Sports and Action Photography

Author: Gaurav Birla August 30, 2010 No Comments

vto 4937When the idea of sports photography comes to one’s mind the first question would be, what is the requirement and how it makes sports photography different from regular photography, and how to achieve great photographs from sports. For photography of any kind of subjects it is very important to understand the basics and the story behind the subject. In this case we’re talking about sports, so to understand sports we have to have a good knowledge of what a particular sport is all about. This knowledge will tell you all about the kind of equipment that you will require, what kind of compositions will work and most importantly what kind of photographs are expected to sell.
Let us first discussing brief about the equipment that would be required in general for sports photography. The amount of equipment that must be purchased for photography in a sports event can be overwhelming. Although the basic requirements are the same as any other type of photography, like camera, tripods, filters etc but there will be a great need for other accessories.

Camera body

Selecting a suitable camera body for your needs is not a difficult task but it can be a little confusing, as nowadays the availability and the choices are great. Usually the choice depends on the cost of the camera body. Most professional level cameras are almost as expensive as small cars. So the obvious choice is the camera body that suits the budget. Besides the cost factor the other thing that we should look foreign cameras which will be used for sports photography include the inability to take photographs at a faster rate, as the sports are dynamic and things change pretty fast. The cameras must have fast autofocus the abilities which will ensure crisp photographs. Most of the professional level cameras are able to focus within a fraction of a second and are also capable of taking almost 5 to 10 photographs in one second. The burst mode on camera also provides great opportunities, although it’s available on almost all professional cameras, the faster it is, the better. The resolution of the captured images is also one of the factors that should be kept in mind and looked for.
Although the new cameras that we use are” automatic”, photographer must practice using a camera with manual settings beforehand. This is required as to get suitable photograph sometimes the automatic mode does not give you what is required. Camera may capture the exposure correctly but it doesn’t know what is required to capture the mood, which is the important part.


Understanding of aperture and shutter speed controls, and sufficient knowledge to choose the correct settings plays a vital role in capturing great photographs. Whether to use selective focus or to shoot with everything in sharp focus, the choice makes all the difference. Whether to freeze a particular moment or to capture the motion blur to get a feeling of extreme action. After achieving the correct exposure it is also important to get the correct white balance so that the photographs are true to life. In sports lighting condition can vary from direct sunlight to overcast skies. In case of indoor sports the lights can be of various colors like incandescent, fluorescent or halogens. So it is important to understand the lighting conditions and select the white balance accordingly. Use of a grey card can also prove to be useful if you’re not able to calculate the color temperature accurately.

Colour temperature table

Incandescent 2500 K to 3500 K
Twilight 4000 K
Fluorescent 4000 K to 4800 K
Sunlight 4800 K to 5400 K
Cloudy daylight 5400 K to 6200 K
Shade 6200 K to 7800 K

Lens selection

If the choice of camera body is correct, it could have the ability to change the lenses. All the professional cameras are capable of using interchangeable lenses; this provides many choices in terms of lens selection. The primary difference between different lenses is the focal length, which controls the angle of view. There are other small differences also however subtle. The cameras which are commonly available nowadays have got different sensor sizes, which give them different magnification ratio. That means the same lines will provide a larger image on these cameras. For example are 300 mm lens on a camera body which has got 1.5 magnification ratio, will behave like a 450 mm lens on a camera with regular size sensor. This may prove to be disadvantages if you want to use wide angle lenses because if you use a 20 mm lens, the output will be close to 30 mm lens. That means you cannot use wide angle lenses to the minimum focal lengths they provide, it will always be one and a half times larger than that.
sports Telephoto zoom lenses are among the most favored lenses among sports photographers. These lenses provide longer focal lengths and also the ability to change the focal length to a certain extent. These are great for shooting close ups and getting inside the game. Wide-angle lenses are also used along with fisheye lens to cover the entire field in sports photography, to establish the environment at that moment. Along with telephoto lenses, extenders and teleconverters are also used. These are used to further increase the focal length and achieve even more extreme close-ups. Although using extenders and teleconverters will reduce the sharpness to some extent but they cannot be ruled out because of their role in getting the photographer close to the players.

Other accessories

Other accessories like monopods and tripods are also necessary. It is almost impossible for the photographer to handhold a long lens and take sharp photographs. Tripods are usually a problem because of their immobility. Usually sometimes the photographers are not allowed to use tripods close to the boundary of the field. In this case a monopods will come in handy, although it does not provide the stability that tripod does but because of its ability and ease of carrying it around and also less space required for placing monopods compared to tripods are other reasons why it is favored over tripods. Other accessories include waist bags and jackets. Time is a luxury sports photographer doesn’t have. So all the equipment that is supposed to be used have to be accessible as fast as possible during the photography session. The waist bags and jackets will help you keep your equipment ready to use and immediately available when required. Photographers should generally practice changing lenses filters and other accessories so that while in the field these processes don’t take up much time.

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