Improve Your Sports Photography

Usually when people ask me about getting better sports photos, the question is focused around what equipment to buy.  For this post, I want to provide advice for parents, students and aspiring photographers on how to improve sports shooting.

1) Get close.  The best thing you can do is physically move yourself as close to the action as you can.  Don’t rely on the equipment to do that for you.  A lot of my favorite shots are moments that happen before, after and in between action, and don’t require a long lens to capture.

Capturing emotion up close by physically standing near the subjects with a wider angle gives the viewer a sense of being right in the middle of the action, rather than viewing from afar.

Capturing emotion up close by physically standing near the subjects with a wider angle gives the viewer a sense of being right in the middle of the action, rather than viewing from afar.

This is a great shot to illustrate getting close.  That’s me looking like I’m about to get run over.  I made it out of the way.  It wasn’t until later that I actually got knocked down.  Obviously, I didn’t take this shot, so thanks to Matt Kryger of the Indy Star for sending this over.

2) Communicate.  Plan ahead and ask coaches about shooting before game day.  They’re happy to have other students and parents document the action.  Let them know what you’re hoping to accomplish.  If you’re upfront and low-maintenance, they’re usually very welcoming and help get you close to the action to get some great images of their team.  I say usually because some coaches can be intimidating.  If you’re nervous to approach a head coach, start with an assistant or the Athletic Director.  The AD is there as a liaison between the community, school and athletic department, so communication and approachability are typically strong suits.

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I was on site at for an IHSAA basketball sectional game about 1.5 hours early to touch base with the coach about shooting pregame in the locker room. Thanks to Arsenal Tech coach Jason Delaney (center) for being so welcoming.

3) Be patient.  The more people are used to seeing you around, the more you’ll start to blend into the background and find great candid images.  There’s always a period of adjustment where people will mug for the camera, so don’t be worried if that happens a lot at first.

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Students love to get right into the camera and ham it up, but that’s not what I want. I look for genuine reactions to what they’re watching. By hanging around near the student section for 5 minutes or so, they start to ignore me and go back to watching the game, providing me the real opportunity I’m seeking for a great photo.

4) Go early/stay late.  Before crowds arrive or after they leave can offer some interesting and unique moments that most people don’t get to see.  Another benefit is that you can experiment with shooting angles you couldn’t during a game, like standing center court (I almost typed center quart).

Shooting this angle during a game would be impossible. The camera was flat on the floor ON the baseline, which would probably get you kicked out if you tried it during the game.

Shooting this angle during a game would be impossible. The camera was flat on the floor ON the baseline, which would probably get you kicked out if you tried it during the game. This photo features Lawrence Central standout Kyle Guy.

Posing for a photo for moms & dads the state championship trophy.

Carmel High School swimmers posing for a photo for parents after winning the state championship. Shots with the whole team are nice to have, but seeing one or two athletes holding a giant trophy can make for an interesting photo.

5) Get back.  Ok, so I said to get close, yes, but then get as far back as you can to find a different perspective.  Show the arena/venue as a whole.  Some gyms have a track around the upper half that provides a unique angle.  Do something different.

This sectional matchup was absolutely packed. I had to get to the highest point in the gym to fully show the crowd.

This IHSAA sectional matchup between Lawrence Central and Arsenal Tech was absolutely packed. I had to get to the highest point in the gym to show the size of the crowd.

Cheerleaders warm up at the edge of the court before a game. This gym had a raised track that offered this great angle.

Pike High School Cheerleaders warm up at the edge of the court before a game. This gym had a raised track that offered this great angle.

6) DETAILS.  Keep an eye out for interesting details.  A piece of equipment, a message written on a shoe, eccentric clothing: Any small thing that catches your attention will probably make for an interesting photo.

I noticed this kid's shock of hair and thought it would make an interesting detail. Then when he ran is fingers though it, the photo really came together.

I noticed this kid’s shock of hair and thought it would make a cool detail shot. Then when he ran is fingers though it, the photo really came together.

I hope this post helps give some insight into how I work and gives some helpful advice as you pursue your hobby or potential career.  I always welcome questions through this blog or email!

Oh, and one note: All of these photos were from this year so far, except that cheerleader shot.  It was from 2015, but I hadn’t posted it yet and it’s my blog, so I’ll do what I want.

If you want to see a gallery of my basketball photos from 2016 through March 1st, here’s a link: http://www.zachdobson.com/IN-BBALL-2016/1

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