Photographing sporting events provides an exciting and challenging opportunity for both amateur and professional photographers who wish to try new avenues of photographic expression and technical challenge. As the American photojournalist and National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson has been quoted as saying, “if you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff”. The exciting and fast moving action, colorful uniforms, the range of emotions and facial expressions running from sheer joy to heartbreaking disappointment, and the drama inherent in winning and losing all work to qualify sports as “interesting stuff”. For example, on the Professional Bull Riders tour, the battle between man and beast certainly qualifies as "interesting stuff".
Above: Professional Bull Rider Dylan Smith tossed by the bull, Mickey Mouse, at Madison Square Garden on Jan 4, 2020. Photo Credit Warren Rosenberg
For those looking to challenge their photographic skills, to try something a little different and outside of their normal comfort zone, sports photography is good place to look. While landscapes, portraits, still life and street photography are common subjects for many photographers, sports photography is a little different for most people and poses some unique technical and artistic challenges for photographers.
Determining What to Shoot
Most sporting events are characterized by fast moving plays that require the photographer to constantly be on the ready and able to anticipate action as it develops. On the field, court, track or other venue, there is frequently lots of action to choose from and you’ve got to be able to determine where you set your sights which camera settings to select to capture the best images. It is always helpful to know something about the sport you are shooting: what the important plays are that make the most compelling photographs, who the important players are, the rules of competition and any history between the competing teams to be able to focus on any long-standing rivalries between competitors. You should also pay attention to the sidelines and benches where some wonderful photo opportunities can be found of players cheering on their teammates, or coaches sharing private moments with their players. Be sure also to look for photo opportunities during the pre-game and post-game periods.
Above: Compelling sports photographs occur not just on the field or court. WNBA New York Liberty head coach Katie Smith on the sidelines.
Below: NBA G-League's Westchester Knicks dancer and mascot in a special moment off the court. Photos credited to: Warren Rosenberg
But realize that what is most important is capturing the competition of the event and what follows is some advice on how to get the best pictures. It is rarely helpful to shoot players from the back and photo editors for sports publications often reject images that don’t contain the players’ faces. As Rod Mar, team photographer for the NFL Seattle Seahawks and staff photographer for the Seattle Times writes in his instructive article on how to photograph football, “The essence of all sports photography can be captured in the old adage, often repeated by crusty old wire service editors to young wannabees: ‘two faces and a ball, kid, two faces and a ball’ ”.
Not only does the adage, “two faces and a ball” help make for great photographs but it is even better when those faces show human emotions such as intensity, anger or fear as is shown in the following image from a West Point Army women’s’ rugby game demonstrate the power of “two faces and a ball”.
Above and Below: Photo Credit Warren Rosenberg