Tips for Sports Photographers

Over the years, I have photographed many professional sporting events. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to photograph high school sports, especially during state tournaments. I Love the emotion of the athletes, the ability to creatively change photo positions, and the potential to capture the drama of the sport.
I will use high school sports as the basis for my photography tips, although they apply to all levels, from tee-ball to professionals.

"Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail"

I have tried to follow this famous quote by John Wooden throughout my life, especially in my profession. I have all my equipment packed and ready to go the night before the assignment. I review the shooting process as soon as I receive the assignment and prep all the proper gear as early as possible. I pack extra, fully charged nicads, the correct lenses for the shoot, the camera bodies, high-speed Lexar cards, a spare camera body, and a chamois cloth. If you photograph youth league or high school sports, ensure you have permission from event organizers ahead of time and know your restrictions regarding photo positions. This way, you will avoid any game time issues that may prohibit you from shooting.

The Importance of Positioning: Be smart and considerate when choosing where you shoot. I arrive early to an event to evaluate the lighting conditions and check for the best photographic positions. Generally, I want to work with the sun, not against it. I prefer a nice side or frontal light and ensure I have clean, dark backgrounds. Avoid having signs, trees, parking lots, garbage cans, etc in your background. Darker backgrounds and wide apertures make the athletes pop into the image. It is important that you try to find shooting positions where your viewing angle will not get blocked by officials or umpires. At the same time, be polite and make sure you do not block the view of spectators.

©DAVID LIAM KYLE 2015 - All Rights Reserved - - [email protected] SPORT MagazineSPORT Magazine

Exposure - The Wider the Better:
I always try to shoot “wide open.” That means setting and shooting with your aperture set at F2.8, F/4, or F5.6, depending on your lens. I usually shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority Mode at the widest setting possible. The bigger the aperture opening, the less depth of field you will have, isolating your subject from the background. The wide-open aperture lets more light into your camera, creating a faster shutter speed. You must usually have your shutter speed at least 1/1000 of a second to stop the action. Shooting at 1/2000 or faster to stop extremely fast action, such as a pitcher’s throwing motion or a swinging bat is recommended. Adjust the

ISO in your camera to accomplish the correct shutter speed. For the best quality of images, you want to keep your ISO as low as possible. Take a couple of test exposures to double-check this because the dark background or bright white uniforms can trick your meter and over (under) expose your main subject. Know how your camera works and set it accordingly. I also use my camera's “Continuous Focus” setting and one center focus point. This way, your camera focusing system is not jumping around, and you’ll have more control over what's in focus. ©DAVID LIAM KYLE 2015 - All Rights Reserved - - [email protected]

Sports IllustratedSports IllustratedSPORTS ILLUSTRATED - "Bell Ringer"

Know the Game:
Be knowledgeable about all the sports you plan on photographing. After viewing my Cavaliers photos, some photographers asked me if I knew the plays. The truth is, I will usually have the plays down within the first few games of the season.  Pay attention to the game and anticipate what play may happen next. For example,  during a baseball game, is the runner on first going to steal second? Is there a chance for a double play? Will there be a play at the plate? Could this be the game-winning hit? Photographers miss photos because they were chatting with the person next to them. Anticipate! Once a play happens, you better be ready because it will not happen again.

©DAVID LIAM KYLE 2015 - All Rights Reserved - - [email protected]

Silhouette Images:
Silhouette images are fun and easy to shoot, providing the sun is out and you have a clean background. I took this low-angle silhouette by focusing on the first hurdle, then set my camera on the ground and composed the image. I employed manual exposure to expose for the sky and used a 17mm lens at f/14 at 1/1000 to stop the action. Test some exposures ahead of time to get the desired effect.
©DAVID LIAM KYLE 2015 - All Rights Reserved - - [email protected]

Not Just Action:
It doesn't mean you have to put your head down and look at your images when the play is over. There are a lot of great sports images that are not action shots. Keep an eye out for something different or unusual. Look for images that tell a story and capture the drama and emotions of the game.


©DAVID LIAM KYLE 2015 - All Rights Reserved - - [email protected] ©DAVID LIAM KYLE 2015 - All Rights Reserved - - [email protected] Sports IllustratedSports Illustrated(C) Copyright 2009 - DAVID LIAM KYLE

Try a Different Angle:
Try shooting from the stands with a long lens for a higher view. You can get cleaner backgrounds and more artistic images from the upper position. This only works if you shoot in a larger stadium with an unobstructed view.


Copyright 2011 DAVID LIAM KYLE - ©DAVID LIAM KYLE 2015 - All Rights Reserved - - [email protected]

Sports IllustratedSports IllustratedSPORTS ILLUSTRATED - "Dodger Blues"

A Fan of the Pan:

Another artistic way to capture amazing sports action is by panning. When photographing a moving athlete, the panning technique is achieved by keeping your main subject in the frame for the entire exposure time. The slower your shutter speed, the more unusual and interesting the effect. Pre-focus on the runner’s lane and start following your subject before you press the shutter release button. I tuck my elbows into my chest and turn at my waist, following my main subject as I press the shutter release button. Follow the runner all the way through, and do not jerk or stop your camera as you shoot. Don't be afraid to use your motor drive if you have one. Generally, the faster your subject, the faster your shutter speed. This technique will take some practice and experimenting with different shutter speeds to get your desired image.

I followed the leader of this event by panning and using a slow shutter speed to create this artistic image. You can tell she is a smooth runner and that I some how panned perfectly because her face is tack sharp and the rest has motion blur. I usually follow the rule of thirds when positioning the main subject but wanted her to run into the image and also show that she was leading the race. Photo shot F29 at 1/40th of a second at 200 ISO.

The above tips have worked for me; I hope you can benefit from them as well.