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Sports Photography Tutorial, Pt 3


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.


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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.



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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.

sayre4400 (14)

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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.


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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.  


Sports Photography Tutorial, Pt 2

In Part 1 of my Sports Photography Tutorial, I covered some basic settings and how I came about learning them.  With this section, I’ll cover the topic of equipment.  Now please remember that this tutorial is from my viewpoint and what works for me in my short time shooting sports.

First off is a given, the camera.  I’m a Pentax shooter, but I’m not a Kool-Aid drinker when it comes to camera brands.  Even though I run a beginner level camera, I do pretty good with it and at this point, I’ve got more game than the camera does, so at some point in the future, I’ll be moving on up to a better model and yes, I will stay with Pentax.

Some of the things you want to look at in a camera is the continuous drive rate(how many frames the camera will shoot).   An easy place to find this information is at Digital Photography Review.  This site has hundreds of reviews and camera specifications.  You can also pick out several different models of cameras and compare their stats side by side.  Now your mileage will vary with this number, and my limited experience between what’s stated and real world is in the real world, you will get another shot or two more if you turn off some of the in camera post processing.  For my KX, the continuous drive rate is listed at 2 f.p.s., which is a true statement if I leave some of the in camera post processing turned on.   If I turn those options off, and it’s not a big deal with me anyway, the f.p.s. will go up by several shots.

Why is the continuous drive rate important?  The higher the number, the more shots you will be able to rattle off before the camera has to enter into buffering mode to write those images to the memory.   In sports shooting, the shots are not posed and you’re not telling the subjects of the image where they need to be.  You’re following the action and clicking the shutter running up the number of images in hopes of getting a good shot, which if you know the sport and can anticipate and/or follow the action, you will be rewarded with a great shot.


F/8, 1/1000 sec, ISO 400

In that shot, I didn’t even know I got that shot until I drove home for 3 hours and started downloading memory cards from the event.    I was setup watching a mud hole on the track and when a car would come out of the trees, I would hold down the shutter and pan across the track with the vehicle.

The best thing you can do for keeping up shooting speeds outside of turning off in camera post processing is buying quality memory cards.  I could fill up an entire blog entry or three just on the subject of memory cards, but I won’t.  Several words of advice though, DO NOT BE A CHEAPSKATE when it comes to memory cards, especially when shooting sports.   The memory card you use will need to have fast write times so the camera can continue shooting.

When one looks at memory cards, there is usually a lot of numbers printed on it.  There will usually be the brand name, model, memory size, write speed and a number that is encircled.    The first four is pretty self explanatory, but that last number might be a mystery to some folks.  Simply put, that number is the Class the card is in, whether it be Class 4, 6, 10 or some other number.  Those numbers, usually the higher the number, the faster the card, but there is a catch.  If you look at a performance chart such as those found at Tom’s Hardware, you can find Class 4 cards performing at the same speed as a Class 10 card.  User beware, not all cards are the same!

I went the same route when researching cards that I do just about everything else, I looked on the Internet.  When surfing photography forums, I found that SanDisk cards have a real good reputation for performance and reliability.  SanDisk cards also have a price tag to match.  For sports shooting, my primary cards are the Extreme 30MB/s Class 10 and 20 MB/s Class 8 cards.  I also have some 15MB/s Class 4 cards as backups just in case.  I only have those because I needed more cards and I cannot find high speed cards locally, so I have to buy online.    I wouldn’t hesitate in using Lexar or Kingston cards either if I had to.

I will throw out this little warning when it comes to buying memory cards online, stay away from EBay.  I only purchase my cards from Adorama, B and H and Amazon.  Memory cards are easily counterfeited by any Joe Schmoe and EBay being EBay, the place is flooded with counterfeit memory cards.

Let’s talk lens for a moment.   I won’t spend much time here, but you need to be aware of a few things when it comes to choosing a lens or three.  You can surf around the web and see different shooters using different lens, but when it comes to outside sports such as football, racing and baseball, you will usually see a big honking lens on the end of the cameras the pros use.  You need to have reach.  You cannot be behind the catcher at home plate shooting the pitcher, and you definitely can’t be standing in the center of the start/finish at Daytona.   You need to have reach.  Your indoor sports are somewhat different and I see lens in the range of 28mm-70mm being used.

I started shooting sports with an old Sigma 75-300mm that I bought off EBay.  I shot baseball, football and off road racing with it.  It worked and worked well.  I recently picked up a new Sigma 70-300mm and it will work just fine for what I do.  Now if you are like me and like to see what other people use, feel free.  I’ve seen pictures of shooters using 400mm prime lens and the other night, listening to a podcast featuring F1 Racing Photographer Darren Heath, he listed a 600mm prime with a 2x teleconverter in his arsenal. WOW!!!

If you are outdoors, during the day, you don’t need to run F/2.8, but if you can afford a lens in that category, by all means go for it.  That will give you more flexibility.  My primary lens at this point goes to F/4 at 70mm, and goes down to F/5.6 when I’m zoomed out.

Some of the other things I have in my arsenal include a 67” Targus monopod I found at Wal-Mart for about $15.  A monopod is great for sports shooting because it allows you to be somewhat free of the weight of the camera, while giving you the ability to get yourself and gear out of harm’s way fast if need be.

I also recently picked up a little zip up bag that allows me to carry extra batteries and memory cards in one little package.  A lens cleaning rag is always helpful since dust is usually present in outdoor shoots.  I also recommend having a rain bag for your camera.  The first race I did, it rained.  I did not and still do not have a rain bag.  At that time though, I did have some empty Wal-Mart bags and a roll of masking tape.  It worked but I don’t suggest using something like masking tape on good gear.

In the next edition of this series, I will talk about positioning yourself to get those great shots.  Feel free to comment if you have any questions.  Thank you for your time.

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