Composing Your Shot

So you’re thinking, hey I’m shooting sports action I don’t have time to compose a shot.  While it’s true you don’t have time to "pose" your subject you do have time to plan and think about how to compose or frame the shot for best results.  Taking a little time for thinking through the following issues will make you successful in taking well composed family sports photos.  You’ll have sports photos of your family that will rival the pros.

Why are you taking photos at your child’s sporting event when you could be comfortably sitting in the stands watching and relaxing?  Because you want to record the moments of your child’s life.  The best way to do that is to catch your child’s face in the photo.  You MUST capture their face as part of the action or the photo will have no meaning.  Catching their backside no matter how cool the moment, or action, does not have the relevance of catching their face.  That is where the action is, that is where the emotion is and that is what everyone wants to see.  Do you ever see sport shots in the newspaper that don’t include the face?  No and you won’t like any you take without their face either.  Make sure you are positioned well to catch the face and don’t bother taking a shot when you don’t, you’ll just end up deleting it.  Some sports are more difficult than others.  Football if difficult because everyone is crowded together and are wearing helmets on their heads and face guards.  Hockey is the same and swimming is difficult because for the most part their face is buried in the water.  Regardless you must work hard to be in a position where you can capture shots that include the face. 

Vertical or Horizontal
Should you take the shot vertical or horizontal?  Horizontal is the standard way to hold your camera and take photos.  If you turn the camera 90 degrees then you are taking it vertically.  Some cameras, made for action, provide a second shutter release button so that when you turn the camera vertically your hand can rest comfortably instead of awkwardly wrapped over the top.  Some cameras also have add-on devices that provide the same functionality.  Since individuals are more vertical than they are horizontal (taller than wider) taking a vertical shot often is the best approach.  If you want to show the action surrounding the athlete, including other players or the surrounding then shoot horizontal.  Another option is to shoot horizontal and later crop vertically.  This will work if your photo is fairly well framed to begin with, but requires additional time to do.  I don’t have strong feelings here except that being consistent throughout your shooting at an event makes things simpler for post production of your photos.  I like to shoot them all vertical or all horizontal for the most part.  Not a hard fast rule, but in general that is what I do.

Individual or Group
Another composition decision is whether to highlight the individual or the group.  Both can make for great shots and you will want to take photos of both.  For example, in basketball you can get an isolated shot of the athlete dribbling across half-court before they are guarded.  That is an individual , the group shot would be the same athlete driving to the hole to lay the ball in and being guarded, bumped shoulder to shoulder which also makes for an excellent shot.  Shooting vertically will often be easier as you capture an individual athlete.  As you capture the drive to the basket will multiple athletes in the photo shooting horizontally will be easier.

Rule of Thirds
This is a well known and practiced rule of photography composition.  The concept is that centering your subject all the time is not necessarily the best composition.  The rule of thirds states you should think of the frame being divided into nine equal squares.  Two vertical lines and two horizontal lines equally spaced apart.  If you compose your photo so the subject is at the intersection of those lines, your photo will have more interest, emotion and excitement.  This concept can work well in family sports photography but can be difficult.  Think of it this way if the athlete is running left to right through the frame and you capture them on the right side just as they are leaving the frame it won’t show the moment as well as capturing them on the left side of the frame with the area they are running to exposed to the right. 

Yes, you can compose your family sports photos and improve the results.

ProPix Photography

The Sports Photography Professionals

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