Specialize In: Sports Photography

Racing cars, diving swimmers, and sliding baseball players can all qualify as subjects for the sports photographer. This means that someone who wants to specialize in this area of work is going to need to be doubly specialized, or be sure that they have the skills to record such a variety of subject matter.

A Very Special Specialization

What do we mean by “doubly specialized” it means that the individual freelance photographer might say that they are a sports photographer (which is one area of specialization) that focuses on auto racing or baseball, or any other subject (which is the double specialization). This is not a mandatory thing, but it is going to be one of the only ways to ensure that the quality of the images demonstrate expert knowledge of photography and also of the sport(s) in question.

Consider that anyone can go to any sporting event and just start clicking away, but a knowledgeable photographer will know where to stand, when the critical moments arrive, and which players to pay strict attention to. This is important if the photography is being done in order to generate income because it will result in marketable images of famous or soon-to-be-famous players or team members.

Sports Photography
Photo by bortescristian

For example, the photographer who makes images of auto racing is going to know the areas of the track that give a good view of the general action. Alternately, they might know of a specific turn or bend that can create moments of intense drama too. This is only knowledge that comes from interest in the subject, and one of the wisest choices any freelance photographer can make is to work in the area that they have a distinct passion about. Almost all professional photographers agree that their selected area of specialization was one of the first areas of overall interest to them. This is the way to constantly improve the work, because it means you are continually interested in what is actually happening in each scene or photograph.

Essential Gear for the Sports Photographer

What types of equipment will the sports photographer need? That is actually going to vary according to their selected field of expertise. Generally, they will all need very “fast” lenses. These are lenses that can use high shutter speeds at a very wide maximum aperture. For instance, a 400/f2.8 is a very fast lens that would give optimal control. Just consider that a photographer might want to make their subject really “pop” from the background, and if they cannot open up the lens very wide (thereby shortening the depth of field and blurring the foreground and background) they might not get the image they had hoped for.

There is also usually a need for a tripod, ND and polarizing filters, a cable release, and a flash unit. An extensive list of gear is not often going to be realistic because the sports photographer is always carrying around the things that they require for their work, and lugging a huge number of lenses and gear is not effective. This too is another reason to have a thorough knowledge of the sports being photographed because every possible issue will be known well in advance, and only the essential gear will then come along for the job.

Look for Good Examples

Like all other areas of specialization, a freelance photographer would be well advised to continually check out the work of their peers. They should even take a look at the older and more historic sports photographs as well. These can be used as models for the types of results the individual would like to achieve, and emulating a specific technique is often a great idea.

Sports Photography
Photo by Mariano Kamp

For instance, sports photographers are one of the most common users of the “panning” technique. This is when the subject of the image is “locked” into focus (which is normally done by pressing the shutter trigger only halfway down) and then followed in a panning motion before the photographer actually finishes pushing the button and recording the scene. This is something that tends to add a huge amount of movement or a sense of speed and motion into the image because it blurs the background. It can apply to a race car, bike rider, or a runner of any kind and is best done with some advanced planning. This is because it demands a bit of composition, such as always leaving “space” ahead of the subject. This is a way of balancing the image by giving the subject something to “move into”. It is a visual trick that requires planning and often generates impressive results, and is used extensively by sports photographers.

Selling the Work

Finally, there are many ways in which a sports photographer might be able to sell their work. They can create their own website, but they might also want to approach the owners of sporting venues, the coaches of teams, and any relevant publications or magazines. They can also offer up their images through stock agencies, and when they are of well-known or famous teams and players, it is often likely that they will find a good audience for such work.

Gain Exposure and Inspire Others

If you would like to share your sports photography please feel free to join our flickr group and add your images to the pool. Make sure and tag your sports images with “TPA_Sports”. From the pool of images we will be selecting the best examples and showcasing them in a future article.

Top image by julie.froo