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Getting started in sports photography - beginner's guide
Reading time: 10 minutes - April 24, 2024 - by Markus Igel

Camera Basics #21 - The best guide 2024 for sports photography | beginner's guide

We confidently say that this post is one of the best ever for sports photography. In this guide, we also try to cover the different equipment decisions and how to find the perfect settings.

We look forward to your feedback on this article! Just send us an e-mail to content@fotokoch.ie

The demands on the camera

Action and sports photography demands many criteria that your equipment should fulfill so that you can capture the perfect moment.

  1. Weatherproof: The camera and lens should be as weatherproof as possible, as the weather conditions at sporting events can be unpredictable: 40°C and sunshine without clouds or sleet at 3°C; this is a challenge for your equipment!
  2. Your camera should be able to take at least 10 pictures per second so that you can capture the moment. Ideally, your camera should take 20 or more pictures per second
  3. Due to the often dark lighting situations that you are exposed to with your camera, the camera should have a fairly good ISO performance so that you can achieve reasonable results with acceptable noise behavior in the higher ISO range
  4. In the best case scenario, the autofocus should work with phase hybrid autofocus so that you have fast, reliable and responsive autofocus. AI support also makes it even easier to work, so you can concentrate more on the image composition
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Settings you can use for orientation

If you need a quick idea for sports and action photography, these settings are very useful for orientation:

  • Switch on continuous shooting function, At least 10 frames per second
  • Use the camera in M or shutter speed priority
  • For images with frozen motion, use an exposure time of 1/1000 or faster
  • For shots with movement, set your camera to 1/30, this takes some practice to get the dragging effect
  • When choosing the ISO value, you must react to the given situation, it is best to set an initial value and go slightly above this to allow for flexibility in the exposure time without correcting the value
  • Use the autofocus in continuous leading, otherwise the autofocus will not be at the right point during movement
  • Set the white balance to automatic or, if you have a gray card, use it beforehand (works especially well for indoor sports)

Which lenses are suitable for sports photography?

There is no general answer to this question because the lenses depend on the sporting conditions, as indoor sports rely heavily on wide-angle lenses as well as telephoto lenses. A perfect all-rounder is, for example, a classic 70-200mm or the 35-150mm.
Zoom
lenses are one of the easiest tools to get a good image section in the camera.

For sports that are shot from the edge of the field or from a relatively fixed perspective, such as water sports and motor sports, longer focal lengths from around 300mm are particularly suitable. Ideally, the lens is compatible with a teleconverter so that you can extend the focal length up to twice as far. For sports such as athletics or handball, it makes sense to work with a 70-200mm.

For sports such as downhill mountain biking and parkour, it makes sense to work with a 16-35mm and a 70-200mm. The wide angle gives you a very dynamic perspective. With a fisheye lens, the distortion makes the image even more dynamic.

As you can imagine, it makes sense to work with two camera bodies, as you lose less time changing lenses and don't miss a moment. It doesn't even directly depend on the sensor size of your cameras, because if your second camera has an APS-C sensor, for example, you can use the crop factor to extend the telephoto focal length without a teleconverter and thus get even closer to the subject.

The most important factors for sports photography

Know the rules of the sport, so you can better assess where in the game it gets emotional or where the best scenes take place. This allows you to react better and more intuitively to the game and also pick up the audience for the pictures.

Sport thrives on emotions, and organizers and spectators alike are happy to receive photos of the entire event. If the organizer has something of the photos, you can possibly approach them for a subsequent date to see if you can get permission to take photos at another event.

This brings us to one of the most important topics: accreditation. Many events no longer allow just any photographer to come to an event. This is not only for the safety of the event, but also to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is because accreditation usually gives photographers/videographers different access to an event than normal visitors are allowed.

Especially in motorsports, the requirements are very strict, here there are sometimes even size specifications for the various focal lengths that your equipment must not exceed, otherwise you will not be allowed to participate in the sporting event.

We've already touched on it, we want to go into a little more detail about finding the right position for the best perspective: this includes understanding the dynamics of the game and keeping an eye on the audience, but you should also keep an eye on them in sports that have a coaching team and a players' bench. In other words, you should find at least one spot that fulfills some of the requirements, as the audience perspective is usually lost in the process. Here it is exciting to keep an eye out for a second spot.

By the way: the higher sports leagues have regulations for the minimum brightness requirements in the hall (measured in lux) or on the pitch. There is not only a reason for this for the players, but also a particularly good reason for the requirements in broadcasting. So that every viewer behind the TV gets a good quality picture.

