Action Sports Photography

Among all photography styles action sports photography is one of the most exciting, dynamic and truly difficult ones. As this type of photography involves a lot of action and speed, shooting the subjects requires more than just knowledge and understanding of proper angles and distance, but also physical endurance at times. Action sports photographers are often seen sitting on top of surrounding structures or climbing trees trying to get into that one perfect position.

Huge part of sports photography consists of so called “perfectly frozen moments”; when a photographer doesn’t have time to compose the shot – a player, athlete or racer does that for him. And there is usually just a split second to capture it. So, reaction time matters as well as all the gear has to be set before. You will not have time to browse through the camera settings when a field game it going on.

Shooting different sports

The most amazing part of sports photography is that most of the shots cannot be staged; unless you can afford hiring a whole sport team to perform for you. Even though there are quite a few images of a football player kicking a ball while doing an overhead flip, each one of those is unique. Each photo of a boxer punching his opponent makes a spectator feel the power that went into this punch. Speed of a rally car captured in the air just after it took off makes people freeze at stare at the image for a minute – so powerful it is.

If you decide to dive deeper into action sports photography, you would need to understand each sports particularity first. Different sports demand different shooting speed and style, and sometimes different gear. You have to have a firm understanding of the sport you are shooting to know what and when approximately to expect.

Here are few action sports photography tips and particularities to consider:

  1. Football and Ice Hockey. Due to the speed involved in these games using auto focus is recommended if you follow with your lens all over the field. If you are committed to take shots of some specific area, let’s say – where the goal keeper is, you would need to focus on that area, switch to manual focus and don’t touch it anymore. This way your focus won’t get driven away by some side move.
  2. Motor sports. Unless you are shooting speedway races you will not be able to see the whole race. So it’s crucial to study the track trying to predict where the most action can possibly take place. If you’re after some “car in the air” shots – get yourself a spot near some hump, if you hunting “car drift” shots – look for a track curve. Always be there early, take into account that there will be a lot of public that can get into the frame. And last but not least – always put safety first.
  3. Golf. To shoot photos during the game you would need a large telephoto lens on a tripod. Due to the nature of the game you will not be able to come close, so find a spot before the game starts and try to make sure that nothing will be placed in front of you closer to start.
  4. Figure Skating and Gymnastics. No flash is allowed when shooting these sports as they take a lot of concentration your flash may distract athletes performing. A fast lens and a higher ISO number is the key if the area is not well lit.
  5. Extreme sports. Shooting mountain biking, snowboarding and mountain skiing you can generally apply the same rules as you would for motorsports. The only difference is that the race has just one lap, so there is only one opportunity to take a shot of a particular competitor. Choose your spot and camera settings wisely.

And finally there is one rule of thumb that applies to all action sports shooting – high shutter speed. You should always set that manually. If you are not shooting in the “M” mode, then shutter speed priority mode (“S” on Nikon and Sony, “Tv” on Canon and Pentax) is the one you should be using. Happy shooting!

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