The clouds roll in and the rain starts to fall and many sports photographers turn-off the camera and run for cover. That’s not going to be you, because you’re going to be prepared and will stay through the weather to capture those sporting moments that can carry even more emotion and excitement in the midst of difficult weather. All types of weather presents a different challenge you just need to be prepared for it. Think of it as an opportunity for great shots rather than an obstacle or a nuisance. Yes, you can pamper your equipment and leave it in the house whenever the weather looks threatening, but you’ll find yourself with very few photos and miss out on many wonderful opportunities for great photos.
Okay, you’re thinking what’s wrong with sunny weather isn’t that exactly what we want to be shooting in? Well yes and no, a sunny day presents it’s own challenges. A sunny hot day may be one of the most difficult times to shoot sports. You’re not sitting peacefully with the other fans on the sidelines but rather moving up and down the field or along the sidelines working to capture the great sports moments. Doing that in 100 degree weather can be a challenge. Just like the athletes you need to dress appropriately, comfortably and cool. The same types of clothing you might wear out hiking or running in the sun is typically good. You never no you might be out in the sun for 1-2 or more hours depending on how many games you are shooting. Be sure to use sun screen, cover the back of your neck that will be exposed and take breaks in the shade. Hydrate yourself before, during and afterward by carrying a water bottle with you. Keeping a "sweat" rag handy is a good idea to wipe sweat away from your body as well as your camera equipment.
Be sure to have the basic camera cleaning equipment with you such as a blower, microfiber cloth and lens cleaning fluid. A bright sunny day makes for beautiful shots if you do it right. That means make sure to shoot with the sun to your back so that your athlete’s faces are bright and not shadowed. Sunny days bring shadows so make sure you allow the sun to do the work for you since flash photography is typically not allowed and wouldn’t do you much good either.
Overcast or Shady
These can be beautiful days to shoot long and hard at sports photography. Physically it is not as demanding as a sunny hot day and certainly doesn’t present the challenges of rain or snow. With lower light you will need to allow more light to reach the sensor. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. In programmed or automatic mode you can adjust the ISO higher and let the camera adjust the aperture (size of the opening) and the shutter speed. Remember the higher your ISO the more noise/grain in your photos. Of course you can manually set the shutter speed and aperture as well to ensure proper lighting and speed. The benefit of this type of day is that you won’t have to compete with the shadows of a sunny day. You will have more options of where you position yourself around the field to capture the action.
Alright so those dark clouds have now started to drop rain. Should you turn-off the camera stick it in your bag and run for cover? Absolutely not! You now have a chance to catch unique photos that others will not be willing to take. Make sure that you are prepared to protect yourself and your gear. Make sure the gear you are not using is in a waterproof bag or is in a location protected from the water. Protect the camera you are shooting with by using a cover or rain jacket for your camera that can be purchased or by making one yourself with a plastic bag. Although it can be awkward you can also use an umbrella or have someone hold the umbrella for you. Have a soft rag to dry the lens and your normal lens cleaning equipment as well. Just as on an overcast or shady day you will need to compensate for less light. Hang in there though because you will find wonderful shots not available without rain falling, players slipping, mud flying and crowds bundled up for protection.
Snow and Cold
If you’re in the right geographic locations that rain might even turn into snow. Or you might be trying to shoot skiing or snowboarding photos and you have no choice but to be in the snow and cold. You will want to protect your equipment the same way you do in the case of rain, keep your equipment in a good weather proof bag, and protect the equipment you are shooting with, in a protective cover. In between shots you can place the camera under your coat to help keep it warm. Remember to dress yourself appropriately for the cold, you may be there for hours and your ears, toes and fingers will become very cold.
Just as you buy good equipment for your camera buy good equipment for yourself to keep you protected and comfortable. Snow introduces some unique lighting and white balance challenges. The light meter on the camera will see the brightness of the snow and adjust accordingly often leaving everything else too dark. You will want to overexpose the photo so that the snow is as bright as you see with your eye, and the rest of the photo is exposed appropriately. In addition the snow will often throw off the white balance as well so try different settings. Some cameras may even have a snow white balance and if not you may need to try setting it manually or shoot in RAW mode and adjust it in post processing.
If your camera has a custom white balance setting you can also try shooting a white patch of snow for the reference shot. If all else fails or your camera doesn’t have these options, you can always leave the white balance on auto. It may not be perfect, but it should still give you decent, if not great color.
Successful sports photographers are those that are prepared, ready and willing to shoot even when the weather is not ideal.
The Sports Photography Professionals