Point & Shoot: Sports

Panning will depict a feeling of motion in your pictures.

Photo by Kara Kleimann

Look for unique angles from which to shoot action.

Photo by Polly dodson

Using the sports mode on your camera will freeze action.

Photo by Jimmy Chen

Fill the frame with your subject whenever possible.

Photo by Ivana Jeskova

Children in sports make cute, candid subjects.

Photo by James Bitten

Capturing Sports Action

If you love shooting sports—whether it's a children's Little League or professional Major League game—timing is everything. Grabbing the shot at just the right moment takes a lot of practice, patience, and film (or a large-capacity memory card). You can do this, even with a simple point-and-shoot camera.

If your camera has a built-in zoom lens, zoom it out to a telephoto setting or try to get close to the action. Professional sports photographers use very long lenses, but point-and-shooters don't have this luxury. Fill the frame with your subject whenever possible. When you look through the viewfinder, avoid placing your subject dead center with a lot of wasted space around him or her. If you're photographing a batter at the plate, shoot with your camera in a vertical format as well as horizontal for compositional variety.

If you're shooting with a film-based camera, use a fast film (like ISO 400-1600) to freeze the action. You might also utilize your camera's sports mode, if it has one (this is usually indicated by an icon of a running figure on your camera's shooting mode dial). The action mode will enable you to shoot a series of pictures in rapid succession—your chances become greater that you'll capture the peak of action in one of them.

Professional sports photographers learn to anticipate the action. Situations like a baseball player sliding into home plate in a cloud of dust, or a basketball player in midair while making a slam-dunk, make for dramatic photos. Getting acquainted with your favorite sport will help you understand what to expect, and learn to anticipate when peak moments will occur. Watch and wait through the lens, and be prepared to shoot quickly.

Fortunately, today's autofocus cameras can free you up to concentrate on the action of sports photography, without worrying whether your picture is in focus or not. In many cases, you can't snap a photo until the focus locks on.

Another way to depict speed and motion is by panning, or following the action while shooting your picture. A successful panning shot will render a sharply recorded subject against a blurred background. Set your camera at a slower shutter speed (or on its landscape mode if you can't control the shutter speed). A slow film speed, like ISO 100, will also help. Simply follow the motion of the subject through your viewfinder while gently pressing the shutter release. This technique takes a lot of practice, because it's almost impossible to predict what you'll get, but the results are worth it.

Besides shooting the action out on the field, look for candid opportunities like the crowd reaction in the stands, or the faces of team members after a successful play. And remember, defeat is as much a part of a sporting event as victory is.

Whenever possible, look for a unique vantage point from which to shoot. For example, get behind a goal net and shoot through it (just be sure you're at a safe distance), or get into the bleachers and shoot down on the field for an overall view. You'll want to use a telephoto setting for photographing people, and then set your zoom lens on wide-angle to take in expansive views.

Sports photography can entail a variety of scenarios, so be creative. Shoot close-ups, overall views, groups and individuals, and before, during and after the game. Even a photo of helmets tossed on the field or a discarded program can tell much about a particular sporting event.

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