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Chapter 14

Sports Photography

Never, Absolutely Never, turn your back to the action. Failure to obey this simple rule has landed photographers in the hospital. Do not rely on players seeing you; they won't.

Some General Discussion

  • Where do I stand? Know the sport and you will know where to stand, what kind of film to use, and what equipment to bring.

  • Lens Support If you need to support a long lens consider a monopod, they are much faster and easier to use than a tripod.

  • Film is cheap. Take lots of pictures and shoot for the peak of the action.

    Here you will find information of a specific sports. Many of these sports are not the general run of the mill stuff. You will not always be shooting the same old thing. You will be traveling and like I said in the introduction this is a resource document meant to give you a great deal of use.


    A motor drive or winder will make you life easier. Several lenses one of which is at least 300 millimeters, maybe 500 millimeters, depending on the sport.

    A fine rugged camera bag.

    A monopod or tripod. Once again depending on the sport and where you will be located.

    Consider a photographer's vest.

    Take at least two camera bodies. Three bodies is even better. That way you will have three lenses mounted and ready at all times.

    Paperwork on the event. Who will be there, what number, and other pertinent information.

    I recommend that you shoot only one speed of film, probably something around ISO 400. That way no matter what film you load you will not have to reset your camera.

    The Sports

    American Football. Your best position is on one of the goal lines or among the spectators depending on the shots that you want or need.

    If you want pictures of the bench you will need to be on the opposite side of the field with a long lens. If you are the team photographer you can get on the sidelines with your team. Fine. Don't spend the whole game there. Use fast film, a fast shutter, say 1/1000 second or so.

    Badminton. Best position is at either end of the net covering both courts. Use a normal lens from this vantage point and a fast shutter.

    Billiards, Pool, and Snooker. Best position is the head of the table. The lighting may not allow for fast shutter speeds so shoot when the action is static. In so doing you capture the action when the players are not moving much anyway.

    Bowling. For excellent results go down the alley and shoot the bowler as she delivers the ball. This can be distracting so do not attempt this during actual play. Set your camera for maximum depth of field, see hyperfocal technique, and shoot from behind the bowler. Here you can keep bowler and pins sharp.

    Boxing. The best position in the house is at ringside so you can shoot through the ropes. You will need a fast lens and fast film set your shutter at 1/250 of 1/500.

    Diving. Here your best position is where the sun is behind or to the side of the camera so you may catch the diver against the sky. Use a normal lens with a shutter of 1/250 or 1/500.

    Fencing. Here you can use a slow shutter if you get the right pose. Concentrate on one contestant and catch the various stances, or try to get both from a higher location. It is unlikely that a flash will be allowed in competition so use fast film and open your lens all the way. You should be far enough that shallow depth of field will not be a problem but, do look through the lens and check.

    Field Events. For events such as discus, javelin, vaulting, etc. timing is far more critical than equipment. You can probably get close enough to use a normal lens and this will give you a good image size. If you can't get as close enough use a lens of 100mm or so. Use a fast shutter, 1/250, or faster.

    Foot Races and Marathons. The best position is at the finish line, if you can get and hold this position. At regional of hometown events this should not be difficult. Shoot the sprinters in a head-on view as they go for the finish.

    Golf. Players will object, and rightly so, to the noise of the shutter. So, take your shot after they have taken theirs. Here you can generally get close to the action so a normal or short telephoto will usually do the job. To get those shots on the green where you cannot get close you will need a longer lens say, 200mm or 250mm. Shutter speeds of 1/250 will be fine for players in action.

    Greyhound Racing. Your best position is near the track, but if you are not allowed there you will probably be among the spectators. As such, you will need a long lens and fast film. If working for the track or a particular owner they will be able to provide you with a location to get better shots. You will not be allowed to use a flash. A fast shutter, 1/1000 second, will be needed here.

    Field Hockey. Try to get close to the circle where the face off will be. You will need fast film, a medium to long lens and a fast shutter speed, 1/500 to 1/1000 second to stop the action.

