(This is the 3rd in a 10 article series on becoming a photographer)
It's true what we say in fast action sports photography: if you see the player action that you want, you've probably missed it! Sports photography, however, stretches beyond the notion that viewer interest is limited to routine player action on the floor or field.
Sporting events are "theaters" of player action, fan reaction, game energy, and the spirited connection between all three. Human emotion, fully charged in the sports moment, is dramatic, and can turn an average game photograph into a great sports image that will be remembered for years to come. A popular broadcast TV sports slogan that once saturated sports TV airways for several years summed up the drama in sports in nine words - "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!" Sports photography is all of that.
So how does a photographer who wants to shoot sports get started?
Here's a get started "things-to-do" list for anyone who wants to become a sports photographer:
Basics - the camera, lenses, lighting, exposure and composition. Sports photographers should know their camera equipment and be able to make adjustments quickly. Lighting conditions vary in the sports photography world. Learn as much as about lighting as possible. Study exposure by turning off the automatic exposure camera feature and study basic exposure control relationships between the aperture and shutter speeds. View the work of other sports photographers in magazines or newspapers to get compositional ideas for the different types of sports. Fast-paced sports action, indoors or outdoors; in good or bad weather; in bright or dim lighting; in comfortable or strained shooting positions up close or far away from player action demands that sports photographers not only know these basics, but also know how to make quick adjustments on-the-fly as shooting conditions change. Play action doesn't pause and wait the photographer.
The sport, the teams, key players, and the fans. Become familiar with the basic rules of the chosen sports. If you aspire to rise to the college or professional level, learn as much as you can about the team and players that you'll be shooting. This information will be helpful to you, and be a great condidence booster. For example, a photographer who is aware that a particular football team likes to throw long passes on second down to its star receiver along the photographer's side of the field can move down the sidelines and secure a catch-zone shooting position before the herd of other photographers arrive. In golf photography, simply knowing if a golfer is right or left-handed will ensure that you are positioned on the appropriate side of the field. Knowledge is power.
Shot timing. Many photographers believe (including this author) that it takes great shot timing to capture great sports photographs. Timing reflects the act of snapping the camera shutter at or just prtior to the peak moment of action. It takes focused concentration to follow fast moving sports action, especially when using long telephone lens with its narrow field of view. Distractions naturally interfere with concentration. Preventable distractions due to insufficient equipment knowledge or assignment preparation will affect concentration and confidence. Shot timing improves over time as sports photography experience builds. In most communities, there are numerous opportunities to photograph park and recreational league sporting events. Contact the league office and go for it!
Rules and restrictions. At the college and professional level, sports photographers are faced with a host of photography rules and restrictions that are designed to contain photographers within specific shooting zones and minimize interference with the game and players. TV coverage of an event adds even more restrictions. Golf photography may top the list for its restrictions related to physical body movement, talking, equipment noise, shooting positions and shot timing. Always review photography rules and restrictions prior to the start of an event.
The right equipment. Purchasing new and expensive camera equipment in the early learning phase should be avoided. Use what you have to work through the things-to-do list long enough to know for sure that sporting events are really what you want to do. If you don't own a long telephone lens now, you may want to start off and develop expertise in a sport where player action is closer to camera shooting position. Pro-quality cameras are expensive.
Okay, luck does play a limited role in capturing great sports images. Being prepared in the right shooting position at the right time while shooting with the right camera and lens combination as a player makes a signature play certainly increases the chance of getting "the great shot". Be prepared.
Whern you think you're ready, contact s a sports league office, team public relations officer or league sponsor and introduce yourself and make them an offer to provide photography coverage. Marketing your services is something that will be covered in a future article.
Sports photography slideshow.