10 Tips for Better Sports Photography

Ever since picking up a camera at the age of 16, sports photography has been one of the top subject matters for professional British sports photographer, Jordan Weeks.

Jordan has worked in various areas of sports photography over the years, from swimming to running, cycling to surfing, and triathlon to hiking. He has produced photography for many top brand names, and is a regular contributor to various Magazines, and Travel Guides.

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Like many photographic subjects, sports photography is no different, in that to be good at it, you must know your subject matter like the back of your hand. Experience is your weapon of choice here.

However, to help you get started, Jordan Weeks has put together what are, in his opinion, the top 10 tips for taking better sports photographs. So get your camera gear ready, and start shooting like a pro sports photographer today…

1. Look for Inspiration

One of the best things you can do prior to grabbing your camera, and heading out on a shoot, is to look for inspiration. Flick through some magazines, check out some stock libraries, or just look at other photographers work. Looking for inspiration does not mean ‘copying others’, it simply means, look at other peoples photographs, see what they’ve created, and have a good think about what you like about their photos, and what you would have done to improve them. This is a great exercise to make sure that you know exactly what your aiming to achieve when you do head out and start snapping.

2. Understand Your Camera

This has to be one of the most important factors when it comes to sports photography. Knowing your camera, and all of its settings, is essential, especially if you are working with fast moving subjects, such as runners, cyclists, or motor sports. You’re going to need to change lenses quickly, change aperture or shutter speed like it’s second nature, and know your way around your digital camera’s menu settings. Obviously, the best way to get to know your camera, is to get out there and use it as much as possible.

3. Understand the Sport

This is very important. If you understand the sport which you are photographing, then you have a far better chance of taking the images which you plan to take. You need to be able to predict your subjects move, second guess them, and learn exactly when you need to hit that shutter button, to get the best results. Personally, I take this a step further, and physically participate in the sports which I photograph. I do this for one good reason… I believe that if I experience these sports first hand, I am then able to better understand the adrenalin, pain and emotion which my subjects experience. This understanding then allows me to  capture more realistic and accurate sports photographs, especially when working one on one with a particular athlete.

4. Get Up Close & Personal

One of the first things I did when I started my career as a professional sports photographer was to get rid of the classic misconception that sports photographers need big telephoto lenses. This was mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t in the position to buy one myself at the time. However, this enabled me to photograph my sports subjects from new, creative angles, and it also got me thinking more about the type of images I was able to create. My lens of choice, even today when shooting sports such as road cycling, mountain biking, running or  triathlon is a 17-40mm lens. I love the way a wide angle lens allows me to get in close to the action, capturing minute detail, and the athletes expression. Sometimes, I’ve gotten a little too close, and almost lost my equipment, but the end results are worth it (be careful if you do try this approach – as it’s not recommended for motor sports!).

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5. Off Camera Flash

This is a cool technique if you want to create dramatic sports portraits or sports action photos. Sometimes keeping your flash on camera can really give a stunned look to your subject. A few years ago, I started shooting using off camera flash, and created some fantastic photographs. It takes a bit of getting used to, and you need to understand your flash as well as your camera, but once you’ve cracked it, the results can be brilliant and unique.

6. Work With Your Subject

If you want to photograph athletes, it’s always a good idea to speak with them first and let them know what you are trying to achieve. Maybe show them some of the examples which you found during your ‘inspiration research’. This will enable them to work with you, in order to capture the sports photographs that you have in mind. It really does help, and you’ll be surprised at how much more creative your photographs and ideas will become.

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7. Plan Your Angles & Locations

If you’re planning a photo shoot, it’s important that you consider and plan the backdrop to your sports photographs. In my experience, this is just as important as the subject itself. I often head out a few weeks prior to a photo shoot, in order to work out the location, take a few sample shots, and figure out the best angles to shoot from, especially with regards to the sun. If I am shooting abroad, and am unable to plan to this extent, I usually research the locations online.

8. Shutter Speeds

Photographing sports does not always mean that you will be using high shutter speeds, which freeze the action. Try to experiment with slower shutter speeds which can help to emphasise movement and speed. It’s great fun to work with, and you can create lots of cool effects, which vary depending on the shutter speed, or how fast your subject is moving.

9. Tell a Story

One thing that I always try to do when photographing sports, is to tell a story. As temping as it may be to concentrate solely on the action, sometimes it’s the wider selection of images which are needed in order to build a good, strong body of sports photography. Try photographing portraits, close ups of equipment, sports lifestyle photographs, or scenes which are associated to the sports which you are working with. Basically you want your images to read like a book, and engage the viewer.

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