How to Take Good Sports Photographs

Shooting sports pictures can be very exciting and fulfilling experience, provided you have patience and necessary skills. A fundamental knowledge of the game definitely helps in sports photography.

Browse a lot of sports magazines or photography websites to get an idea and feel of the game.

Things Which are Important


Camera can be a simple one as long its limitations are clearly understood. A simple camera can successfully show scenes at the start of an event or overall view of the event, but close shots of runners or close shots of happenings at the goal-post in a football or hockey match can be executed only by a specialist camera. Today, all photography of sports is confined to 35 mm cameras, and that too the single-lens reflex cameras. The chief advantages are their interchangeability of lenses and availability of very fast lenses (with big apertures) for capturing action at high shutter speeds. Besides, motorized drives make it possible to take as many as 36 exposures in quick succession. Modern 35 mm cameras have shutter speeds of up to 1/8000th of a second and many sophisticated models can shoot up to 6 to 9 frames in a second. This enables the photographer to make a choice of the best action shot.


Although it is desirable to shoot action from a closer distance with a standard 50 mm lens, this is often not possible. The technique is therefore to use telephoto lenses to photograph distant action from close up. Depending upon the closeness required, a sports photographer can choose from the large range of telephoto lenses available in the market. Depending upon the financial resources, one can choose from the most sophisticated models of telephoto lenses with fast shutter speeds.

The most popular lens, almost a must for any serious sports photographer, is a 300 mm lens with f-2.8 aperture. The fast aperture of f-2.8 enables action to be photographed at high shutter speeds, even in weak light. In a sport like badminton, where flash photography is strictly prohibited, this lens helps a lot.


To catch action it becomes imperative to go in for fast films like 400 ASA, although increase in grain is expected. In certain sports, grain in tolerated as long as action is fully caught by the camera. The higher the speed of the film, the coarser is the grain, although films of 400 ISO were much more grainy 10 years ago as compared to films of today.


Like any photography the exposure in sports photography is dependent on the light available where the event is taking place. At the same time, the shutter speed must be able to arrest the movement of the subject. Since action shots are only possible at wide apertures, shallow depth of field is natural, which cannot be avoided.

Different Scenarios

Fast and furious

instantShift - How to Take Good Sports Photographs

If you want to photograph fast moving objects, then practice is the best way of achieving good results. The more shots you take the better you will get at them. Some circuits have a Plexiglas safety screen in place on top of the pit wall, so even if you manage to get that dose, if you were to try and take a shot through it you would get lots of reflection. Occasionally, however, you may achieve an effective blend of reflection and subject, which you can ascribe to your photographic artistry. Such pictures are often town to pure luck rather than judgment.

However, even professional photographers, especially those who specialize in motor racing, will often take hundreds of shots which end up being discarded for the one, “spot on” image. A good example is the speeding car on the track, where practice really does make perfect.

It takes a lot of practice to get a fast moving car where you want it on frame. You need to catch the essence of speed. With the speeds that some of these rating cars reach, it is not surprising that there is little time for focusing the shot, getting the light correct and composing the photo. Before you know it the noise has faded into the distance and the trade is again bare. Most beginners will end up with lots of shots of empty track. Usually, this is because digital cameras take some time to acquire a focus point and the subject has passed by the time the shutter is released. To get around this, it is a good idea to get the camera focused in on a particular section of track, and then as the car comes into the frame, release the shutter. The more times you have a go, the better the shots.

Capturing the action

Many sports and pastimes are just as fast and furious as motor racing, but require different skills with the camera to capture the action and excitement of specific events or fixtures. Next time you go down to the sports center for a game of squash, cheer on your favorite football team or watch a game of cricket on the village green, make sure you take your digital camera with you. You will find a wealth of opportunities for taking action pictures at every event.

For sporting events particularly, it would be rare for you to be close up to the action. Most digital cameras offer a zoom option to get you closer to the subject, whether it be the cricketer at the crease striking the ball, a footballer at the far side of the pitch sliding in for a tackle or two fencers dueling it out in a competition. Although built-in zooms are fairly modest in comparison with the add-on professional zoom lenses you can buy, they can certainty bring you closer, filling the frame and magnifying the subject.

The same problems encountered with motor racing photography are also present at other fast and furious sporting events. The same principle of using faster shutter speeds to capture the fast-moving subject is equally relevant. This can look impressive when taking shots of water sports. With a bit of practice, you can capture the drops of water held suspended in the air for a moment in time, giving the picture a sense of movement.

Capturing the people

instantShift - How to Take Good Sports Photographs

You need great timing to take good photographs of people playing sports. As with most pastimes, it is the people that really matter at these events, and you can often capture a sense of excitement through the faces and expressions of the people involved, as well as the spectators. Using a tripod to ensure a completely steady shot or getting up high for an unusual overhead shot are all great devices for taking varied pictures of people and events.

Capturing the flavor

If I were to stick to just taking photographs of speeding cars in an attempt to portray what motor racing is all about to a novice, then I believe I would have failed in getting over the true flavor of the sport. A day at a racing circuit is not just about high speed cars – as exciting as they are in their own right. The day is made up of people, events taking place around the circuit unrelated to motor racing, the noises and smells of gasoline and engines. A race day has real atmosphere.

