Sports event photography

There was this famous philosopher named Ayn Rand who described photography not as an art, but a technique that captures art. In her book The Romantic Manifesto, she stated that “[Photography] is a technical, not a creative, skill. Art requires a selective re-creation.” Capturing subjects or scenes with the use of a camera is simply preserving what has already been re-created in a form of pictures, which is why photography cannot be categorized as an art. Since it is a technique using cameras, how do people then develop such skill to capture artistic scenes? There are a lot of books or references in taking photographs and most of them are not that hard to understand because photography is something that anyone could learn.

The thing is that people who are interested to develop such skill must constantly engage in properly using the features of the camera while applying those features depending on certain scenes. Taking photos of subjects in motion is quite challenging, especially athletes who are participating in sports competitions. In my case, doing photography in sports events was a great choice. It is one of the ways to take such technical skill to a higher level in a short time as the photographer’s adrenaline is constantly pushed so that the body responds accordingly to the subjects in motion.

event photography

I had been a sports photographer for five years during my College years but I only used two models of Canon DSLR: 1100D and EOS7D. I never had a formal lesson in using them but for me, angle is a great factor that gives life to pictures. My favorite subjects in taking photographs are nature and athletes playing in a game. The latter is insanely challenging because I run, lie on the floor and hold the camera up high just to capture moments with great angles, but that didn’t stop me from taking photographs during sports events. Sometimes I seem like a hunter, waiting for my preys to show perfect athletic postures during their battles in the sports arena. At the same time, I also think what type of pictures these young athletes want to see as they move within the court. Doing photography in sports events helped me much in the improvement of my technical skills using cameras.

What are the advantages of doing photography in sports events compared to other events? Because athletes participating in a game are in constant motion, it helps the photographer in becoming a keen observer or aware of the surroundings most of the time. As mentioned above, adrenaline helps the photographer function in a best way because the he has to cope up with the speed of the athletes and their constant change in position and posture in order to capture their best moments.

The observation skills of the photographer develop in a situation where he does not only focus on the athletes playing but also on the audience at the same time. He must constantly focus and concentrate not just on the movements or postures of the athletes but also on their good facial expressions while being aware of the facial expressions of the audience in background.

There were times that I took photos of basketball players on the court with one the audience having a really bad facial expression (widely opened mouth and closed eyes) that I had to delete the file even though the photo of the basketball players in motion were great. I have a strict rule in taking pictures of people in groups: everyone should look good in the photo even if there is a certain subject that I’m really focused on.

ateneo volleyball court

I was a student assistant in a prestigious school in Davao city and I started helping in taking pictures of people (students and employees) for the production of their ID card. I simply capture people’s smiling faces but I also tell some people to groom first before I take their picture so that they will look better. Same goes to special occasions like awarding ceremonies where I take pictures of people who wear their best smiles and attires to look great.

Apparently, all of them are still subjects so from time to time, I take candid pictures to enhance my skills in observation and proper timing. However, doing photography in sports events greatly sharpen my timing and increase my speed in capturing scenes because the subjects constantly move either quick or fast that my body automatically adjusted. The photographer has to catch up with the movements of the players to capture a scene that the players and audience would appreciate. He will be driven to move fast towards certain areas where he can capture scenes in a great angle as players offensively and defensively move in the sports arena in quick and fast motions.

Doing photography in sports events also increases the ability to anticipate the movements of the subjects, which gives greater possibility for a perfect timing in photo capture. As I constantly volunteered in the Athletics department to take pictures of the athletes playing, my speed and timing in taking photographs of moving subjects greatly developed in less than two weeks.


dribble of a ball

Another advantage of doing photography in sports events is that it improves the understanding in using various angles to certain scenes. In volleyball, most photos look great in worm’s eye view, especially in taking photos of two or three spikers and blockers when they jump near the net. Bird’s eye view is better in taking pictures of groups of athletes in the same team, trying to set the ball to their advantage.

Even in basketball, badminton and table tennis, worm’s eye view is a better angle with a little tilt of the camera either to the left or right since it somehow emphasizes the movements of the players. In sports competitions, worm’s and bird’s eye views are preferably used based on my experiences since they would make the athletes look like they are really moving in the picture.

