Monthly Archives: June 2009

Positioning and Timing


If you follow sports at all you’ve seen those great photos on the cover of Sports Illustrated and you see amazing action shots daily in the sports section of the newspaper.  You’re thinking hey, my family and children all participate in sports I want to get some shots like that of my family!  Well it’s possible and this article will help get you started.  Although if you are looking for that shot of your child 2 feet above the rim dunking a basketball that will take a lot more than just good photography, but we can help you get those great shots only found in a basketball game with ten 11 year-olds running around like crazy.  We all love good action shots and with children busier in activities from dance to soccer than ever before we spend a lot of time as parents supporting our children, and capturing them in action is a definite requirement. Getting great action shots takes planning and good shooting, and begins with where you position yourself.

Where you need to position yourself

There location from where you are taking your photos is very important and will vary depending on the sport or action shot you are trying to get.  Where you sit as a spectator will often not be the best place to get the ideal photos.  It might be worth a shot or two from that position, but there are a number of problems.  Take a high school basketball game for example.  As a spectator you may want to sit as close to center court as possible.  The challenge with taking photos from that position is you will likely have to stand up which will rudely block the peoples view behind you and most of your shots will be from the side or the back of the athlete.  So a better place would be behind one of the baskets up a few rows, because there may be fewer spectators in that part of the stands and being elevated will help eliminate obstacles such as cheerleaders and people walking by.  Also right down on court-side is also a good option.  If you are familiar with the sport you will know and learn where to position yourself for the best photos.  Do look at professional sports photos and see what shots they are getting and taking, think about where they are positioned and copy when you can.

Be where you can get the face
Without a doubt of the 100,000s of sports photos I have sold, 99.9% of them included the participants face in the photo.  The #1 most important part of the photo is that you capture the participants face.  Not always easy, think of swimming competition where the athletes only breath occasionally and on different sides.  That can be a real challenge.  Be sure that your are positioned in a way that when you capture the action that the athlete’s face will be well lit and looking toward you.  From the side is ok as well as long as a good portion of the face is part of the photos. 

Don’t stay in one place
If you want good sports and action shots of your family get on the move.  Don’t let yourself stay in one place.  Some sports force you to move because the teams play in different directions.  Tennis for example will require that you move to catch the action from both sides of the court.  Even if the sport doesn’t require it, make yourself move.  Try different angles, don’t shoot everything from the end of the field or court take some from the side toward the end and others perhaps from the middle of the field or court. 

I distinctly remember the day I tried a different angle while shooting photos of my children competitively swimming.  I had always taken breastroke and butterfly photos from the end of the lane where they were looking right straight toward me.  One time I was late getting in position so took the photos from an angle at the side of the pool, still captured their face and had a great angle that has actually been my favorite rather than straight on.  Moving is also important for the larger playing areas and will allow you to get much closer on a a specific player or portion of the field.

Just as any athlete in a sport must have good timing and skill you also as a sports photographer must have good timing, must be able to act and react quickly and have skill.  This takes practice and thank goodness for digital cameras that let us practice over and over.  If you are familiar with the sport you are shooting you will pick up the timing quicker and you will know what shots to be looking for.  Anticipation is key and knowing what is about to occur.  If you see the action or the moment it’s already too late to shoot it, you must anticipate it happening. 

Soccer is a great example of this.  If you press the shutter when you see the player kick the ball you will be late and what you will get is the ball already leaving the foot and the player in an awkward looking position.  The best shot is achieved by anticipating when they are going to strike the ball and pressing the shutter right before that occurs so you catch them in the "moment" or act of kicking ball as opposed to after the fact.  Every sport has these timing challenges and it’s for you to practice and learn them.  Be sure to use the review on your digital camera, take shots, review them on the field and then take more.

Unplanned moments
These are those unplanned moments in sports that can be amazing or hilarious, and are often the most memorable.  Unfortunately as they are aptly named you can’t plan for these shots.  They can happen at anytime and are quite unpredictable.  Invariably you will miss many of these, but if you are shooting on a regular basis and shooting much of a game you will have those moments and shots that will be treasures.  Really the only way to get more of these is to spend more time taking photos.

Ensure you are in the right position and practice, practice and practice to achieve proper timing and you will be well on your way to getting a sports action photo of your family that is a "keeper."

ProPix Photography

The Sports Photography Professionals

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

Individuals and Teams

Sports Photography – Individuals & Teams
You may be photographing a sporting event to capture photos of a single athlete, a entire team or perhaps multiple teams or groups.  Each presents different challenges unique to the sports photographer, but by following the ideas and tips included in this article you will be better prepared to successfully shoot your sporting event. 

Single Athlete
During a sports season I will take photos of all the players on my children’s team, but as with any proud parent, I always want more photos of my own children.  I will go to many games with the sole purpose purpose of shooting my child’s performance.  In many ways I find this the most enjoyable sports photography since I don’t have the worry or time pressure to capture a photo of everyone on the team.  It also means that I don’t have to take photos every minute of the event, I can pick the time when the lighting is best and my child is participating to shoot, and at other times I can sit down, relax and enjoy the event.

Attending a sporting event to take photos of a single athlete is the simplest.  With a little practice it won’t take you the entire event to have a handsome portfolio of great photos.  Be sure to position yourself in an area where you will get the most photo opportunities of that athlete.   Soccer for example, where the field is so large, you will want to position yourself on the side of the field where your athlete plays the most.  Similarly in dance or other performance sports, position yourself on the side of the stage where you will have the best angle and view to capture them. 

