Point, shoot and score: capturing winning moments with a compact camera

Professional sports photographer Molly Darlington shares her top tips for capturing amateur sporting moments with a point and shoot set-up.
A person holding a Canon PowerShot SX740 HS looking at their shot on the flip up screen.

Capturing the free-spirited action of a children's football match requires quick reflexes and an even better zoom, as former Canon Ambassador and professional sports photographer Molly Darlington knows only too well. Molly started shooting sports in 2015, while still at college. She then went on to shoot Premier League and Championship football, straight out of university.

Her strong sporting background meant she knew exactly the moments to capture at a football match. Armed with the pocket-sized Canon PowerShot SX740 HS, which packs a powerful 40x optical zoom in its compact body, along with the monocular-shaped Canon PowerShot ZOOM camera, she translated her pro storytelling skills onto the pitch at an amateur level. These two easy-to-use cameras are also ideal for capturing outdoor family activities or wildlife encounters, and will bring you closer to the action.

Explaining what she typically tries to create in her images, Molly says: "I hope to tell the story of the game, what happened throughout it, and show the highs and lows, so that when someone sees that image they can remember exactly the moment it happened.

"I always aim to capture memorable moments in sport. Usually at a football game, I would capture the goals, celebrations and important moments such as a red card being given. I also look for emotion in my images – whether that's excitement, frustration or dejection – from the players or the crowd."

Here Molly explains how you can do the same with a simple, compact set-up.

1. Capture a sequence of images

Boys playing football, four in green kit, one with his leg raised in the air to kick to ball, and one player in blue.

"A friendly game between two local under 12 teams at a community football centre was a great place to test this kit, providing opportunities for parents to capture the action when watching the match." Taken on a Canon PowerShot SX740 HS at 461mm, 1/1300 sec, f/5.6 and ISO800.

A Canon PowerShot SX740 HS and Canon PowerShot ZOOM placed on the grass of a playing field, within the white, painted lines.

The Canon PowerShot SX740 HS and Canon PowerShot ZOOM are proof that good things come in small packages – light, pocket-sized and affordable, they make great additions to a budding sports photographer's kit, or a parent who wants to capture memories.

With a camera such as the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS, which features an incredibly quick reaction from the camera when the button is pressed and continuous shooting with 10 images per second, you can create a burst of images to ensure those important adrenaline-fuelled moments aren't missed. You can also shoot 10fps (frames per second) on the Canon PowerShot ZOOM.

"In this image, the 10fps was very useful as it allowed me to capture a sequence of images as one player tackled the other, enabling me to choose the best shot afterwards," Molly explains. "A tackle sequence can be hard, as the ball isn't always in shot, so being able to take 10 frames per second really helps."

2. Fill the frame

A boy on a football pitch, running while shouting happily in celebration.

Molly aims to fill the frame so her subjects' expressions are clear. "I hope to make the viewer feel something just by looking at the photograph," she says. Taken on a Canon PowerShot SX740 HS at 220.5mm, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6 and ISO400.

Molly Darlington sitting on a small stool by the side of a football pitch, watching a game taking place.

The compact PowerShot ZOOM was ideal for capturing the action in this football match, zooming from the sidelines, and seeing all the action.

"Emotions add to a great sports image, and in this shot I used the zoom to capture the player celebrating," says Molly, who took advantage of the 40x optical zoom of the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS to fill her frame with memorable expressions.

"It's always good to be able to fill the frame in sports photography, and the 40x zoom enables you to do this when the action is happening a bit further away," she says. For Molly, these moments of celebration are one of the best parts of her job. "To me, there's no better feeling than when it all comes together and you capture a goal at a football match, with the celebration coming towards you and the fans going crazy behind you."

3. Try out different focal lengths

Molly Darlington holding the Canon PowerShot ZOOM at a football match.

The Canon PowerShot ZOOM has a three-step zoom that lets you switch between 100mm, 400mm and 800mm focal lengths at the push of a button, meaning you won't miss a shot, whatever your distance.

Boys playing football, one dribbling the ball while a player from the opposing team chases him.

The ability to switch focal lengths quickly is particularly important in sports photography, where the action moves fast and you never know when a key event will occur. The 40x zoom lens on the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS has a maximum wide-angle focal length equivalent to 24mm, and is capable of a telephoto reach of 960mm. Taken on a Canon PowerShot SX740 HS at 109.3mm, 1/1600 sec, f/5 and ISO200.

