Over the weekend, many of us spend our time watching our favorite little athletes run up and down a field. In addition to cheering from the sidelines, a proud momtographer’s responsibility includes photographing all the memorable moments of their child playing ball. We’d love nothing more than to capture that awesome moment when our child does something BIG!
As if photographing kids in action wasn’t hard enough, in order to get the most out of your camera while at your child’s game, all the critical elements must align: timing, position, exposure, and composition. We know how difficult sports photography can be, but with today’s 10 tips, maybe this year you’ll capture “the perfect shot!”
1. Start with the Right Gear
Before you even leave home, take a few extra minutes to check your equipment. Make sure your battery is charged and your memory card is in place (formatted with lots of room to add new photos). Then add a dust cloth, spare batteries, spare memory cards, a lens hood and, of course, the right lenses to your bag.
Speaking of the right lenses…Sports photography is best captured with a good zoom lens and we’re not talking about the 18-55 mm zoom that came with your entry level DSLR. Professionals carry lenses such as a 70-200 mm zoom, but that is probably overkill for the average mom with a camera. We recommend using something like this 75-300 mm (just watch out for the variable aperture and lack of image stabilization) instead. This will allow you to zoom in when your child is playing across the field or zoom out if they run nearby. That said, don’t forget to use your hands and feet to change your perspective. While having a zoom lens is nice, your best photos will almost always be shot in close to mid range.
2. Tune into the Game
Many parents bring their camera to their kid’s game so that they can photograph their own child playing. We get it. Unfortunately, in doing so, you may have a tendency to miss the game. Instead, follow the flow of the game (keep your eyes on the ball), and you’ll have a better chance of capturing your child in action.
3. Check the Schedule
As we’ve discussed in previous tutorials, the best light for photography is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. With this in mind, check your child’s game schedule and shoot more during games that take place in the morning or late afternoon — when you know the light will be closer to ideal.
4. Use a Fast Shutter Speed
When photographing children, in general, we recommend using a shutter speed of at least 1/200. However, using an even faster shutter speed in sports photography is critical. In order to freeze the action, you can use your camera’s “Sports Mode” which will automatically use a faster shutter speed, or you can set your camera’s dial to TV or S for Shutter Priority and manually dial the shutter speed to 1/250. If your images appear blurry, increase your shutter speed.
5. Choose the Right Focusing Mode
In addition to shutter speed, choosing the right focusing mode can make a huge difference when photographing sports. Use Al Servo or Continuous Mode, which is specifically designed to help you hold focus on a moving subject. Simply choose a single focus point (the center point will be your strongest), and activate back-button focusing. From there, you will be able to easily lock your focus and recompose quickly as your child races by.
6. Consider Your Composition
Just because you’re photographing a sporting event does not mean that basic composition rules should be thrown out the window.
For one, be sure to capture your little player’s face. Not that other details of the event aren’t important, but photos that capture a happy child playing their favorite sport are just priceless! While you’re framing your shot, also pay attention to the background. If there is something distracting in the background, re-position yourself to get a better shot.
You can also zoom in to remove distractions, but be careful not to crop out important details, like the ball, that provide context.
7. Use a Wide Aperture
If completely removing distractions isn’t an option, try using a wide aperture. Selecting a wide aperture will not only allow for a faster shutter speed (which is super critical), but it will also create a shallow depth of field.
We love a shallow depth of field. Many of us prefer to shoot wide open on an average day, but shooting with a wide aperture during your kid’s game is one of the easiest ways to hide all the clutter that comes with sports photography (other parents, parking lots, concessions, etc). A wide aperture will ensure that your child will be the focal point. The same would apply if you’re attending a college or professional game and want to take a game day photo.
That said, if you’re using a zoom lens, you probably won’t be able to use an f-stop lower than f/3.5 (unless you’ve invested in a much more expensive lens). So, bring a prime lens such as your 50 mm f/1.8 to capture some nice frame-worthy moments of your child in uniform before or after the game.
8. Take More Photos
The beauty of digital photography is that it doesn’t really cost you anything to shoot more photos. Therefore, if you’re really intent on getting “the perfect shot,” take more photos than necessary. If you don’t get the moment you were looking for, keep shooting. Over time, you’ll learn the game, what is likely to happen and when, and you’ll be better able to be in the right spot at the right time. Unfortunately, if you’re photographing younger children, you won’t be able to predict where the action will happen since they don’t have a sense of timing like older kids. Don’t be discouraged, just keep practicing.
9. Try Continuous Shooting Mode
If you want to maximize your chances of getting “the shot,” try shooting in Continuous Shooting Mode. This setting will allows your camera’s shutter to continue shooting for as long as the shutter release button is pressed. Typically, you can choose from high speed or low speed continuous. Either way, we find that shooting 3-5 frames per second is generally enough as long as it is paired with a fast shutter speed.
10. Edit Your Photos
Let’s say that you take 100 pictures of your child playing soccer. Expect that 10% of your photos will be worth keeping and sharing. Use a program such as Adobe Lightroom to organize and batch edit your best shots. Save your final images and delete those that don’t make the cut.
Photographing kids playing sports should be fun, so don’t forget to have a little while you’re standing on the sidelines. And for what it’s worth, don’t feel obligated to bring your camera to the game just because you have one. Enjoying the game without photographing it is just as much fun!