Q&A: Why do I choose to shoot sports photography?

Learning photography is a journey.   I’ve not met anyone that could wake up one day and say I’m going to be a “great” photographer by tomorrow, next week or next year.   There are so many different aspects to be considered when taking a photograph that every one of them cannot even be learned at the same time.  Some are technical, like getting sharp properly exposed images,  learning the post processing software to use, but many are creative and open to interpretation.   That last aspect is the real tough side of photography, putting your unique personal spin on your images.

In this case, I’m not talking about snapshots right now or phone photos for use in Social media.  I’m talking about a photo that someone would eagerly pay money to have a copy , that they could look at every day, or one you would be proud to hang on your wall or maybe it looks like an image on a magazine cover.  Learning all the different aspects of the photographic process needed to take unique attractive images takes time and lots of practice . It is often the case you will have to learn one layer of a process, before you even know about other things you need to consider and learn for the other layers of the process.  (Pardon the pun there, for those that are familiar with photoshop already.)  If you have been taking photos for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about?

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Sometimes you want your images to express movement using panning and slower shutter speeds

Depending on your subject and light, you may want to freeze all motion, or you may want to blur certain aspects of your image.  You may want to only parts of the image sharp and the rest smooth like butter using bokeh with a shallow Depth of field, or have the image in focus from front to back and have to use a tripod to hold the camera still to get the shot you wanted.  I could keep going about the different aspects that we have to learn, manipulate and control while learning photography, but things being out of control is why I choose to capture sports.  Getting a cool image when you cannot control the light or angle of a subject completely is fun.

That may sound odd, but there is a method to my madness.  I want to practice all the aspects of photography that I have learned and explore new techniques, and subject or aspects all the time.  At the same time, I want to challenge myself in order to grow.  With sports one of the best teaching aspects, is that you are out of control 99% of the time for multiple aspects of the shot.  You could be outside, in a gym, in water up to your chest, at the beach or in a field.   You cannot always control your distance to your subject if there is a fence or boundaries that you cannot cross.  Referees are always trying to keep me away! You often cannot control the speed of your subject or in many cases the direction it will move, or they direction relative to the light or sun.

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Barred owl at Magnolia Gardens that photographing sports helps me be ready to capture.

It also seems like it never fails, that the higher level of sport, the less the photographer can control regarding the photograph, the faster your subject moves and the less time you have to capture that moment. With many aspects of the creating the image out of your control, you have to use reliable practiced technique along with a solid understanding of photography principles to capture those fleeting moments and get good actions shots.  You have to have studied and know your subject you will be able to capture those emotional moments that come through from effort, focus, or relief.  The better you know your subject and are passionate about your subject, the better your images will be.

So I chose to capture sports to become a better photographer, expand my skills, practice exiting skills and techniques, and challenge myself to capture high quality creatively exposed images in a more consistent fashion.  At first, every sports photograph you take is a really a challenge to get in focus.  Since most photographers don’t start out with professional glass or fast glass, it can be even a greater challenge.   Starting out with faster glass or lenses that let in more light in for the shots.

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Getting the shot at noon in sports and getting a cool image is always a challenge.

After you start getting some shots in focus, then you can start getting the exposure correct and in sharp focus.  That is when it started to get fun.  Then you start exploring different compositions and angles depending on the sport.  Then you start to get close enough to fill the frame and getting some images you are really proud of taking.   After a while you will start to focus on limiting your depth of field for your focus on your subject to inches, less than a foot or a few feet,  depending on your subject.

Depending on your dedication and the amount you practice, eventually, you can walk up to any sport or location and “intuitively” know where to stand.  It is one of the most important aspects to know where the best place “to stand” that you are permitted access to get a great angle with the light at the best to get detail… or hightlights.  You might be laying down or up a ladder, so standing should be considered a loose term.  Next, you will “know” the approximate exposure that you want to start your shoot with to get the DOF you want.

I also found that setting your camera to a baseline configuration.  Set everything back to what you shoot most.   Use Lightroom and see what your camera is on most often and use that as your baseline.  That way you can make the setting changes without even looking at the camera.  Then you can start changing the settings from your baseline to get it where you want it for that shot.

Once setup, you can feel when the light changes, or a cloud passes between you and your subject, and adjust your exposure to compensate without looking or even loosing focus on your subject.   You can zoom in and out as a subject approaches you at 50 to 70 mph almost stops and then suddenly turns away. For example, going from 200mm down to 70 mm and back out to attempt to fill the frame for the best view of your subject if shooting with a zoom lens.

I like to say “three times” to myself when I try a new sport or photography subject.  I try to only need three times to shoot any sport or subject at any location, to get the most out of myself and my equipment.  To attempt to capture that magazine cover moment that makes people look twice at the image and sometimes take the time to really study an image.  They may only look at that special image for 10-15 seconds… but that is 7-10 seconds longer than they look at most images on social media.   Do I really need three times?  Heck no, at least not always, but it really depends on the sport, the location, and how many keeper images I want from each “competitor” or player in the sport.

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My 4th time taking MX photos, first race, and I could have chosen a better place to stand for many of my shots… to make the background better.  But I was able to get the images sharp where I wanted, but also use a slow enough shutter to blur what I wanted when panning on the bikes sliding through the turns.

I take photos of what I want, when I want, when I can!  As a non professional photographer with a real job during the week,  I have the luxury to  do so.  No one is paying me most of the time to take photos so I can take them anyway I want, but I practice hard and challenge myself every outing.  I’m only “competing” with myself, but every now and then I end up at a great location, with great light and a spectacularly amazing subject, sports related or not.  And with all my practice, I can see the photo in my mind before pulling out the camera and know what gear I need to use to capture that image, and can efficiently setup for the image to capture what I saw in my mind.



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