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Precision, speed and that little bit of luck – these factors make for the perfect sports photo. At a sports event, however, photographers’ possibilities are limited to ensure that athletes are not disturbed. A way to avoid this and still take great sports photos is through staged sports photo shoots. Here, the athletes are photographed in their familiar surroundings, but under conditions created by the photographer. We show you how such staged sports photos work best.
Preparations & ideas search for your sports photos
Staged sports photos give photographers the opportunity to plan the photo shoot in advance and familiarise themselves with the lighting conditions. Think in advance which sport you would like to photograph and what the photos should look like in the end. On the basis of these preliminary considerations you will then search for a suitable location. The typical training grounds for the respective sport are the best, but exotic locations can also underline your desired message. Please note to be there early on the day of the photo shooting in order to prepare everything and take test photos.
Portrait and calm movements – sports photography with a reflector
Many sports such as yoga or weight training are characterised by their calm and flowing movements. Here, the sports photographer has more freedom to adjust the settings of the camera and to take several photos from different angles. For outdoor use, the following camera settings can be helpful: shutter speed 1/400, aperture f5.6 and ISO 200. However, depending on the amount of sunlight and depth of field you want, you may need to experiment a little to get the desired result.
When composing the picture, be sure to always focus on the athlete’s face and capture his or her emotions. Guiding lines such as sports equipment or field lines create a harmonious image effect. When taking portraits, it is important to observe the basic rules and tips and to use typical sports accessories. A water spray can also replace sweat and give the picture that special flair.
When taking pictures outdoors, a reflector helps to illuminate the face better or to create desired contrasts. Here you need an assistant that holds the reflector in the correct position. To achieve unique lighting effects, it is worth bending the bounce a little: In a convex direction, a more concentrated light beam is produced, while a concave diffraction reflects the light over a wider area. In this way, well-lit sports photos can also be produced without the use of a flash.
Action and flash – Focus on fast movements
The correct focus setting on the camera is the key to sharp sports photos at fast speeds. It is important to select autofocus, switch to single focus and set the tracking mode. This will help you focus on the athlete’s face even during fast movements. Since every camera manufacturer uses a slightly different focus system, it is worth investing some time to find the right settings.
Sharp sports photos can also be taken with less powerful cameras if some settings are made:
- Correct autofocus settings
- High aperture values (e.g. f/5.6)
- Wide-angle focal length (12-24mm)
- Fast shutter speed (e.g. 1/1000)
With these settings, you can achieve a good depth of field, which can also compensate for the failure of the autofocus. The ISO settings depend on the lighting conditions. Pay attention to the histogram.
If you are preparing to shoot, it is worth using a flash, especially in low light conditions. For action sports, the use of an off-camera flash can be useful. This allows you to ideally illuminate a certain spot and freeze the movements of the athletes. In order to determine the optimum ratio between the power and brightness of the flash, you should try out which settings are necessary on the model. The continuous shooting function of your camera allows you to capture the best moment.
When taking sports photos, you should always try different perspectives, so you get different angles on the sport depicted. Try taking photos of the athletes from a worm’s-eye view, and they’ll look more powerful and impressive. Even an excessive use of the flash can achieve an extraordinary effect in post-processing. The photo shoot gives you the time and opportunity to try out different ideas.
Mastering indoor sports photos despite bad lighting
The lighting conditions in sports buildings are often not optimal. Therefore, try to choose a venue that is well lit for your photo shoot. Just like outdoors, flashlight can withstand difficult lighting conditions. However, if you don’t want to dazzle athletes, a tripod can be useful for taking sharp photos. In general, it is important to set the camera so that it takes sharp sports photos even in poor light and when there is a lot of movement. An aperture value of 2.8 and a shutter speed between 1/500 to 1/1000 – depending on lighting conditions – can produce the desired images. With these settings, a lot of light can come in, but the depth of field is reduced. If you want to increase the depth of field, close the aperture and either use a higher ISO value or increase the exposure time. Using the tracking focus also makes sense indoors, of course.
If you slightly underexpose your images, you can’t lose any image information and later set the best exposure manually when editing your RAW files. Since poor lighting often results in image noise, you can also reduce this in post-processing. You can also change the white balance here. Experiment with the depth and light settings to make the colours in the image glow. In the end, all you have to do is re-sharpen it and you’ll get action-packed sports photos in spite of poor lighting conditions.
Staged sports photography requires a little preparation in order to shoot really successful sports photos. Preferably look for a well-lit location and a motivated athlete who would like to do the same exercise for you a few times in a row. With the right camera settings you can freeze the fast motion sequences and capture the best sports moments. Try out how your camera, the natural light conditions and a flash can work together to capture the best sports photos.