In Sports Photography Tutorial, Pt 1, I talked a little about how to get your camera setup to start shooting sports. In Sports Photography Tutorial Pt 2, I talked a little about the gear you need to start out with. In this edition of my tutorial, I am going to talk about positioning yourself to get great shots. Now I will issue this section with a disclaimer, I’ve only shot baseball, football and off road racing so your mileage may vary when it comes to shooting other sports, but some of the fundamentals I will talk about here will help you out in other sports.
The first rule and the most important rule when it comes to positioning yourself is SAFETY! How many times have you seen some photographer get ran over by football players or if you surf YouTube, you will find a photographer getting mucked out by a race car. When you are shooting sports, a lot of times you are putting your body and your gear out there to be damaged and destroyed. You need to be aware of the action while you are shooting. I will cover safety throughout this edition.
When I first lined up last year to go shoot a baseball game, I began my research over at The Photography On The Net Forums, specifically this forum. I also dredged up images of watching baseball as a kid and remembering where I would see the photographers.
There are some positioning options when it comes to baseball. You can work either baseline, or you can line up behind the triad of the batter, catcher and umpire and try to score freeze frame shots of the pitcher in action. With my old 75-300mm that I started with, I could stand along the first base line, and a little behind first base, and zoom in and get some good shots of the batter. Of course, if the batter is a lefty, then you can do the same from the third base line. I’ll cover more about shooting composition in the next edition of this tutorial.
In the preceding image, the red X’s denote good places to start when it comes to shooting baseball. Of course with the X’s in the outfield, a solid zoom is definitely needed. My first couple of games that I shot, you could find me on either baseline, but the fields I shot at were not real accommodating if I wanted to get behind home plate. This year, I will be experimenting a little bit. Since baseball was my first go around, a lot of my shots were mediocre and this year, I want to up my game a little bit.
When it comes to safety when shooting baseball, you always need to be aware of where the ball is. Surf the ‘Net and you can find plenty of images of the outcome of a baseball and high dollar glass. Not a good thing. You really don’t have to worry much about the players, as you will find yourself on one side of the fence and the players on the other side.
I also shot some football last year and plan on shooting some more this year. I’m sure my story follows along the stories of other photographers. I got bit by the bug, which had been festering for years, stepped up to a decent DSLR with the only intention of shooting one genre, then finding ourselves shooting another genre and that is me in a nutshell photography wise. I have fallen in love with shooting sports.
Just like with baseball, I conjured up images of football games and where did I see the photographers standing. I also surfed the POTN Forums for football images and I was off to shoot football.
The games I shot, I was on the field. I ended up being contacted by the organization at the first game about my presence, and was informed they had tightened down their rules about photographers on the field because of an incident the preceding season between a photographer and a coach, which brings me to this point, you are in someone else’s house. They have control over the domain and we, as photographers need to work around them without being a nuisance. Even though I was in an unofficial capacity with one of the teams, I wouldn’t stand in the middle of them. The good thing was it was a kids’ league, so sometimes I would stand behind the team and shoot above them, but for the most part, I would stand away from the team.
In football, the sidelines have a designated area that the team is supposed to stand, and this actually works in favor of the photographer as the best places for us to shoot from are located outside of this area.
The red areas on the graphic denote the general area a photographer wants to setup shop when it comes to football. Using a lens that can reach out to 300mm, a photographer can use the power of the zoom to get their shots without becoming a hindrance to the ongoing game.
Whereas with baseball where you don’t have to watch out for the players all that much, being on the field in football is different. There are no barriers and no fences that form a buffer between you and the player. There’s plenty a photographer out there that has been smashed by a player that went out of bounds. Even though our eye is glued to the viewfinder, we usually have that viewfinder glued to the action, therefore we should be aware of where the action is going. Sometimes though, that doesn’t happen. Be aware at all times where the action is heading and if it looks like you might become a part of it, pop smoke and move.
Racing, off road racing to be exact, is a whole different animal. Depending on the promoter and the race, it’s just like football, you are out on the field with the gladiators. This time though, the players are way bigger, way faster and can put on a whole lot more hurt than a football player. Even listening to an expert photographer that shoots on F1 tracks, there is still danger lurking. With off road racing, a lot of races are wide open. Surf YouTube for Baja 1000 videos and you can see how intimate the fans can get with the action.
With the preceding image, it appears that I have broken a major rule when it comes to shooting racing, DO NOT POSITION ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE TURN!!! You can see from this image that there is another shooter that is positioned on the inside of the turn, and I’m positioned outside. This shot was taken at the start of the race and I’m actually on top of a small rise that offered protection to me, not to mention at this point in the race, the vehicles did not carry enough speed to present any danger to me.
In racing, you want to go where the action is. When it comes to a bonafide race track, there’s not many options. With something like off road racing that is away from a race track and is out in open country, then you options just became many. People like shots of vehicles getting air time, so jumps are a popular option. If you can scout the course before the event, do it. For something like off road racing, transportation is a must. The last two events, I was limited in transportation, so I made the best out of what I had.
A few hours before this shot was taken, the shooter pictured and myself went to the qualification area and on our way back, I found the perfect place that was within walking distance of the start, yet promised to offer me some quality shots.
In this totally awesome graphic that I made up, I show how I setup for that area, which was a mud hole in the middle of the track. The light brown is the track itself, the darker brown is the mud hole, the large red area on the left is the danger zone and the red X is where I positioned myself. The graphic is nowhere to scale, but I was at least 75 yards off the track. I also angled so I could capture the front of the side of the vehicles.
When it comes to racing, a lot times the vehicle is on the edge. It can take just the slight bump to knock the vehicle out of control. With this particular mud hole, there was a slight curve and there was a couple of times a race car came through and the vehicle would slide. When they did slide, they slid away from me. When you get on the track, always be aware of your surroundings and when you find your spot, do some mental imagery to visualize if a vehicle goes out of control, where is it going to go.
Hopefully this primer will give you ideas on how you want to position yourself when it comes to shooting sports, along with the danger factor that you will always need to be aware of. In the next and last edition of this tutorial, I’m going to go over post processing sports images.