The most important element in sports and action photography is speed. Speed of the eye to capture the moment and speed of the equipment and settings to capture the image sharply. Most good sports images are taken when the subject is moving. Therefore quick reaction and close attention to shutter speeds are always essential.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a fast shutter speed has to be employed. Careful use of slower shutter speeds can introduce selective subject movement, enhancing the feeling of action in the image. One popular technique is ‘panning the subject’ which incorporates a slow shutter speed while tracking the action. This keeps the main subject sharp while blurring other detail in the image.
In order to get those breathtaking action photos, reaction and speed are only half of what is needed by the photographer. The other element is knowledge. The photographer has to know the sport or game he/she is photographing and know it well. With a familiarity to a sport, just like most subjects, the photographer develops the instinct of knowing what will happen next and where it may happen.
With some sports like motor racing, the subject will pass a certain point at regular intervals. This gives the photographer the chance not only to get a good sharp image, but also to use various techniques on the same subject as it comes back around. These could include panning and selective subject movement.
This image was taken at a motorcycle race which takes place on a track. The sense of action and speed is depicted very well in this image by background blur. What makes the image a success is that despite the blur caused by movement, the motorcycle and rider is sharp.
The technique used to create this image is called Panning. It is very commonly used in track sports where the subject will be passing a predetermined point. The advantage of this technique is the shutter speed needed doesn’t have to be very fast, so it can be used in low lighting conditions with medium ISO speed.
With many other sports, particularly those played on a field, it can be much harder to determine where and when the action will happen. Techniques such as follow-focus or pre-focusing are as essential as a fast shutter speed. This usually means using a fast ISO rating as well to help to get an acceptable amount of depth of field, which can be a problem when using a fast shutter speed in poor light.
Football is a fast moving game where the ball and players could turn from one direction to the next in a split second.
The photographer has to predict the best vantage points from which good action images can be obtained. Predicting the type of play, whether it is run or pass, will give the photographer a good idea of where to position his or herself.
Different sports require different approaches to obtaining good images. How to determine what way to photograph a particular sport, a very familiar knowledge of the sport, the players and sometimes the location is necessary.
We have a number of courses that will teach you all the techniques needed for sports photography such as our Creative and Freelance Photography Courses.