Sports photographers must record fast action, sometimes in unpredictable light, often from a distance, and regularly out of doors, where weather can be a factor. Sports photography is very gear intensive, so here's a guide to what you ought to be looking for.
Camera. Perhaps more than any other photographic discipline, sports photography requires a higher-end dSLR camera. Specifically, look for a camera that can capture at least four frames per second, has a buffer capable of holding at least 15 images and supports track- ing autofocus. Most dSLR cameras sold today support an ISO of 1000 and beyond and 1/4000 shutter speed or faster, which is plenty sensitive and fast enough for sports photography purposes. If it’s in the budget, and if you know you’ll be shooting in snow, near the water, or at outdoor events in which weather may be a factor, opt for a water-resistant camera, or even under- water housing for your camera body.
Lenses. Depending on where you are relative to the action and what type of shot you want to compose, you will need different types of lenses. For example, if you’re photographing a baseball game and you want to capture the entire field, you’ll need a wide-angle lens. To focus on a single player, or to isolate your object from the background, you should opt for a telephoto lens. Alternatively, use a fish- eye lens or a selective-focus lens for very dramatic images that exaggerate the scope of the environment or create other interesting effects. With cost being a major factor, many people opt for a variable aperture lens such as the 70–300mm f/4–5.6 rather than the 70–200mm f/2.8 for field sports. When starting out it’s a good idea to be prudent with both your budget and your photographic expectations.
Filters. If you are shooting an outdoor sporting event in bright sunlight, attaching a graduated ND filter onto your lens can help to balance overexposed areas of sky. You can use UV filters to cut through haze, which is sometimes a factor in outdoor competitions that take place in large urban areas. Many photographers also use UV filters to protect their lenses from potential scratches and marks.
Monopod. Especially if you are working with large, heavy lenses, a monopod can help you steady your shot, not to mention alleviate arm fatigue!
Protective gear. When shooting outdoor events, your camera is vulnerable to the elements. Using protective gear, such as covers for your camera and lenses, on a shoot can shield your equipment from such hazards as rain, snow, spray, and so on. Waterproof camera housings are also available.
Viewfinder Hood. If you are shoot- ing in harsh light, for example on the water or on a snow-covered mountain, it can be difficult if not impossible to see your LCD screen. Using a small rubber or plastic hood to view the screen can make it easier to see.
Bags. A rolling equipment bag is great for carrying gear to a shoot. A large fanny pack is also handy for holding your gear during the event.
Bulb blower and brush. Especially if you are shoot- ing somewhere dusty, such as at a horse track or a motocross event, you’ll need tools to clean the dust from your lenses and your image sensor.
Big Glass, Fast Glass
Unlike most amateur and semi-pro sports photographers, who typically use zoom lenses because of their relative versatility, some pro photographers — especially those who specialize in field sports such as football, where the action may be occurring some distance away — use very large (400mm or 600mm) fixed lenses. These lenses, called “big glass,” feature near- perfect optics and carry a hefty price tag. Unless you’re shooting elite or pro sports for which distance is a factor, they’re probably overkill.
In addition to big glass, some photographers also use lenses described as “fast glass.” A fast-glass lens is a zoom lens with a large aperture. Lenses with large apertures allow more light to pass through, enabling you to use a faster shutter speed. As such, fast-glass lenses generally allow for better shooting in low-light conditions. For example, a 70–200mm f/2.8 lens, or a 16–35mm f/2.8, or a 50mm f/1.8 lens.
Image Stabilized lenses (also known as Vibration Reduction) can help you reduce or eliminate out-of-focus shots caused by using a long telephoto lens, shooting from a distance, and/or employing a lower shutter speed due to low light.
Motorized sensors inside the lens detect small vibrations and shift the internal lens element in the opposite direction so it cancels out the motion, resulting in sharper images.
About the book
This is a short extract from Erin Manning's most recent book, Make Money with Your Digital Photography. I have a copy, and it's a great book indeed, full of tips, advice, and fantastic photos throughout. Well worth a closer look!
Unique for this book, as well, Manning features interviews by expert photographers for each chapter. In this one - the sports chapter - for example, she features two successful, yet very different sports photographers; Reid Sprenkel is an amateur sports photographer and Serge Timacheff is the chief photographer for the International Fencing Federation.
Most big book shops worth their salt will have a copy or two on the shelves. If they don't it may be that they have a couple of books tucked away under the counter. Smaller book shops should be able to order you a copy - all you need is to give them the ISBN number (It's 978-0470474310), and they'll sort you right out.