I bet I’m not the only parent who finds it challenging to get a crisp, tightly cropped photo of my child playing a sport. It’s hard to isolate one player in a fast-moving game from the sidelines, especially if you’re not equipped with a powerful zoom lens.
But it’s not impossible to get poignant, memorable, well lit images. In this post we’ll share some composition tips that are appropriate for most camera types including DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras. If you have a DSLR or are considering purchasing one, we’ll also share some tips about using your camera’s settings to capture some stunning shots. Of course, these are only suggestions; play around and see what works for you.
Composition Tips For Any Camera Type
Spend most of your time shooting at practice where you can move into the field and get closer to the action, in lieu of having the zoom lens. Be careful of getting mowed over though.
At games, take a lot of shots before the game, when the kids are warming up. Who will know that the shot isn’t happening in the actual game?
Crop the photo with an editing tool so you don’t have a lot of visual distractions in the image. Here’s a good example of the full image of a mediocre shot that I cropped to make a more compelling image. After the crop, notice how your eye goes right to the girl about to kick the ball.
Shoot from different angles. Crouch down and shoot up at the kids while they’re dribbling the ball or doing various drills in practice.
You might be bummed about an overcast day thinking the shots will not be as nice as on a sunny day, but the grey skies are really optimal. Skin tones are more even and you don’t get harsh shadows.
I like to get photos of some of the aspects of the game you don’t typically think to shoot, like when the kids are throwing in the ball from the sideline. Put together with the other photos, it tells a more complete story.
In this shot, I held the camera away from me and pointed down into the center of the circle of kids with their coach. That way, I could make the focal point their hands meeting for the team cheer.
Adjusting the Settings on a DSLR
Set the ISO to 400 or higher. ISO 400 is pretty good unless the sun is positively blaring in which case lower it to 200.
When shooting in Program or Auto setting, rather than using the full manual mode, I’ve found that the shutter speed usually isn’t fast enough to capture the fast motion. I’ve started using Shutter Speed Priority (T) on the Canon — or the S on a Nikon. I set the shutter speed really fast and let the camera choose the aperture. Maybe I’ll get brave enough to go fully manual the next time out.
Shooting with a Zoom and Manual Settings
Katie’s husband Mark is an exceptional sports photographer. He shoots with a Nikon D3S and an 80-200 f/2.8 lens. He shared some of his photos of their son Jack on the soccer field, including the photo at the top of this post and below.
These are the manual settings he often uses:
- Wide aperture, say f/2.8
- Fast exposure, say 1/1600 or 1/1250 to 1/3200
- 135 mm zoom with an 80-200 f/2.8 lens
- ISO 400
Mark’s been taking sports photos for a couple of years now. In fact, if you attend any of the Alexandria Aces baseball games this season, you may very well see him on the sidelines capturing the action for the hometown team.