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Five Tips for Top Sporting Photography

Summer is rapidly approaching and with it a whole host of sporting events. From the Rio Olympics to Euro 2016 to Wimbledon …. to your son or daughter’s school sports day, there are endless opportunities to get involved watching sport this summer!

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But if you do go along to watch some sport you may well want to do a bit of photography whist there to commemorate the event! First and foremost remember to check with the organisers in advance about what is and is not permitted, so that you are not wasting your time. But if you do get the go ahead you then need to have a think about the type of photographs you want, bearing in mind that successful photography can be really difficult to achieve at a sporting event. Whether it’s a large international stadium event or a small local playing field, if you are in a position to take some photographs then here are our Five Tips for Top Sporting Photography:

1: Perfect Timing Timing is everything. Really good sports photography manages to anticipate the moment and then capture it. If you are serious about getting some good shots then a bit of forward planning will pay dividends. Think about how and where the action is going to unfold, and then be ready to capture it. If you want to be the parent with the winning shot of the school sports day finishing line or the deciding goal then position yourself there before the race or game begins!

When taking your photographs you often need to anticipate the action and just get shooting - as if you wait until the key moment comes you may find you’ve actually just missed it in photographic terms! Remember to shoot as many images as possible – wherever possible use the continuous shooting feature on your camera. Continuous shooting is the option that many digital cameras have of being able to shoot a rapid sequence of pictures. The beauty of digital photography is that you can take far more shots than you actually need then refine them later on your computer.

2: Put Things in Context Great sporting photography isn’t just about the game or race itself, it’s about capturing the ambience of the whole event. So don’t focus just on the specific sporting elements but also on the surroundings as a whole. Whether it’s a stadium full of waving flags, small groups of giggling fans, or teams assembling on the side lines, there are lots of opportunities to capture the spirit of the event even before the action begins! However, always be careful of distracting backgrounds to make sure that your chosen subject does stand out.

3: Dare to be Different Leading on from both the above, why not allow yourself the indulgence of being that little bit different? Whatever the event, do you really want the same kind of bog standard sporting shot as everyone else? Don’t be afraid to experiment with different heights and different angles to get the shots that stand out from the crowd!

4: The Exposure Triangle To get a really good shot you need to get the lighting right! Ambient lighting is the essential factor in effective sporting photography. Many cameras operate solely on autofocus. In this case just keep focussed on your subject and keep the camera either in continuous autofocus mode, or if that doesn't work put it into single shot autofocus mode and pre-focus on a particular point. When your subject gets to that point just shoot! If, however, you have more manual control over your camera then you need to be aware of the three elements of lighting: shutter speed, aperture and ISO:

  • Shutter speed: If you have a camera with adjustable shutter speed then make sure this is set on high in order to capture a brilliant action shot effectively. By high we mean at least 1/500th of a second: higher if your camera supports it. Conversely, if you want an artistic blurry effect then try using a slower shutter speed to capture moving subjects. You may also want to try panning - an extended blurred motion technique that involves the photographer moving with the subject, resulting in photographs with sharp subjects and blurred backgrounds.
  • Aperture: the aperture is the hole that light travels through before reaching the image sensor on the back of your camera lens. You can open the aperture to let more light in by selecting a lower f-stop (focal ratio) such as f5.6, enabling you to then use a faster shutter speed.
  • ISO: ISO is the international measure of the sensitivity of your camera to light. It measures the the speed at which your camera’s image sensor reads light coming in from outside, with a lower number representing lower sensitivity to available light, and higher numbers mean more sensitivity. If you increase the ISO, you will also be able to increase your aperture and shutter speed without darkening or blurring your photos.

To summarise, you need to get the right combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO to create the best lighting for your shot. For the best sporting shots at speed you need a fast lens, good lighting and a high ISO setting.

5: Don’t be too flashy Opinion varies as to whether the use of flash is a good technique. On the one hand it provides a light source with a very short duration that will illuminate the subject and allow us to get an excellent combination of aperture and a fast shutter speed. So it can be a good solution to indoor and low light situations, and an obvious alternative to shooting with a fast shutter speed. However, do always check if flash is permitted! Sometimes it is found to be distracting at sporting events so many be banned. You may also find whilst using flash that portions of your shot look over exposed and a little unnatural. To overcome this try bouncing the light from the flash off another surface such as a white wall so that the flash is not directly on the subject and that the photograph is more evenly lit.

Enjoy your sporting calendar this summer! Whether home or away, large or small, we hope that you get some fabulous photographs that you can be justifiably proud of.

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