Sports photography can be very challenging. You’re photographing fast-moving subjects, and often in difficult light conditions like dim stadiums or harsh outdoor light. And unlike landscapes or portraits, you can’t just go for a second take if you make a mistake.
If you’re new to digital photography and just learning how to take better sports photos, this article can help. We’ll discuss how to pick the right camera, select the best settings for different kinds of environments, and increase your chances of getting that “winning shot.”
How To Pick The Best Camera For Sports Photography
Some camera features can make it easier to take clearer, crisper shots even if you’re photographing split-second moments, or tracking the movement of several players on the field. If you’re choosing between cameras, here are some specs to watch out for:
- Frames per second (FPS). This is the number of pictures that your camera can capture in a single second. The “minimum” frames per second really depends on the sport, but as a general rule, you need to be able to take at least 5 to 7 FPS to avoid missing that important moment.
- Shutter lag. There is nothing more frustrating than pressing the button and wasting several precious seconds before the camera actually takes a photo. That can spell the difference between capturing the brilliant dunk shot, or an empty half court.
- Focus performance. The best cameras for sports photography should be able to focus on multiple points and focus quickly. Without this, you’ll end up with hundreds of blurry shots.
- Zoom performance. You won’t always be able to get front-row seats at the stadium. Many times, you’ll be capturing your athletes from a distance.
- Continuous shooting. At the game’s most exciting moments, you may be taking dozens of photos in succession. Continuous shooting refers to how many pictures your camera can take before it has to pause to process the batch.
Top Pick For Sports Photography: Canon 80D
Photography pros and enthusiasts name the Canon 80D as one of the most powerful and reliable cameras for taking pictures of sports and other live events.
First of all, it’s one of the fastest cameras in the market. It can take 7.0 frames per second, well above the minimum requirement for fast-moving subjects. From runners breaking the finish line to a brilliant tennis serve, this camera can keep up with the athletes.
The Canon 80D also has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000s. This offers two obvious advantages when you’re photographing sports events. First, it will freeze any action into one crisp photo. Second, you can use a fast aperture to help prevent overexposure if you’re under direct sunlight.
As for its focus performance, you can’t ask for anything more. It has 45 focus points and cross-type sensors that will help you quickly and precisely lock onto the fastest-moving subject. Whether you’re photographing sprinters or ballet dancers, the Canon 80D is ready for the action.
Photography enthusiasts also say the Canon 80D performs well in low-light conditions, and has anti-flicker feature that helps minimize the noise created by flashing stadium lights. And since it’s weather sealed, you can confidently bring it to outdoor events where you risk being splattered with water, dirt or dust.
Now that you’ve got the equipment, now get the game plan: here are some pro tips and tricks to getting great sports photos.
Select Aperture Priority Mode
While the Canon 80D’s manual mode gives you full control over your photo, it’s impractical to constantly fiddle with your camera settings during a sports event. The best option is to use Aperture Priority (Av).
Aperture affects how much light the camera can take in. The more light it has, the faster the shutter speed becomes. You can freeze the action, while still making sure that the images are crisp and colorful.
Calculate The Right ISO
If you are photographing an event in a dimly lit stadium, or if the sky is overcast, you need to increase your ISO. Photography pros recommend an ISO of 800 to 1200.
Very high ISO settings can increase the noise in the image. But powerful cameras like the Canon 80D have noise reduction features that let you push up the ISO and still get a high-quality shot. And when it all comes down to it, a grainy photo is still better than a blurry one.
Account for movement when you frame your photo
One of the most common mistakes of sports photography is putting the subject in the center. That also breaks the oft-quoted Rule of Thirds, and usually leads to very boring and predictable photos. But it is a big no-no when you’re taking pictures of a rapidly moving subject. If you don’t give any space around the subject, you could accidentally end up cropping too closely.
So when you take a sports picture, allot plenty of room around your subject. You can always crop it more neatly in post-production.
Use The Burst Mode
The Canon 80D can let you take several photos in a sequence, which is a pretty useful feature when you’ve reached the most exciting moments in the game. When you know that the action is about to speed up, turn on the Burst Mode or increase frames per second. And don’t worry—you can trust this powerful camera to literally keep track of things. With its multiple autofocus points, it can precisely follow the movements of several players and yield perfect shots, every time.
Shoot From A Low Angle
Have you ever noticed that many professional sports photographers kneel at the courtside? That’s because this position helps them better backgrounds, more dramatic angles, and increases the depth of the picture. They’re also able to use their feet and knees to keep themselves (and the camera) steady while they shift from one angle to another. It’s more practical than bringing around a bulky tripod.
That being said, you’ll spend a lot of time during the game contorting into odd positions. But with the Canon 80D touch screen LCD, it’s easy to adjust the angles and still have full control over the camera menu.
The Early Bird Gets The Photo
Go to the venue early to find the best position for getting good, clear pictures of the game. Do a few test shots so you can already select the best camera settings. If you’re outdoors, try to get a spot where the sun hits your back. This ensures that you already have the best natural light hitting the players, so you can increase your shutter speed without getting dark, blurry images.
If you’re going to a professional sports event, it’s also important to know about any rules and permits you may need to take photos. And the more equipment you bring, the more security personnel are going to ask questions. That’s why it’s sometimes easier to bring a powerful camera like the Canon 80D, which can take good photos without the need for many lenses and accessories, since it’s less likely to attract attention.
Tell The Full Story
The best sports photos don’t just capture the winning goals, but all the fascinating details and emotional moments that happen during a sports event. Go there early to take “behind the scenes” photos of the players warming up, or interesting shots of sports gear of fan paraphernalia. During the game, take pictures of the crowds, the coaches and the interactions of the players. Use the Canon 80D’s powerful zoom feature to get close-ups of their expressions and gestures. These all help capture the energy and human drama that make sports so riveting to watch.
Film The Moment
You can get really good videos with the Canon 80D. Its Movie Servo AF mode can track different subjects at different distances. Its powerful Face Tracking priority intuitively locks on to the most important subjects even in very cluttered or rapidly changing scenery. You can also select AutoFocus speed and the tracking sensitivity.
Alternatively, you can select the HDR Movie Mode if you want to have more highlight and shadow detail. For better audio recording, you even have built-in headphone and microphone jacks.
Practice At Home
Athletes spend months doing drills and practice games before they actually join an important tournament. In the same way, you can hone your photography skills before the Big Event. Take pictures of any rapidly moving subject—kids biking, pets running in the backyard, or the pigeons in the park. Experiment with the settings for different times of day or distances.
Also, learn as much as you can about the sport. If you know the rules of the game, you can anticipate where the ball and the players are going to be. Sometimes, even researching about the players and their usual “game techniques” can help you anticipate how they’ll behave on the court. This knowledge can help hone your photographer’s instinct, and know exactly where to point the camera.