The professional approach for selecting sports photography gear

Author: Gaurav Birla August 30, 2010 No Comments

gearIt is not correct to think that only the most expensive gear will give you good quality photos. Although the right gear might help you in capturing better photographs, but the real magic lies in your creativity and the way you compose your photographs. Let’s discuss a little bit more about selecting proper equipment for any sports photography event.

Choosing the right camera

It is not very important that you have to carry a very advanced professional dSLR. Let’s talk about point-and-shoot cameras first. The compact cameras and advanced point-and-shoot cameras which are available nowadays have evolved quite a lot. If you’re a hobbyist spot just like taking sports photograph then it should be sufficient for you. The advantages of compact cameras are quite a few. The consumer point-and-shoot cameras sometimes have a very good zoom range; the focal length might vary from a 24 mm to 450 mm (equivalent to 35 MM) , which is a great range to shoot any kind of photographs, varying from wide-angle to extreme close-ups. Usually even professional photographers carry at least one point-and-shoot camera which has got very good zoom range. The advantage here is that you don’t have to deal with complex controls; you just need to point and shoot as the name says. Although these cameras have a limitation on image quality and size and usually have problems like shutter lag. Shutter lag can create a big problem in sports photography as the timing of the shot is critical element. Although it is not very difficult to deal with shutter lag, you only need to anticipate the correct time. Most point-and-shoot cameras have a continuous mode which captures photographs regularly within a short interval of time, which can help you make up with the problem of shutter lag. Again this continuous capture mode will not usually work with high-quality image size but will usually work well with medium-size images with lower quality settings.

Still it is better to go for an SLR camera if it is possible. When choosing an SLR cameras there are some things that you should keep in mind.

  • The first one being that more expensive is not necessarily more suitable or better.
  • The handling should be easy and access to controls should feel comfortable.
  • The camera should be built with good quality materials so that it is rugged enough for your use.
  • It should have continuous shooting mode that allows you to shoot a lot of images continuously.
  • Consider different kind of scene modes available on the camera, including fully automatic mode to full manual mode.
  • Image quality and resolution. That is you should look for higher megapixels with larger image sensor.
  • File format of the captured image. Whether the camera supports shooting raw images.
  • ISO range
  • Shutter speed range
  • Fast autofocus along with manual focus options.
  • Image stabilization or vibration reduction, which helps in taking sharper pictures when using longer lenses.
  • Different metering modes.

The choice of lenses

industrialMost of the lenses, available nowadays have decent quality and can capture crisp images. The optical components used in the lenses are also of very high quality so that there are very little problems with color aberration and almost no problems with focus. Since, in sports photography usually the shutter speed will be Higher, so the lenses should be fast enough. That means the lenses should have wider apertures available. Since the SLR cameras have the feature of interchangeable lenses, the choice or the combination of lenses that should be used should be thought out properly. The choice of lenses available is as follows.

Wide-angle lenses: 10 mm to 14 mm, 14 mm to 18 mm, 14 mm to 20 mm etc.

Normal lenses: 24 mm to 35 mm, 18 mm to 24 mm, 35 mm to 44 mm etc.

Zoom lenses: 18 mm to 200 mm, 55 mm to 70 mm etc.

Telephoto lenses: 300 mm, 400 mm

Even super telephoto lenses are also available which have focal length up to 600 mm and sometimes even more.

Generally the photographers choose one lens of each type in such a way that they cover almost the entire focal lengths that may be required for photographing. For example a photograph might choose to keep this particular combination, as follows.

14 mm to 18 mm — for capturing wide-angle view of the field, and taking group photographs.

18 mm to 55 mm — for normal use

17 mm to 300 mm telephoto zoom lens for getting into the action with close ups.

Usually the photographers prefer to use a signature style for the photography and usually develop liking for certain kind of lenses.

