Sports Photography Equipment

Having the right equipment for taking family sports and action shots is critical.  Pay attention to the photographers at a professional or college sporting event.  You will often see them with two cameras one large lens on a mono-pod and another camera and lens around their neck.  No, you won’t have to do the same thing, but having the best equipment you can will make getting great photos much easier and simpler.  The fields, courts and facilities you are shooting at may be similar in size or the exact same size as college and professional facilities, but hopefully you will have better access for positioning yourself and more ability for moving around.  While this mobility will help you compensate for much of the "professional" equipment you will still need to invest in quality equipment to get the shots you want!

Camera
This is not the time for you point and shoot camera.  While that will work fine for posed photos on vacation and around the house, you will not get quality sports and action shots with it.  Okay, maybe it will work for the 6 year-old soccer game where you get to walk around on the field with the kids, but that’s about it.  For everything else you will need a Digital SLR 35mm camera with a quality lens.  Point and shoot cameras are not fast enough and do not have quality lenses for capturing action without blur, taking shots at a distance and shots in poor light.

Focus
Thank goodness for auto focus, imagine having to manually focus on a soccer player as they run toward you.  A camera and lens with a quick focus is a must.  There is not a lot you will have to do here because the camera and lens will do the focusing for you.  If you do get blurry photos it will not be the focus but rather the shutter speed.  You can help your camera focus in advance if you push the shutter button half way down.  For instance I will do this on a corner kick or penalty kick in soccer.  The ball is this case remains still, the player backs a few steps away and then approaches the ball to strike it.  You know where the player will be in this case when they strike  ball, so I simply focus on the ball and then follow the player.  As they kick I press the shutter the rest of the way and the camera shoots quickly.

Lens
Nothing as disappointing as a action shot that you thought was great only to find out that on your computer the athlete is just a small spec on the screen.  And yes, you can crop that photo until the athlete fills your screen but the photo will be pixilated by then.  The best shots are when the action fills the frame.  This requires a good long and fast lens.  Different sports may require different lenses or if you have one good lens and can position yourself well you can accomplish a lot by moving around. 

You’ll notice professional sports photographers will have one "huge" lens on a mono-pod and another camera and lens around their neck.  Well that "huge" lens may often cost $8,000 and up, so it’s not often a lens that the family sports photographer can afford.  A good quality 2.8 80-200mm lens is not inexpensive ($800-$1400), but it will let you capture most any sport if you are willing to move around a bit.  The 2.8 makes it fast enough to capture action in those dingy poorly lit gyms and long enough to capture action on a soccer field.  Granted on the soccer field if you’re on one end it’s not long enough to capture great action on the far side of the field, but if you move around the field and wait for the action to come to you, you’ll get plenty of great shots.

The ability to crop is a real advantage with digital.  Try to take well framed photos to begin with because it will save you time, but if that doesn’t always happen you can copy the photo to your computer, then crop the image and it will look like you took a professional shot right from the beginning.  Too much cropping is time consuming and your resulting image will be pixilated, but a minor amount of cropping can turn a "fair" photo into an amazingly well composed action shot.

Lens speed
The faster lens you have the faster shutter speed you can shoot at.  You need to shoot at a fast shutter speed to capture/freeze the action.  For both indoor and outdoor sports you will need a F2.8 or faster.  My favorite lens is a F2.8 80-200mm lens which works both outdoors and indoors.  If everything you do is outdoor sports on big fields you may be able to get away with a slower lens, but the 80-200mm lens is ideal for most all family sports photography.

Scott

ProPix Photography

The Sports Photography Professionals

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