You don’t have to have access to a Premier League football stadium or the Oval to take great sports photographs – there are many, much more accessible venues with fantastic photographic opportunities to be found all over the country. And what’s more, there are scores of amateur athletes who would love to have a picture of themselves in action – so it’s a win-win situation. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Camera and lens
You can shoot sport with just about any camera and lens but the most popular choices tend to be a DSLR or mirrorless system camera with a telephoto lens. These cameras, especially DSLRs, have fast focusing systems to get the subject sharp while a telephoto lens enables you to frame the subject tightly even if it’s on the far side of the pitch.
A 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (or equivalent) makes a great choice because it gives you some flexibility and the wide maximum aperture allows fast shutter speeds. Longer lenses such as a 300mm or 100-400mm can be very useful for field sports, when the action always seems to happen at the other side of the pitch.
Wide-angle lenses can be useful for creating very dynamic images if you can get very close to the action or for shooting images with context.
Shutter speed is usually the most important consideration when you're shooting sport and consequently shutter priority mode makes a sensible choice of exposure mode. It allows you to set the shutter speed while the camera takes care of the aperture value. If you also want control over depth of field, use manual mode so you can set the aperture as well.
You need a fast shutter speed to freeze fast-moving sport: 1/500 sec often makes a good starting point, but even then some elements like the feet of a football player may be blurred so you may want to go higher still. Alternatively, if you want to pan with the subject to blur the background you’ll want something slower: 1/125 sec can work well, but as you perfect the panning you may be able to go down to 1/30sec for even more blur.
Ideally keep sensitivity low, but in dim light you’ll need to push up the ISO value. If the sun keeps appearing and disappearing it’s a good idea to set the camera to Auto ISO mode so that it adjusts the sensitivity value for you.
While it’s possible to shoot sport with a manual focus camera, fast autofocusing makes life much easier. Set your camera to continuous autofocus (C-AF) so that the camera will continue focus for as long as you press the shutter release button.
In most situations you’ll also want to use continuous shooting so you can shoot a burst of images while your finger is on the shutter button. Not all cameras can focus continually at their very highest shooting speed, so check your manual to ensure you have the fastest speed with autofocusing.
If you need to shoot large numbers of images in a single burst you may find it helpful to switch to shooting JPEG only, as this gives most cameras a deeper burst depth.