Along with the lenses extended this and teleconverters are also used for further magnifications. A 1.4 X Tele converter increases the focal length by 1.4 times. 2x teleconverters are usually not preferred as they reduced the light available, thus slowing down the lens. Along with teleconverters there is one more factor which increases the effective focal length of any lens that is the crop factor or the magnifications ratio of a particular camera body. The commonly available SLR cameras have a DX sensor, which has 1.5 magnifications ratio that means the image captured by these cameras are a little more” zoomed in” as compared to full frame sensors. That means when using a 300 mm lens on a camera with DX sensor, it will behave like a 450 mm lens on camera with a full frame sensor. The longer lenses will make it difficult for the photographer to hand hold the camera which leads us to the next choice.

Tripods and monopods

p-tripods-93493-bigCamera shake can ruin very good photographs and there is no way to correct a photograph which has got ruined by camera shake. Another problem is that the lenses having larger focal lengths are usually long and heavy and it is very difficult to hold them for a long time. This calls for the support from a tripod or monopods. If you know that you are not required to move around a lot and are going to take photographs from a single place, user tripod. Using a tripod also requires more space compared to a monopod. Only a tripod can provide you good stability when using longer lenses and it makes sure that your photographs are sharp. If you have to move around a lot or are short on space then you can opt for a monopod which is very easy to carry around and requires very little space to be placed, but it is not sufficient for long exposures that you might require in low light conditions. manfrotto 682 b00189 manfrotto 561b monopod Usually low light conditions are not found during sports, but you never know. The upper part of a tripod is called the head and usually 2 types of heads are used. One is a three-way head which allows you to move the camera independently in three axes by using the three controls. This kind of head is very secure as far as the stability is concerned but sometimes it is slow to set up the camera as you are to deal with three screws. The other type of head is a ball head. It facilitates smooth panning and other movements and it can be tightened by a single screw. A ball head allows the camera to move in any way it wants so it is faster to adjust the camera and get the angle that is required. But sometimes with heavy lenses are ball head may not be secure, that is what some photographers believe. Otherwise it’s a wonderful accessory to have.


Usually the importance of flash is underrated. It’s not that only during low light conditions or at night the flash can be used. Even in very bright sunlight/can be used to work as a fill light in portrait photographs. Generally the use of Flash is prohibited in most of sports events. But it is not that only during the game play you will be taking the photographs. Flash is will be required when taking photographs at the end of the event, during the profit distribution, or taking portrait photographs of players, coach or other personals. It is also seen that sometimes flashes permitted during daytime game play. There will definitely be times when you can use flash and flash definitely will help you get better detail in your photographs, and work as a fill light during very harsh lighting conditions. It is also ideal for editorial portraits on location.

Carrying your equipment

Suitable camera backs and photographer jackets should be used during such an event. As discussed earlier they will definitely help you in increasing your speed in changing the accessories so that you can get the better short without spending a lot of time on changing lenses or filters. Usually the preferred camera bags vary from person to person. Some photographers prefer to use backpacks, some use shoulder backs but definitely a small waist bag would be preferred by everyone because it comes in very handy. Other favorite of most photographers who shoot in the field is the photographer’s jacket or vest with lots of pockets.

Carrying some cleaning equipment is also advisable as while changing lenses there is a possibility of dust entering the camera and settling on the sensor. Usually the studio environment is free from any kind of dust or particles but that may not be in the case of a sports playground.

42478898 uTwPG-LSports photography by nature requires a lot of gear including a wide collection of lenses, tripods, monopods, filters, light meters etc but it is not advisable to carry a lot of equipment unless you are a professional photographer with assistance to carry and setup your equipment on the field. Most of the photograph’s advice is to carry as less as possible. Carrying less equipment also forces you to think more creatively and setup your short with much more thought process. If you study, most of the photographer’s do not carry all their equipment but only the most important and required gear. One thing that almost all photographers always carry is a waterproof cover for the camera. Rain is not the only way your camera can get wet. Always remember water and moisture is the worst enemies of your equipment.

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