Although it is impossible to capture the noise and smells in a photograph, it is possible to portray a flavor of the day’s events. And this involves taking photos of the more unusual, rather than the obvious. Wander around with your camera, away from where most people think the action is taking place! Think about the unusual angle – get down low or else find a position high above everyone. Take a look at what people not involved in the action are doing; find the incongruous scene – Morris dancers at an outdoor rock festival, for example. Look for all the peripheral activities. For example, quad bikes towing racing tyres on a rack along the pit lane at a racing circuit. If you are trying to produce a photographic record of life at a circuit – for a magazine article, for instance – shots like these can be very useful as they give the reader more of a sense of the day; someone looking at images of varied events and activities can feel the flavor of the experience as if they had been there.

All sorts of strange activities go into making up a weekend at a motor racing circuit – some of them creating great photographic opportunities!

Paint it red

Every weekend, thousands of us indulge in all sorts of sports and leisure activities that involve getting dirty. Others involve putting on uniforms, such as when you take part in paint-balling session. I decided not to risk my camera in the “killing zone”; since it was quite clear it could have been badly damaged. The safety regulations prevented us from removing our masks once out of the relaxation area anyway, and there was no way I could have taken any decent pictures with my mask still on. This is the kind of detail you need to pay attention to if you want to take photographs at many events.

Techniques in Some Events

The techniques for taking good sports photographs vary from the event to event and a few sporting events are listed below:

Skating – The ideal position for photographing a skating event is on the outside of the track where skaters can be taken head-on. The camera should be pre-focused at the spot where the skaters would be in best action/posture.

instantShift - How to Take Good Sports Photographs

Tennis – Two best positions on the tennis court are either the center of the sides or at the server’s ends. A slightly elevated angle is still better. Here again a particular zone can be selected and shot when action takes place there. But all this is getting obsolete as very fast auto-focus lenses are available today where no time is wasted in focusing.

Hockey – Here again the best position is the ‘striking circle’. Fast shutter speeds, 1/500th of a second and above, are needed to catch the fast movement of sticks and balls.

Wrestling and boxing – The ideal position is either at the ringside so that the camera can shoot through the ropes or in the gallery with a long telephoto lens. In wrestling, action is slower than in boxing but we have to be prepared for some very rapid action. Existing light gives modeling effect.

Golf – We have to remember that silence is needed when the golfers are concentrating on the game. It should be seen that the photograph is clicked either after the action or much before the player has actually gone into deep concentration.

Cricket – Here the best position is somewhere above the ground level so that the camera looks down on the players against the background of the pitch. Very powerful telephoto lenses – minimum of 500 mm – are a must to take action photos.

Some Useful Tips When you Take Sports Photographs

Whenever you attend events where there are going to be lots of people and therefore lots of pushing and squeezing through crowd, you must ensure that your camera is protected and that you can keep hold of it. Your camera case therefore needs to be fairly robust to withstand the inevitable banging against people and objects.

  • The zoom can bring you closer to the action and fills the frame with your subject.
  • Take some shots where there is a lot of activity going on, for added interest.
  • Photography of sporting activity can include not only the highlights of the action but it can also give some sense of the hours of instruction needed to learn a skill.
  • One of the difficult with sports is that with so much happening in the background it can be hard to concentrate on the foreground action.
  • The better you know a sport the better able you will be to anticipate the action.
  • Great sports photography is not just about showing the game. Only those who have taken part in a sport really know what it feels like, but we can use whatever photographic techniques that are available to us to show something of the spirit. A relatively long exposure – ¼ sec – blurs the action, but it takes many attempts to find an image that balances blur with discernible shape.
  • Sports photography needs special equipment (long telephoto lenses) and it also requires the precision, at which the shutter is pressed.
  • To freeze the action is sports photography; very fast shutter speeds (1/1000 sec) are needed. This necessitates the use of widest possible aperture (f1.4 or f2) available on prime telephoto lenses.
  • Finding a good vantage point for sports photography is important. For racing, it may be the curve of the track, where racers pass in succession, or it may be the end of the track where the winner hits the ribbon!
  • The best times to click the shutter are when the action is at its peak, like a serving (in tennis), challenging the opponent (in Basketball), or at the hit of the ball (as in golf or cricket). In football, best shots are often taken in front of the net.
  • Also keep a watch on players’ expressions, like at the start of a race (when the bullet fires) or even after losing a game!
  • Use panning or zooming techniques where required, to capture the action at its best.
  • It is said that if you see it, you have lost it! The fraction of second that it takes for you to see and click the shutter, the moment is already lost.
  • “Anticipation” is the keyword in sports photography. Some cameras offer continues shooting mode, which can be effectively utilized for sports photography.
  • Pre-focus at some point in the ground where the action is expected to happen. Half press the shutter, and when that decisive moment happens, click the shutter fully.
  • High camera positions show the pattern of the game, while low camera position captures the player’s dynamism.

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  1. The better you know a sport the better able you will be to anticipate the action. – in very field a artist should well known – to get better result. ! if he doesn’t know the Touch down or Home Run – will give him no good photo result.

    Should be attentive and concentration is must. and you covered that up

  2. great tips! :D I really want to take a great photo of F1 race cars while running, but I can’t seem to get a clear shot, specially at night. O_O

  3. It’s always difficult to take god sports photographs and only few people learns how to do it right. It’s difficult because you should be fan of this sport so you understand how the car will look better, how the jump will look higher more complex and etc. Without being real sports fan it’s impossible to make good photos.

  4. Nice tips have been suggested. It is also important to concentrate on the angle and height of the camera at which it is focused. I have very impressed with your explanation and the shown examples. It gives some clear idea to the photographers to improve their photographic techniques.

  5. Best inspiration post for today. Thanks

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