The palm-sized, 12-Megapixel Canon PowerShot ZOOM has one lens, yet boasts a three-step zoom to bring distant details closer. Molly found the feature intuitive to use and invaluable for enjoying the action from close up.

"Switching between focal lengths was so easy, with a button on top of the Canon PowerShot ZOOM which, as you pressed it, switched between 100mm, 400mm and 800mm," she says. "For this football match the 400mm zoom was perfect but for bigger sporting events at professional pitch sizes use the 800mm option."

The 100mm 400mm and 800mm focal lengths are all indicated in the viewfinder and the larger the number the closer you get to your subject.

Experimenting with the intelligent features of your camera is crucial to achieving the shots you hope for. "Shooting with any new camera can be hard until you get used to how it works," Molly explains. Her best advice? "Practice, practice, practice with the kit. Sometimes it's a case of taking out the equipment a few times, just to get the hang of how it works and try out using different settings."

Before you plan to use your camera at your child's sporting event it's a good idea to get a feel for the kit, and compact cameras are great for those starting out.

4. Focus on getting a sharp image

A boy about to kick the ball in mid-stride in a football match.

As well as keeping your images sharp, Molly also advises having a clean background with no distracting elements in the shot, as this will help boost your images from untidy to frame-worthy. "If you have a clean background with no mess, then it enables the viewer to focus fully on the subject," she says. Taken on a Canon PowerShot SX740 HS at 228.7mm, 1/1600 sec, f/5.6 and ISO400.

"Getting an image sharp during a fast-paced game can be hard, so anything to assist this is always a bonus. The image stabilisation on the Canon PowerShot ZOOM and Canon PowerShot SX740 HS helped when shooting, as the ball can move very quickly, so I found this quite important," Molly says.

Molly found that the built-in Image Stabilizer enabled her to shoot handheld so she could follow the action, but she also uses a portable mini pop-up stool during sporting events for extra support, a favourite with professional photographers shooting the pitch. "They're very sturdy, so a lot of sports photographers have them, and they're really useful, as usually, you can adjust the height to sit behind any advertising boards and make yourself as short or as tall as you like during a sporting event," she says.

Both the Canon PowerShot ZOOM and Canon PowerShot SX740 HS cameras have face detect Autofocus and AF tracking which is ideal for keeping your subject – whether it's the ball or the player – in focus when on the move.

5. Review as you shoot

A person looking at an image on the flip-up screen of a Canon PowerShot SX740 HS.

The Canon PowerShot SX740 HS features a 180° flip-up screen, making it incredibly simple to review your shots while on location.

Two boys in a football match, one trying to get the ball past the goalie, who is in position to intercept.

Overall, Molly says, "the PowerShot SX740 HS was a great camera for a children's sporting event. It has a great zoom range, and the live screen enables you to easily track what you are capturing." Taken on a Canon PowerShot SX740 HS at 524.3mm, 1/2000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO800.

With the help of an LCD flip-up screen, checking your shots throughout a sporting event has never been easier. The 180° screen on the Canon PowerShot SX740 HS helped Molly ensure she had the images she wanted.

"The LCD flip-up screen allows you to look at the images as they're being taken, so you know what you've captured," she says. "Again, this image of the player scoring a goal past the goalkeeper was helped by the 40x zoom – as they were on the other side of the pitch.

You can connect with the Canon Camera Connect app and share your images with other parents quickly after the match. The Camera Connect app can also be used to see the images from your Canon PowerShot ZOOM or even to remotely shoot the pictures from the Canon PowerShot ZOOM or PowerShot SX740 HS cameras if the angle you want to capture is a little difficult.

Whether you're an aspiring sports photographer or just love the action, capturing those sporting moments is not as daunting as it may seem, and Molly urges anyone to pick up a camera the next time they are pitch side, so the memories last long after the final whistle.

Of course, alongside great kit, Molly relies on the skills she has honed over her career: patience and an instinct for getting into the right position to capture a crucial moment. "You need patience and a lot of practice, and at many sports events, luck needs to be on your side," she says. "For example, if you're at a football match, sat in one corner, you can't do much about it if the action all happens in the other three corners. In those situations, you need to know the sport you're shooting so you're able to follow it and predict what could potentially happen next."

"I have always loved sport and taking photos, so it only made sense for me to combine the two," she says. "I had no idea how much I'd love it before I went to my first match. With plenty of practice and a little bit of good luck, I've made it to where I am now, and I wouldn't change a thing."

Written by Lorna Dockerill

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