What makes a good sports photograph?



Well, the answer varies from person to person and depends on a number of different things. For example, you may not have a problem capturing a great sports photo if you are lucky to be using a decent camera. If you are not fortunate enough to have a decent camera, you will be very unlikely to get a good photo.

Now that I have your attention with that comment. I’ll back off the pro versus entry level gear comment. We all have had to start somewhere. For me it was with a Canon AE1 with a motor drive attached. A far from professional level camera. I had to learn the fundamentals of photography and more so technique in order to capture a usable image.


Shutter Speed for sports photography


Lyman Hall's Tyler Stowik gets tripped by Cheshire's Brian Fox Monday at Fitzgerald Field on the campus of Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford October 16, 2017 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

Lyman Hall's Tyler Stowik gets tripped by Cheshire's Brian Fox Monday at Fitzgerald Field on the campus of Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford October 16, 2017 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

So, how can one make a good sport photograph without the benefit of the latest gadgets in sports photography? Well, this all depends on the photographer and his/her abilities, of course. However, if you really want to know what makes a good sport photograph, here is some information that may help you out


Having the best gear certainly helps but only if you understand what functions it will do and how to apply it in the field. You can get lucky and take the maximum burst rate of your camera. Having a string of 15 to 25 images is bound to have a good image in it. Instead find out what shutter speed you need for the result you want and work from there. As your timing and anticipation improves you will find you will need fewer frames to capture your image. I will say that there are instances where having a high frame rate camera is helpful to catch a winning moment or an interaction between players. Remember sports photography is a skill you need to develop on many levels.


Sheehan's Stephen Fengler leads Lyman Hall's Brian Oliveira Tuesday during the Neubauer Invitational at Sheehan High School in Wallingford October 3, 2017 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

Sheehan's Stephen Fengler leads Lyman Hall's Brian Oliveira Tuesday during the Neubauer Invitational at Sheehan High School in Wallingford October 3, 2017 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

Maloney's Demetre Carnot plays out of a green side bunker on the second hole Tuesday at Hunter Golf Course in Meriden May 1, 2018 | Justin Weekes / Special to the Record-Journal

Maloney's Demetre Carnot plays out of a green side bunker on the second hole Tuesday at Hunter Golf Course in Meriden May 1, 2018 | Justin Weekes / Special to the Record-Journal

If you’re not fortunate to be able to use the best of the best gear, no problem. This is an opportunity to work on technique and anticipation. Practice anticipation and timing to achieve the image you envision. Pick a shutter speed fast enough to stop the athletes movement. This may require you to move into a manual setting in order to correct the exposure for the speed you need. Not to worry it’s all related. You may choose to go the opposite and choose a slow shutter speed to show movement.



Sports Environment Perspective


It is very easy to make a sports photograph but if you are looking for ways to capture an image that is captivating and memorable. The key to make a good sports photograph is to create images that grab your attention, make you feel like you are part of the event, and give you something to think about long after the event has ended.


The best way to make a sports photograph is to photograph the scene from every possible angle. You could start by taking a series of different pictures that show where you are. These are called establishing images. You could take several candids of a group of athletes, players individually, and then take a few images of the entire field. Once you have a good amount of supporting images you can concentrate on the game action itself. There really isn’t a set order of how you gather images because in sports things are always happening all the time. I will add that perspective is one of the most subliminal elements in photography. How it applies to sports can really determine if your image stands out from the rest. Being able to see an athlete's eye is by far the most important.


PrepBowls-rj-111414

PrepBowls-rj-111414

Cheshire's Academy's David Dykeman left and Choate's LJ Spinnato Wednesday at Cheshire Academy in Cheshire Nov 12, 2014 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

The Spartan cheers on the team Friday during a pep rally for the soccer team reaching the state finals at Maloney High School in Meriden November 16, 2018 | Justin Weekes / Special to the Record-Journal

The Spartan cheers on the team Friday during a pep rally for the soccer team reaching the state finals at Maloney High School in Meriden November 16, 2018 | Justin Weekes / Special to the Record-Journal

Now, when we get down to it, the answers to the above questions are just as important as the question of what makes a good sports photograph. A photographer who knows how to take photos of groups of people, or who has a clear idea of what makes a group of people stand out in a crowd, will usually be able to capture the most dramatic moments in the best light. Being prepared combined with experience will harbor results you want. As you move through each sport you will begin to understand where to be to anticipate the action, what makes a good supporting image, and how to take advantage of insider habits of each sport.



Sports Photography Exposure


Soccer Sunset

Soccer Sunset

Maloney takes on Plainville Thursday at Falcon Field in Meriden. Plainville defeated Maloney 2 to 1. September 21, 2017 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

Another important thing that makes a sports photograph memorable is lighting. One way to make a sports photograph stand out is to try to light the area at different angles so that you can show multiple different aspects of the action. This means that instead of simply pointing and shooting, you should be standing in front of the subject and trying to position the lens at a different angle or shoot a series of different pictures with the same scene. If the sport takes place outside take advantage of the different lighting at different times of day. Including elements of nature in any photograph will add to it’s value.


Lyman Hall's Stephen Grammatico (12) pushes for the first down in the fourth quarter Thursday during the Carini Bowl at Fitzgerald Field in Wallingford Nov 27, 2014 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal

Lyman Hall's Stephen Grammatico (12) pushes for the first down in the fourth quarter Thursday during the Carini Bowl at Fitzgerald Field in Wallingford Nov 27, 2014 | Justin Weekes / For the Record-Journal


Depth of Field for Sports


So now you’ve picked your shutter speed. You’ve found the lighting you need. What’s next? As I mentioned you may need to move into a manual setting on the camera to control these settings individually. Depth of Field setting is almost as important as shutter speed to invoke a pleasing image. Using a shallow depth of field setting separates an athlete from the background. It will blur out distractions that take away from your image. To complete your setting choice, balance the exposure with ISO setting.


Friday at Riccitelli Field on the campus of Sheehan High School in Wallingford September 28, 2018 | Justin Weekes / Special to the Record-Journal

Friday at Riccitelli Field on the campus of Sheehan High School in Wallingford September 28, 2018 | Justin Weekes / Special to the Record-Journal


White Balance for Sport Images


Now, another question that is often asked about what makes a good photograph is how to get the best color out of your photographs. Color representation is important in sports. This function is called white balance. I can remember a Sports Illustrated published Louis DeLuca’s image of a Baylor Football game. He captured the image with the black jerseys that were worn during the game. SI published the image with Baylor’s alternative colored jersey color of green. You can read about this more here Baylor Jersey Color. It’s important to monitor your camera to make sure it’s representing what you see in the game. I would say that most of the time unless I’m working in an oddly lite stadium I use auto white balance. You can use a custom white balance for each location provided you have time to test.



Sports Photography Safety


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This subject should be of the utmost importance. Covering sports or athletic events is dangerous for you, the athlete and your gear. Each sport is completely different from the next. Some can kill you in an instant. If you do anything before you make a decision to take up sports photography be aware of each sports dangers. Your movement and positioning has to be done where you won’t get injured or injure a player. Some events may have you sign a death waiver not to be held responsible if the worst case happens. Keep your head on a swivel at all times even when there is no play being run in the game. You may have heard in the movies about Police or the Military the phrase “Spatial Awareness”. In baseball there might be people warming up and an errant ball heads your way.



It is easy to get the best out of a good sports photograph, but it is not easy to capture the essence of the sport if you do not know how to take it. Take your time, practice, and learn how to use all of the elements of your photos to get the most dramatic result. Once you become more experienced with what makes a good sports photograph, you will soon be able to make the best of the things that make a good sports photograph.


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