How to take great Sports photos

The Tribune photo editors share their top tips

Story and photos by Noah Sutton and Natalie Vineberg

It's all about the gadgets

The adage goes it’s not the camera that takes great photos, it’s the person behind it. Not so true for sports. A photographer at the Olympics may carry on him a two Canon 5Ds ($6000), a wide angle zoom lens such as a 24-70mm f/2.8 ($2000) and a telephoto lens such as the 400mm (up to $7000!). Unlike working in a studio, sports action happens quickly and all over. A photographer may want a long lens as well as a shorter lens connected to a camera at all times, making switching easy no matter where the action goes. If you’re reading this guide you likely don’t have the money to front the exorbitant start up cost, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take great photos. Unfortunately, it does mean you’ll be working with some limitations. Pricey cameras offer the largest benefit in “motor speed” or how quickly it can take photos. With lenses, you’re paying for “focal length” or how close an object appears, the higher the focal length the closer it appears.

Continuous but planned shooting

For a lot of sports, the exciting moments happen fast and infrequently, but are nevertheless not to be missed. Setting your camera on “continuous” shooting mode lets your camera keep taking photos without having to load each one, so you can get the most photos for the time you have. That being said, just shooting on continuous and playing is a waste of time. Waiting for the right moment is really important, and you can spend more time waiting than actually taking photos; do this and you’ll be far more likely to get something interesting because you’ll be ready for it.

Be wary of “rubber necking”

It is so tempting to look down after every shot and see how it turned out, yet too many photographers spend the game with their head behind the camera, but not through the lens. Yes it’s satisfying but pick your head up from time to time, but you risk missing the chance to photograph the great shot you were watching.

Sports are about passion and competition

A perfectly timed shot may look incredible, but it always falls short of one that tells a story. A hockey player winding up for a goal is less memorable than the image of an opponent with dread in his eyes racing to catch him. Tension creates a great photo. For example, in one photo of redmen basketball player Dele Ogundokun preparing to take a free-throw in front of a sold-out crowd during the RSEQ basketball finals, there’s only one player as a main focus and there’s no sign of him moving. In another scenario, this could look incredibly boring. In this instance, the sold-out stands were part of the spectacle, and capturing their eagerness along with the players focus conveyed the importance and intensity of this game. It worked really well—you feel like everyone’s stopped for the moment while the player is about to shoot, and you can feel how focused he is. Even though it’s not the typical sports action shot, it works just as well (if not better).

Finally, read up on the sport

This one’s a pretty simple tip, but actually knowing how the sport works really helps, because then you can know when important things are going to happen, and you don’t risk missing it.