Sports Photography Tips and Tricks From a Professional

1/11/2019 8:06 am

Learning how to take good sports photos is an art. With your subject dashing across a field or leaping through the air, it can be frustrating when you first start.


To help you, we spoke to Ted’s Master photographer Michael Willson. As AFL Media’s Chief Photographer, he’s a pro at capturing the blood, sweat, and tears on the field.


Whether you’re a proud soccer mum or want to get into sports photography as a profession, this sports photography tutorial is for you. Keep reading to find out Michael’s top 10 sports photography tips and tricks.

Sports Photography Tips and Tricks from a Professional

1. Freeze the action


The images that immortalise iconic sports moments are those that capture emotion at its rawest. Think of Tayla Harris mid-flight kicking a goal or Thorpedo fist-pumping the air after smashing a world record.


Michael explains the importance of shutter speeds in sports photography. “Use a shutter speed of minimum 1000/s to freeze action,” he says.

The best camera for sports photography is the Canon EOS 1DX Mark II. It allows you to shoot at 1/8000s and 14fps to capture the perfect shot.

2. Isolate a single player


The difficulty with sports photography is that your subjects are not at rest. They are competing with other players, literally, for your attention.


The best camera setting for action shots allows you to blur the background and isolate the subject. Michael suggests using the widest possible f/stop to do this. The f/stop refers to how wide the aperture is set on your camera. Confusingly, the smaller the number, the wider your aperture is set. Michael recommends f/2.8 or f/4.

Sports Photography Tips and Tricks from a Professional

3. Never lose focus


Don’t miss the best moments fiddling around with manual focusing. The best cameras for sports photography have AI Servo Focus. Michael confirms that using the AI Servo Focus setting is crucial for moving subjects. It tracks focus continuously making sure when you click that shutter you’ll have that million-dollar moment in high resolution.

Sports Photography Tips and Tricks from a Professional

4. Let the light in


Learning about exposure is a critical step in taking good sports photos, says Michael. Exposure refers to the amount of light you let the sensor pick up and it determines how light or dark your photographs are.


“I recommend exposing manually where possible,” says Michael. “If you’re not confident, try the TV mode set to 1000/s.” Like all photography, practice makes perfect, so play around with your camera’s settings for action shots in all kinds of light.



5. Pan like a pro


Panning is a great tip for sports photography enthusiasts. Put simply, panning imitates the action of swivelling your head. You move the camera along a horizontal line to achieve a sharply focused subject with a blurry background.


Michael recommends different paced panning for adults and children. “Try panning at 1/15s for adults at full pace,” he offers. “Try a little slower for children, around 1/8s.”


6. Match your white balance to the conditions 


Understanding how to adjust white balance is essential in all photography. The purpose of white balance is to ensure that the photograph accurately resembles the colours and conditions you can see with your naked eye.


One outdoor sports photography tip from Michael is to use a cloudy white balance on an overcast day. Adjusting the white balance is an essential camera setting for quality sports photography. Every digital camera is different, so take the time to read your manual or ask one of our in-store experts for help.

Sports Photography Tips and Tricks from a Professional

Sports Photography Tips and Tricks from a Professional

7. Make your subject the star


“Keep backgrounds as clean as possible,” says Michael. “Avoid messy, busy or ugly backgrounds that detract from the subject and overall look of the image.”

When you first arrive at the sporting arena, do a quick scout around to figure out the best locations and backgrounds for your shoot. Be wary of any distracting flags or colourful outfits that might come along as the game progresses.


8. Cropping issues


You don’t want to lose your subject in a sea of unnecessary details, but you also don’t want to lose a finger, toe or ball from the frame, warns Michael.


It can be a challenge when you’re following a fast-moving subject like a sports figure around but do try to crop as closely as possible. 


Finding the best lens for sports photography will help you get up close and personal with your subject. Traditionally sports photographers have chosen long lenses as they are often situated a long way from the action. Try the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L or Canon EF 600mm f/4 L.

9. Anticipate play 


If you’re looking into how to be a sports photographer, there’s a very big chance you’re interested in a particular sport. Your knowledge gives you an edge in the field. “Try following players instead of the ball in a contest,” says Michael.


10. Try something different 


Michael encourages beginners looking for sports photography tips to “try to capture images that have a point of difference.” This could be “shooting from a height or lying down on the ground,” he explains. “Experiment with your camera settings and lenses.”

Sports Photography Tips and Tricks from a Professional

All images shown Copyright Michael Willson

The best camera for sports photography

Just like sports, talent will get you a long way in your sports photography career. But you also need to work hard and master top-of-the-line equipment. 

For more information, drop into your local Ted's Camera store anytime to discuss the best cameras and lenses for sports photography and get expert advice on settings and techniques. We’ll have you shooting like a pro in no time.


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