ball is either in the glove or out of sight if the toss is too early or late. No, you’re not to blame for that. That’s the way the game is played. Therefore, it’s safe to say that chance plays a role.

An Opposite Perspective

Attempt a new angle to shock the audience and provide them with a new perspective on a “stale” activity. Sometimes all it takes is taking pictures when the weather isn’t ideal. Or you could just use some imagination in your approach to photography. Bringing in more machinery could mean more labor, but the payoff will be worth it. Even if it doesn’t succeed, you’ll gain knowledge.


Perspective and backdrop are related but distinct concepts. Keep an eye out for what’s happening in the background at all times; there are limits to what can be accomplished by shooting with wide-open apertures and long lenses. You need to photograph multiple sports if you want to become a professional sports photographer.


Like most Americans, I have no idea what golf is about. If I ever take up the sport, I am confident that I will appreciate it. It’s more fun to participate in than to observe. However, reporting golf isn’t something I enjoy doing. Reasons why

A 300mm lens, monopod, 2 cameras, a strobe, and a 70-200mm zoom are the bare minimum you should plan on lugging around.
All 18 courses will require walking, and possibly more if there is a playoff.
You can’t always be in a group of four
If the leaderboards aren’t updated in real-time, you’re going to be in a world of hurt if you’re attempting to track down a specific golfer when the lead suddenly shifts.
aside from that, the light is typically quite harsh. Sun protection gear like visors and sports caps are worn routinely. You can never get near enough to fill a flash or anything like that.
Restrictions. You’re not allowed to block the players’ sightlines. If they’re on the green for a short game, you can’t trigger your camera until they make contact with the ball. Keep in mind that complete silence is required.
If the game advances to the playoffs, your “great photos” from the regular season are meaningless. It’s like having to begin from scratch.
Unfortunately, the lens requirements make it difficult to photograph soccer, one of my favorite sports. It’s recommended to have at least a 300 mm lens, though a 400 mm one is preferable. However, the sizing of your camera’s lens plays a role as well.

It’s possible that you’ll need something even lengthier if you’re using a camera with a full-frame sensor.

Most of the time, based on the lens you’re using, you have to set up shop on the field and cross your fingers that you’re there when the action happens. Therefore, compared to covering golf or football, covering soccer requires less bodily exertion. In order to improve your chances of scoring on a set piece (free kick, corner kick, etc.), you may decide to change positions. Corner kick jargon like “in-swinger” is useful to know. Otherwise, it’s tough to physically get around because the activity is constant and the ball is constantly on the move.


When covering a sporting event indoors, you immediately face low light and few choices. The fastest racquet sport in the world is also the most difficult to shoot because of the bright lights in the indoor arenas. Learning the rules of scoring in a sport is essential. How else could you determine the importance of a tiebreak or when a “critical match point” has occurred?

White balance, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO

Because they vary based on the available light and the sensitivity of your camera to digital noise, I haven’t mentioned these camera settings up until now. In general, low ISO and digital noise are best handled by more recent cameras. The standard lens for sports shooters is a 300mm f/2.8.

A 70-200 f/2.8 lens with picture stabilization will also be in their kit. Most sports photographers shoot at f/2.8, which allows them to get a fast shutter speed while still blurring the backdrop.

Occasionally, but rarely, they may require an additional depth of field. That’s also why one of the Auto settings looks like a person sprinting if you happen to notice that icon there. High shutter speeds are favored by the Shutter Priority and Tv lighting modes (Time value according to Canon)

Having two camera units is the norm. The long telephoto lens has a single frame and is supported by a monopod. A 300mm lens becomes a 480mm lens if the camera’s picture sensor is full frame or 1.6x.

A shutter speed of at least 1/500 second is recommended for hand-holding such a lens with minimal camera movement.

However, even experts don’t handle long lenses with their own two hands; they use monopods instead. The one advantage of shooting a soccer game at night is that, unlike a daytime game, the exposure doesn’t alter much once you’ve set it.

Keep a watch on the time of day, particularly if the game will be played in the evening. Additionally, since the spectators are not illuminated, they are less of a distraction.

The niche nature of “Sports Photos” prevents a comprehensive overview here. With any luck, you’ll start taking better photos after reading this.

Photography classes at Riverside City College are taught by Peter Phun. He photographs people for parties and magazines. Visit his site for a more in-depth and illustrated piece on photographing sports. He frequently publishes pieces relating to the intersection of photos, Macs, and the web. He’s a stay-at-home parent and web designer.

Peter has 18 years of experience as a staff photographer at The Press-Enterprise, the fourth-biggest daily newspaper in Southern California. He maintains the website for the Inland Empire Mac Users Group. Check out this Riverside-based photographer’s website to learn more!

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