Simply taking pictures with the man’s eye view does not create much impact. There were times that I had to move to the balcony just to take photos in bird’s eye view. Frequently moving fast from sitting or laying on the floor to raising the camera up and changing location from one point to another could drain a lot of energy, especially when the temperature in the sports arena is hot, but it’s quite fulfilling to see the pictures of playing athletes in various angles. In addition, it gives the photographer a good exercise because he is driven to move constantly to follow with the athletes’ motion while keeping him optimistic as happy hormones are released, motivating him to work harder and smarter.

Photography in sports events is not an easy task because the photographer has to focus and concentrate during a sports competition to obtain great pictures. Professionals know that taking pictures of moving subjects requires much attention in order not to miss great moments in the sports arena, which is why proper attire and hair accessories are necessary. As much as possible, the photographer should wear slightly loose, thin clothes, preferably without sleeves, in order to avoid discomfort while taking photos.

The best lower garment to wear is shorts (two to three inches above the knee) so that one can move freely from a sitting or laying position to a standing one. Women could wear miniskirts but with cycling shorts underneath. Jogging pants are okay but it becomes uncomfortable to wear during hot weathers. Sneakers are the most appropriate to wear, especially running shoes since they are flexible, lightweight and safe from getting injuries. With regards to keeping the hair in place, use hairbands to avoid contact with eyes or to avoid blocking the view while looking at the lens. The best hairstyle for women is braid as it keeps most of the hair locked up, but don’t forget to use hairbands for women with bangs.

As I stated before, I was only able to used two models of Canon DSLR. However, both have different weights – 1100D is lightweight while is EOS7D heavyweight. I always use the sports mode when taking photographs as it lessens the chances of producing fuzzy captures of athletes in action. When photographers are required to constantly move to take pictures, it is preferable to use heavyweight cameras since they limit the hands and arms to move freely or comfortably by lowering the chances of involuntary and unstable movements, preventing to capture blurry pictures.

Lightweight cameras are comfortable to use but they produce blurry pictures for moving subjects most of the time because they freely leave the hands and arms unstable, leaving fuzzy captures. Take also into consideration in using certain heavyweight cameras that one could carry throughout a game. It would be disappointing for a sports photographer to often rest the hands and arms because the camera was heavier to handle than expected.

Photography in sports events also involves certain risks like higher chances of being hit by a ball. The distance between the sports photographer and the athletes should be then considered, especially when one does not have good reflexes. Since I’m an athlete myself, I was confident enough to move near the boundaries of the court but it was mainly because the lens I was using is limited to certain distances that I had to position myself near the boundaries to capture photos of the athletes playing.

Staying near the boundaries was very risky since it was not only because of the chances of getting hit by a ball, but also getting tackled unintentionally by players! Good thing the latter never happened to me because of my and the athletes’ reflexes. I was hit by a ball several times but I never regretted positioning myself near the court boundaries because I was able to produce great outputs in photography. One way or another, sports photographers must always be aware of the distance from the athletes to avoid injury, but also take note that great risks produce great results.

sports photography

Doing photography in sports events requires huge effort compared to events where people simply pose attractively for the photographer. It challenges the photographer to constantly move around the sports arena to get the best angle in capturing moving subjects, leaving the photographer tired and exhausted in a short time.

Another problem is that there will always be bad pictures in all the pictures taken from athletes in action since there are several things to consider in the subject/s – postures, facial expressions, location, lighting, angle and people in the background all at the same time. The photographer also has to consider the kind of picture the athletes want to keep for their photo album of memorable sports competitions.

Despite the challenges, the photographer will be able to practice tolerance and will be driven to strive more in capturing great moments of athletes playing certain sports because moving from certain point to another to get a great angle would make a good exercise that would help release happy hormones.

At the end of the day, it is still advantageous for the photographer to take photos during sports events since there will be a lot of opportunities to learn and discover new technical skills fast in using cameras. If you know any sports event, try practicing photography with athletes in action. If you have no idea, start by looking for a place where athletes gather to train themselves or maybe places where people simply play street basketball or beach volley. I tell you, it’s really fulfilling, especially when someone thanks you for capturing their athletic postures.

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