Yourself for Sports Photography

Sports accessories

If you are taking photos outdoors during the daylight (maybe an afternoon soccer game or a local swim meet), you can use almost any DSLR that has a capture frame rate of at least five pictures per second and less expensive lenses. Cameras like the EOS 80D and EOS 7D Mark II have the ability to capture seven or ten frames per second, respectively, and are perfect for photographing the peak of action at local sporting events. But any camera that can shoot at about 3fps or faster will be a good starting point, as you get into sports photography.

For most sports, when I want to freeze the action, my goal is to shoot at a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th sec. This works well for almost all sports other than bobsled, where they are traveling at crazy fast speeds. Since most daytime outdoor sports provide a lot of ambient light, it is not a necessity to have the biggest and fastest lenses to capture images at fast shutter speeds. You can keep your ISO at a reasonably low setting (maybe around ISO 200 or 400), and achieve those fast shutter speeds with relatively lightweight, moderate-aperture zoom lenses.

One of the most important elements of gearing up for sports photography is your choice of lenses. The size of the playing surface, the distance you’ll be from your subjects, and the light you’ll be shooting in all play a part in making good choices here, along with your budget and so on.

For outdoor sports on larger playing fields, such as soccer, baseball or softball, and football, you need more telephoto power for effective, “tight” shots from the sidelines. Lenses like the EF-S 55–250mm, or the longer EF 70–300 lenses (there are several options in the 70–300mm category) will give you a lot more reach, to fill the frame with athletes. In daytime, their relatively modest f/5.6 maximum lens apertures won’t be a problem, as long as you’re not shooting in deep shade, or late in the day at dusk. On overcast days, expect to use higher ISOs to maintain the fast shutter speeds you need. Don’t be shy about using ISOs like 800 or 1600 if the light isn’t ideal, with these lenses.

Indoors, you need to think about lenses that let more light into the camera. Fortunately, there are some affordable options here. For sports like basketball, if you can position yourself under a basket (usually off to one side, so you’re out of the referee’s way), a lens like an EF 50mm f/1.8 is a wonderful way to suddenly “turn the lights on,” so to speak — it lets much more light into the camera than a standard zoom lens will.

A lens that’s affordable, but provides that elusive combination of added reach and still lets a lot of light into the camera, is the EF 85mm f/1.8. Like the 50mm just mentioned, it’s not a zoom — but especially with cameras using smaller APS-C size image sensors, it’ll give you added telephoto power, for sports like gymnastics, where you can’t get right up to the athletes.

photographers tend to put our cameras through some abuse and for that reason, I highly recommend cameras with metal bodies and shutters designed with added durability, for high-volume sports shooting. For the more experienced sports photographer I would recommend either the EOS 7D Mark II or the EOS 5D Mark IV. The 5D Mark IV for sports? I like using the 5D Mark IV because now that the 5D can fire off at seven frames per second and has the increased resolution of 30.4MP, it has become a solid contender for this type of photography. Both of these cameras also handle high ISO shooting nicely for situations where you are shooting in low light.

For someone getting serious about their sports photography, stepping up to lenses with wider apertures (for low-light work), and sometimes to longer focal lengths, can change the look of your sports pictures. Investing in the right lens(es) can be a key element in raising your sports photography game.

The best choice of lenses to use really depends on which sports you are wanting to shoot and how close you will be to the action. If you are very close to the action, then a wider lens can provide some great shots with the athletes appearing large in the frame. You see this a lot in football, where the photographers will carry a secondary camera with a 16-35mm lens to capture images of the players’ touchdown celebrations, which are often just feet from the photographer on the sidelines.

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