Depending on the sport you may want to shoot most of your shots with a vertical orientation.  Be sure to capture the athlete’s face and anticipate their movements to get great photos.  Follow them with the camera for several minutes at a time anticipating their movements and you will capture many good photos.  The more you follow them the more chance you will have to capture that unique and amazing sports moment.

Don’t forget to close-ups of your athlete.  Fill the frame with their face during breaks or prior to or after the event.  Also remember to not just shoot them alone, catch them in context of their team, the event and the competition.  Include photos of them and their position or relationship to the rest of the team.  Capture them in small groups or broader settings showing the venue and group.

As a sports photographer you will also go to many events to shoot all the athletes in the competition.  This could be one team, both teams or many performing teams.  To do this requires more planning, effort and time. Depending on the sport or event you might be trying to capture photos of 4-30 athletes in 60 minutes.  This can be a real challenge for the sheer number of athletes and the limited time to do it in.  There is nothing worse than finishing shooting a game, showing participants and parents the photos and realizing someone was missed.

It will take a few minutes, but if you prepare for the event by filling out a shooting card with the athlete’s names or jersey number you will be able to track who you captured and who you are missing.  Don’t take time to make a note after every shot, but during breaks go through a review of your photos on the camera’s LCD, delete the bad shots, and make note of the athletes you have taken shots of.

Be Aware
A challenge in capturing everyone is that some players are naturally easier to capture than others.  If not careful you will find yourself having many shots of a few players and only a couple shots of the rest, or even none at all.  A lot depends on the position they play and how aggressive they are.  Some seem to be in the middle of everything while others only appear occasionally.  Other athletes playing different positions and perhaps playing less aggressively will require you to pay special attention to.  By being aware of this you can pay special attention and you can make yourself move to different locations.  If you stay in the same location for the entire event, you will end up with the same athletes and the same photos.  Moving around will help you capture the entire team. Also be aware of the players on the bench and substitutions.  Subs often play less time and you will need to pay particular attention to them when they enter the game, and even follow them exclusively for a few minutes to get the shots you need.

Safe Shots
Another way to ensure you capture the entire team is to remember to get "safe" shots.  These are the shots that are easy to get before and after the game and during a break or half-time.  You can get close-ups and isolated shots during warm-ups and depending on the sport there may appear to be no difference between that shot and a shot during the game.  Other safe shots include close-ups during half-time or after the game.

Following these tips will help you capture better sports photos whether you are shooting a single athlete or everyone on the team.

ProPix Photography
The Sports Photographers

I Can’t or I Won’t


Children are drawn to sports like geeks to the newest iPhone; they can’t help themselves. Even the shy ones, the overweight ones, the ones who are all elbows and thumbs, the ones who hate sweat, all still possess the restless energy that yearns to run and shriek and jump. And when you can run and shriek and jump with friends, it’s even better. Sports channels that energy, gives it focus. Rather than aimlessly running around on the playground, everyone has a place and a job to do, with defined rules and understandable goals. It’s sandbox sharing on a grand scale, as each member of the team learns to support everyone else.  When you capture that emotion in a photograph, that is when you have become a real sports photographer.

“But my child is more of a scholastic,” parents may worry. “I just can’t see her running around in the mud.” Maybe not, but sport is not just for the natural athlete. The bookworm not only can, but should, get out there, too. Parents focused on getting their child into Harvard would do well to remember that schools look at more than academics. The coveted Rhodes Scholarship, which has launched so many careers in business, politics, science, and statesmanship, goes only to college students who not only score high academically, but are athletes as well. Cecil Rhodes knew that a well-rounded individual is one who has learned on the sports field many crucial life lessons that books alone cannot teach.

What lessons? What does playing baseball have to offer that a good chess club cannot? You mean, aside from vigorous physical activity to tone up the body, strengthen the heart, and get our increasingly sedentary children out of their chairs?

The chess match requires mental discipline, knowledge of the game, strategic thinking, and a desire to win. A race, a tennis match, a football game, a skating routine, all require mental focus, physical stamina, the ability to “read” the opposition, and the willpower to keep going hard enough, fast enough, and long enough to at least finish, if not win. Showing up for the chess match or for the local Key Club project demonstrates responsibility, but acquiring willpower of the type required for sports is a matter of self-discipline, of physical effort, of step-by-step progress that can be measured and appreciated: “Today I ran an extra quarter mile. Next time I’ll try for another.” Every day that a child sticks to a training routine builds a habit of self-discipline that produces not only heightened self-esteem, but the confidence that comes with achieving a goal. That feeling and those habits instill, at very deep levels, the knowledge that “I can!”

Barack Obama famously used “Yes, we can” to win the White House. It is probably not a coincidence that the 44th president is an accomplished basketball player who played on his high school team and enjoys pickup games whenever he can find one. For him, it was not organized league sports that taught him the most valuable lessons, but those impromptu games against a variety of players who cared only about how well you could play, not who or what you were. Sports has the power to reduce life to its essentials, erasing differences in skin color, national origin, social background, and other artificial barriers. It comes down to “show me what you got,” a game any child can play.

And what if your child doesn’t “have it”? So what? Does that mean he can’t improve? Should she trudge home in defeat, convinced she can never fit in because she can’t sink that basket or beat that girl to the finish line? It is not the quitters we admire, but the people who take defeat as a challenge to do better.  These lessons and memories are what can be captured in a photograph and which helps these lessons to be remembered.

Can’t or won’t—sports helps us discover how to turn “I don’t want to” into “Look what I did!”