Getting started in sports photography

It usually starts with the local sports clubs, but you usually quickly build up a network. Some sports photographers found their way back into sports through their children and wanted to document the moment, especially in competitive sports, one thing quickly leads to another and you are already photographing your first sporting event.

You should always be aware that as a photographer in general, you are a storyteller. In the best case scenario, you'll capture the moments of the day like the real pros.

Tips for mountain bike photography from Paul Kopp

Paul has been a mountain bike photographer for several years and has gained a lot of experience in this field, so we asked him for his three best tips:

  1. Plan the shot in advance
    Choose the most "exciting" route, roughly plan the movement, speed and trick to get the subject right and make sure you capture the most important moment.
  2. Use a fast shutter
    I usually use a shutter of 1/800-1/2000, so you make sure that you always get the driver in focus despite the high speed (slow shutters can also be used as a stylistic device, e.g. pan)
  3. Play with perspectives/angles
    In sports photography, you have to try to emphasize the riders with exciting angles/perspectives to create an even more "blatant" WOW effect for the viewer. (Shoot through e.g. tall grass, branches, leaves or something else)

Paul's social media profiles
Instagram
TikTok

Which cameras can we recommend?

Apart from the technical factors already mentioned, we would of course like to introduce you to some suitable cameras for sports photography.

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What accessories do I need for sports photography?

There are a number of accessories that vary greatly depending on the equipment and the type of sport. Tripods are a classic for photographers with long telephoto focal lengths. We give you a colorful mix of recommendations here.

Blackrapid R-Strap - camera strap for two cameras

You can certainly carry two cameras with one camera strap tied around your neck, but it is much more comfortable with a strap that can carry several cameras and ensures appropriate weight distribution. Your back will thank you the next day!

Sirui monopod - for the long telephoto lens

Working on the edge of the pitch makes your arms heavy in the long run, but if you want to add some dynamics to your positions, this tripod is one of the best we can recommend. The long feet provide a stable stand for your tripod. A very good addition here is a video head, as it allows you to pan very well, or a ball head. If you tighten this and loosen the lower ball head, you have the camera attached at the top and the joint at the base can be used to pan or even compensate for a tilt. The easiest and probably the most tried and tested way to use the camera on a monopod with a telephoto lens is to attach the lens to the tripod with a tripod clamp.

Manfrotto 502 Pro Fluid Video Panhead - When you also want video!

If you don't just want to take photos on the sidelines, but also a few video recordings, we can recommend this video head! It offers everything you need and has a good load-bearing capacity.

A folding stool is a must

No matter how you look at it, sporting events cost a significant amount of energy, which is why we recommend a folding stool as a gadget! Combined with a tripod, you can get an interesting perspective and still get some rest. B.I.G. offers a folding stool in many different designs, which is why we recommend it for you!

For emergencies - rain cover

Equipment can now withstand a lot, but you don't always have to overstretch your luck. If the lens is not water-protected, this gadget makes all the difference.

Battery case + charging cradle with memory card case

This case offers space for 3 batteries, which can also be charged via USB C, as well as space for 3 SD cards, 2 micro SD cards and 2 CF Express cards. Super space-saving and an effective tool for your photography!

What you should always have in your backpack

If you are photographing sporting events over several hours and in RAW format, be aware that you will quickly produce several 100 GB of image material. It makes sense to plan with at least two 128 GB cards, especially if your camera has over 30 megapixels, because the more megapixels your camera has, the larger the file size of the images will be.

If you are aware of this, it also makes sense to always have an emergency cleaning kit in your backpack to blow the odd speck of dust off the sensor in an emergency. The topic of power is also always a tricky one, as mirrorless system cameras in particular consume a lot of power and it is better to carry more than too few batteries. We recommend having at least four batteries to hand in your bag. If your camera supports a battery grip, this is also a useful addition, as you will be interrupted less often when taking photos to change the battery.

Conclusion

Sports photography is a very emotional and challenging type of photography and demands a lot from the photographer's mind. If you look at the aspects: Understanding the game, image composition, game +& spectator observation, it takes quite a bit of energy to document a game. We cynically said at the beginning that you would only need this post, which is correct so far, but we want to turn this into a whole series that will then specialize further in different sports and invite photographers to share their experiences with you.

A little task for you:

First of all, take a look at the data sheet. What can your camera do? Once you've done that, find the first event or a local sports club and try out the tips!

Show us your pictures on Instagram and/or Facebook and tag us @fotokochde! We look forward to seeing your results!


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