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

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