5 Things to Love.
1. Capturing a fraction of a second.
We all enjoy watching film or video of a sports event and when it's slowed down it looks amazing but there's nothing like that frozen moment of time captured in a photograph. I still get a huge buzz from seeing a great sports photograph and having shot sports for 20 years Iíve seen a few! New technology brings new ways to grab that picture and yet I can look at images taken with very traditional equipment, shot 30 years ago and Iím still thrilled to see that split second of time frozen for eternity. A great sports photograph is a great sports photograph regardless of when or how it was taken.
2. There are so many opportunities.
You donít need to shoot professional sports to capture great sports photographs. There are many sports to be found that take place at easily accessible locations where you donít need accreditation from the event organiser to get in with your camera. Pick any weekend of most months and thereís likely to be something happening at your local park. Drive past any on a weekend and thereís a good chance a game of football is being played. Some parks have bmx tracks where you can capture exciting action, mountain bike racing, cross-country or downhill are popular in the bigger country parks or even on private land for some of the bigger events, here you can get very close to the action and probably get exciting images even with your phone. Marathons are run in city centres so you can get shots right from the pavement. Cycle road-racing in city-centres is now becoming very popular with easy access to the racing from public areas. What about a basketball game? Perhaps a little trickier as itís inside so low-light without flash use is a consideration but even so this should still be a fertile location for the photographer with some imagination to see a good angle. All of the opportunities here are great for access and donít need long lenses to make interesting images. At most you would need a 200mm lens to get a decent crop and for a lot of shots you could use a 20mm lens if you are in the right position.
The quad-bike image shown here was taken at a low-key event that didn't have too many restrictions. Of course common sense and safety means you have to be aware of the riders and ensure you position yourself safely and always observe the advice and guidence of the marshalls or those running the event.
3. Itís very difficult to do well.
So when you get it right the sense of achievement is fantasic! When youíve caught that peak of the action moment it's immensely satisfying. Sharp, well exposed, perfectly framed images with a background that suits the subject, are to be savoured. I say savoured because theyíre very difficult to achieve so when you do get it just right it makes the effort worth while.
4. Thereís always a new angle to discover.
Thereís nothing more traditional than sitting by the side-line of a football game shooting the match action and although two players battling for the ball has been photographed a million times before, somehow we never tire of seeing another. However for creative photographers who have time to explore a game they have a chance to find new ways to see the action. For instance a few years ago nobody put a camera with a wide angle lens behind the goal but someone did and captured great pictures with never-before-seen views. Now of course itís a very popular place to put a remote camera, made easier by the use of easy-to-obtain wireless trigger devices. That search for new ways of seeing a sport is part of the challenge for the dedicated sports photographer. Find a way to capture it that nobody has done before and wow the viewer with a new visual experience.
5. You donít need fast action for great sports photography.
Some of the best sports images I have ever seen are of moments where thereís no running, hitting, kicking, jumping, fighting, peddling or paddling. Itís those subtle moments between the action that can sometimes tell a bigger story than any piece of the action. An athlete laid out after running until total exhaustion, a cyclist full of nervous energy waiting to start a race, a boxer wrapping their hands with tape before a match, all of these things are unseen, quiet moments in any sport and can be deeply revealing about the athlete and the sport.
1. The best action is at the best events.
Top quality action can only be seen at events where the best photographer spots are given to working professionals and require accreditation to get in. Shooting a Wimbledon tennis match needs the backing of a well-known agency or media outlet before you even get a sniff of the best spots to work. Thatís not to say you canít get great action on your local tennis court but itís not the same as photographing a great tennis player in a world-class sporting arena whoís giving it their all in pursuit of a coveted sporting trophy.
2. Some of that gear is expensive!
You can take great sports pictures with minimal gear if you put yourself in the right place of the right sport but sometimes you need a long lens. Auto-focus is a very useful function but cheaper cameras tend not to have the best focussing systems available. These are reserved for top-end cameras used by professional photographers who need to rely on their kit to always come up with the goods. These highly desirable bits of kit come at a price which for many is out of reach. Who wouldnít like to use a 400mm f2,8 lens, itís just a shame they cost thousands of pounds, dollars or euros to buy.
3. Sometimes the worst conditions make for the best images.
Youíve got to be out there to get them. Some of my favourite images have needed me to be working in the rain, wind and damned cold weather to get the shot . Itís not just yourself you have to keep warm and dry itís your kit. Some gear is designed to take some bad weather but you generally have to ensure itís well protected and this is at best a pain and at worst means you are lugging lots of stuff around just to protect your gear. I have a great backpack that I know offers a lot of protection but thatís things heavy on itís own!
4. Sport is world-wide.
If youíre a working sports photographer most events are not going to take place on your doorstep so a lot of time away from home is the norm. Itís not a profession that everyone can handle. Of course for some this is part of the appeal.
5. Some techniques are tricky!
It can take many attempts to get some shots right and practice is required to ensure you are up to the job when the time comes to do it for real. Panning for instance, where you move the camera with the subject as they pass you. As this generally requires a slow shutter speed to blur the scene, many of these attempts are probably rubbish. You have to shoot a few to find one that is perfect. How about capturing the action of a football match? Grabbing that peak of the action moment means following the action through the lens, being ever ready to press the shutter at precisely the right moment. Predicting what MIGHT happen too is a useful skill, for example, if the football is floated in to the penalty area by someone yu have just tracked running down the sideline, where will it end up? Whoís going to be on the end of it? Which lens is going to be the right one to get that shot of the possible goal that follows? Which camera do I pick up to get it? These are skills that require a lot of practice to do well.
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