    Horse Racing. Your best position is at the start and finish lines. So shoot at both. This will require you to shoot several races if you need a specific horse. After the race starts watch the corners where they bunch up for action shots and don't forget the paddock. You will need a long lens, fast film and fast shutter, 1/250 or 1/500. If you have money on one of the nags the only shot you will be interested in is the photo finish... but, that's another story.

    Ice Hockey. This game is truly exciting and fast. Locate yourself above ice level, at either end of the gallery. Lighting can be a problem in larger rinks but, not so bad in the smaller ones. Up close, near the boards, a normal lens is fine. When you are in the gallery a medium telephoto is fine. Use fast film. If good color rendition is important you will want to stop before the game to look at the lighting. Also ask around the local professional film developing labs these people are often knowledgeable about local indoor lighting conditions, believe it or not.

    Tennis. Your best position is at the center of the side or at the end. Photograph a doubles match from an elevated position. As this game is very fast you might want to set up your camera in a tripod, prefocus to a specific place on the court and shoot when the action comes into it. Use a fast shutter, 1/1000 second. A normal or short telephoto will do nicely.

    Motor Sports. Car and Motorcycle Racing. When shooting motor sports look for a high view point that looks down on the width of the track. As the car or motorcycle goes by pan the camera. That means follow the action with the camera. This technique will blur the background adding to the impression of speed. You will need a normal or short telephoto lens, fast film, and a shutter speed of 1/125 second or faster. Experiment with the panning effect by varying the shutter from 1/60 to 1/500 second.

    Motor Sports Dirt Motorcycle races. These events create a tremendous dust cloud. Stay away from it when you can. Be sure to carry lens cleaning fluid and wipes. Even covering the lens with your hand is a big help. Watch a race or two to get an idea for which way the dust cloud moves. Look for jumps to catch bikes in the air. They are fast so prefocus. If the day is bright shoot at f5.8 of f8 for greater depth of field. To throw a distracting background out of focus use a long lens from farther away.

    Rowing. Here you need to position yourself, unless you will be on a chase boat in the water, either on shore or on a bridge. The peak action is when the oars enter or leave the water. Use a fast shutter 1/250 or 1/500 second and fast film. Depending on your location a normal or telephoto lens will be needed.

    Rugby. Your best position is along the sidelines as this game does not have the same interest in the goal as other games do. Prefocus the camera and wait for the action to come to you. Use a fast shutter, 1/250 or 1/500 second, and fast film.

    Skating, Racing. Locate yourself on the outside of the track where you can shoot the skaters head on as they go around the track. Prefocus your camera on a location where the skaters will be and let them come to you. If your camera is auto focus make sure its focusing system is fast enough to keep the skater in focus.

    Skating Figure. The best position is down right on the ice, actually at the edge of the ice. Here you will be under indoor lighting and must take into consideration the color temperature of the lights and the film you will use. Get the largest aperture lens you can. You can get excellent results with a lens of f4 from the stands with medium speed film. Take lots of pictures.

    Skiing. Your best position is where skiers appear against the light, preferably about twenty feet below a turn. A motor drive is a real asset here. Prefocus and let the skier come to you. Also excellent shots can be had at the finish line. Use a fast shutter and film. A normal or medium telephoto lens will do just fine, depending on how close you are able to get. See the section on Winter Photography.

    Steeplechasing. Your best position is in front of or at the side of the jump, preferably the open ditch and water jump. Try for a low shooting angle.

    Swimming. Position yourself to shoot the start to get the swimmers diving into the water. There is little other photographic interest. You may want to use a polarizing filter to help cut out reflections, although this will destroy the atmosphere.

    Table Tennis. Find a high view point so that one player cannot obscure the other when shooting doubles play. For single play a lower viewpoint is preferred.

    Wrestling. This is similar to boxing except that the action is slower.

    Go Take Great Sports Pictures

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