The secrets of taking sports shots

At the highest level, sport photography is hugely competitive and access to top games can be very difficult to achieve. However, there are many accessible sports that can put you and your equipment to the test: a child’s football match; windsurfers on a lake or motocross riders on a nearby track, for example.

Read through the following points to help you improve your sports action images.

Preparation – preparation is an important and often overlooked aspect to getting good images. Sports events are often controlled, so get in touch with the organiser prior to the event.
Building up good relationship with the event staff is a great way to improve your access and get the best position.

7 Meter Drop, Kristin Nordli

Having a great shooting position paid off for Kristin in this shot of a kayaker. Choosing an elevated position to the side and above the waterfall really gives the viewer the sense of being involved with the action.

Shooting location - try to pick a position that produces a clean background to enable you to isolate your subject. Look for solid areas to shoot into such as trees, fields or hills. Generally man-made objects, signs, barriers and hoardings cause distraction and should be avoided.

If clean backgrounds are hard to find, try getting down low and shooting up with the sky behind your subject.

Grass Track, Patricia Peyre

Patricia has produced a great shot with a beautifully clean background. Not only has Patricia chosen a position right on the apex of the bend to capture the rider mid-slide but he has positioned the action in front of a solid background with no distraction. The dust kicked up by the wheels further adds to the clean background and actually frames the subject. Very nicely done.

Jump a Mountain, Birgit Klee

See how Birgit is lower than the subject resulting in only sky in the background. Having such a clean backdrop to the action really focuses the attention on the subject.

Use the right equipment – most sport subjects will benefit from getting in close to the action. A good zoom lens, or one with a long focal length will help you to get close. The EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM is a good lens to choose.

Long focal length lenses also help to isolate your subject from the background by compressing perspective.

Continuous shooting – using a camera with a fast continuous shooting mode increases your chances of getting the shot at the peak of the action. However, it still requires you to spend time watching the action, trying to predict the optimal point to press the shutter.

Risky multitasking, Ann Luttinger

Ann Luttinger has delivered a great image of this motocross rider in full flight. Using a long lens to get in close shows the action to its best. Also good exposure control has kept lots of colour in the sky whilst keeping detail in the bike and rider.

Camera settings – if the light is constant, i.e. a sunny day with no clouds or indoors under artificial lighting, set your camera to manual. Fixing the exposure in this way allows you to ensure the correct exposure on your subject. If using one of the automatic modes when shooting into the sky your camera will tend to underexpose your subject resulting in a silhouette. If this does occur use the exposure compensation dial to increase the exposure.

Look for the unexpected – be on the lookout for something unusual or extraordinary. Often the best sports images are the ones that make you look twice and question how that happened. Much of this is down to the luck of being in the right place at the right time but the skill is being prepared for anything.

CRACH, Pascal Seeuws

Pascal did very well to capture this dramatic moment of a crash during a race and focusing so well on the unexpected action.

Shoot around the action – by this we mean also focus your attention away from the main action. Competitors preparing their equipment, spectators, mechanics etc. also provide interesting subjects and tell the story of the event.

After the shoot edit and edit again – you will have many pictures that don’t make the grade, be sure to discard these in favour of your favourites. You may find that you have very few that really make good sports pictures at first, but don’t be disheartened. Find out when the next event is happening and go back.

Shooting the same sport and location will really help build up your knowledge of where the best positions are for good pictures. This is hugely important to improving your sports photography.

Cairngorm, Mr Alan Meikle

This shot by Alan Meikle shows that sports photography doesn’t always have to be about fast moving action, telling the story can be equally as important. Shooting into the sun adds some flare and a modern, magazine feel to this image

Explore the range of lenses for action photography in the Canon Store.

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