Photographing kids sports

Goal– Not the sharpest picture I’ve taken, but given the circumstances, I am thankful I have it.I’m sure my son thinks so. If there is a downside to not working at the newspaper, it’s not having access to long lenses. Shooting soccer without at least a  400mm can be a challenge because there is so much clutter in the background and the action is usually far away. For that reason pros who shoot soccer usually use 2 camera bodies. One with the long telephoto on a monopod and a 2nd body with a 70 -200 zoom.

As the photographerin the family, we often have to take one for the team.

By that I mean, “we” often don’t get to just enjoy the moment as a spectator.

It’s worse if you’re the coach and you’re trying to photograph the game as well.

Been there and done that.

By the end of the game, my brain is totally fried from the multi-tasking.

Celebrating his win–Once you’ve mastered the use of your camera, you’re ready to think about all the “what-ifs.” Ask yourself, what might happen next. Where’s the picture most likely going to happen? Since this is your child, you will know them better than anyone else.  That’s the key to being ready at the right place and the right time with the right lens–anticipation. Canon 1D. 17mm lens. 1/8000sec @f2.8 ISO 200.

Bad combination, poor lighting & fast action–. Even with the best equipment, indoor sports is a challenge. The low light levels make it next to impossible to freeze action or else the problem is the cluttered backgrounds because the audience is so close to the court. To make this image presentable I had to apply a dose of Noise Ninja. Canon 20D. 80-200 zoom 1/125 sec @f2.8 ISO 1600.

When I’m peering into that viewfinder, even with both eyes open, I am very focused on what I see within that frame.

Those of you who have covered sports will know what I mean.

But you don’t even have to shoot sports professionally to relate to this.

Training that telephoto lens on your kid who’s about to score a goal is a good example.

The angle of view is extremely narrow.

That ball is visible for very brief durations in that viewfinder.

The tighter the framing, the less of the ball you’ll see.

When you trip the shutter, there’s momentary darkness as the mirror moves up and out of the way to let light through and the curtains open to expose the sensor to light.

This all happens in a fraction of a second, so you can’t often see if the ball crossed the goal line.

Your clue might be if the crowd goes wild. But confirmation by the referee’s whistle is the only sure way to tell.

A blink of an eye–It wasn’t until I got back to my computer that I realized how close I cropped this picture. In sports photography, an extra frame can be all the difference since there are no “do-overs”. If I could, I would certainly want to show more of the face of the kid on the right. He was looking skywards as if looking for divine intervention. Canon 1D. 1/2000sec @ f4 ISO 200.  80-200mm zoom at 150mm.

It’s a good idea to grab a shot of the score board immediately after.

That will be useful when you’re editing to tell you when that picture was taken during the actual game.

Newbies often dwell on that ball whether the sport is basketball, football or soccer.

Once that play is over, the ball is no longer important.

THE PICTURE is the EXPRESSION on the person who just shot the ball.

You should be tracking that person who just shot the ball.

Why? Your role is not to arbitrate or to prove it they scored with your picture.

As a rookie, the first basketball game I shot, I actually shot a closeup of the ball entering the hoop! That was how literal I was thinking.

I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit to that but go ahead and laugh. I did.

It was only in retrospect that I realized photography isn’t at all literal.

Now if the story of that particular game was that there was some dispute over the ball not entering the basket, I suppose the picture would have been important.

In a sport like basketball where the score is often 3 digits, just take my word for it, having the ball in the picture is good but sometimes not the most important thing.

5 thoughts on “Photographing kids sports”

  1. I tried the coaching/photography thing with mixed results. The following year I could be found shooting from the dugout or the stands. Funny how taking a few shots of an umpire and a smile can get you a good shooting position inside the fence. I would like to have been able to read this post 5 years ago when I started to get serious about shooting youth sporting events. Great info Peter.

  2. DeeAnn,
    Glad to know I wasn’t the only person trying to coach and take pictures during a game. It’s really hard to tell if a goal was scored when you’re looking through a long lens.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I’d love to see your pictures from your kids’ games some time.

  3. Have to agree with shooting the scoreboard @ halves and after important shot, especially in basketball’s fast-paced game.
    If I can’t tell who shot the ball I’ll try & get fast photo of his/her jersey ASAP the action shot.
    Writing on hand/paper sometimes works but a photo is easier to remember/access when editing later.
    Shooting & coaching are stressful, remembering games of my two children. Only tried that one season and determined I was better at volunteering time referring for AYSO after my children’ soccer games.

  4. Thank you Jo. I do know when the time comes for the kids to get married, I will have to “chill” and take my own advice, especially when it comes time for the photography.

    No way am I going to get away with doing any serious photography. I will bring my point and shoot camera at most. Can’t have my wife giving me the evil eye the whole time!

    Many brides don’t realize that those setup shots of the ring on the finger are easy to do. It’s the spontaneous reactions and other candid moments which are difficult to immortalize even with video!

    Ones like this

  5. Love this, as usual . . .the expression is the important thing – not the ball going into the hoop or the ring being slipped on the finger (I am dreading “taking one for the team when my children get married!!!).

    Lovely post, Peter. I so enjoy your sense of humor!

Comments are closed.