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Equipment for sports photography


A wide-angle lens in the right location captured the essential elements - the jostling, the shooter, the target and the ball.
A wide-angle lens in the right location captured the essential elements - the jostling, the shooter, the target and the ball.

There are two ways to know just what equipment you will need to photograph a sports event - (1) your own experience in having already shot a similar event, (2) by visiting the locale in advance and scouting out likely shooting locations with your camera in hand.

SCOUTING THE SITE

Select a day to visit the sports locale when another similar event is taking place at the same time of day as the upcoming event you plan to photograph. Bring your camera with a wide-angle and your longest telephoto lenses.

Look for the best picture-taking locations for both wide-angle and telephoto shots. Try various camera angles while observing the effect the ambient lighting has on the area where your subjects can be expected to be best captured. You may note, for example, that your telephoto lens won’t bring you close enough to the action, in which case, you will need to rent or borrow a longer lens, or purchase that teleconverter you’ve been eyeing in the camera store. But, if you’re photographing, for instance, a karate competition from a few feet away at ringside, your longest lens may be too long.


You might discover that the lighting is too dim, which means using slow shutter speeds requiring a tripod, or the use of electronic flash or faster ISO setting in your digital camera or faster film speed than you intended. You could even find out that you may need to bring a small stepladder to get above the crowds at popular viewing spots.

By preparing yourself in advance, you will be able to bring only what you need when it comes time to photograph the sports event. Ideally, it will all fit in one camera bag.

USEFUL EQUIPMENT

LENSES: A long lens is essential for almost all sports photography where you can’t get physically close to the action. The faster the lens is, the better it is for hand-holding, especially if the day is overcast or the lighting is low. Remember that the slowest shutter speed to use in hand-holding a long lens (any lens, actually) should match the focal length of the lens - i.e. use a shutter speed no slower than 1/250 sec for a 250 mm lens.

If your film is too slow for the ambient light to capture
If your film is too slow for the ambient light to capture "stop-action" shots, don't give up. Shoot anyway, and capture "artistic," blurry images that show there is action in the game. Here, basketball star, Franz Abengoza, is clearly on the move.

A 200 mm lens brought the action close. Slow shutter speed results in blur, adding to the sense of motion.
A 200 mm lens brought the action close. Slow shutter speed results in blur, adding to the sense of motion.

WHAT SIZE LENS IS BEST? Since the idea is to fill the frame with your subject, the best lens is the one that permits you to do that when you have gotten as close as possible to the subject. If your lens will not permit you to fill the frame, all is not lost. It simply means you are, in essence, using a smaller negative size (since your subject is occupying less than the full frame), and will have to enlarge that portion of your negative in which your subject was captured. If you are using good quality film that is not super fast, then you can still achieve pleasing results. At the race track, the ball park and for many sports events, a sharp 200 mm to 300 mm lens will generally provide you with good pictures. But if you only have a 105 mm or a 135 mm lens, use it anyway and plan to crop your images later.

Normal to wide-angle lenses find use in sports photography, too. For example, you may be shooting a race car close up in the pits and want to include the surroundings in your image, or you may want to show the entire baseball stadium - fans and all. No matter which lens you are using, don’t forget its lens hood.


A TRIPOD will keep your camera steady and can be helpful in panning smoothly as you follow the action using slower shutter speeds to create background blur. For many fast-moving sports, however, a tripod can be restrictive.

ELECTRONIC FLASH is sometimes your only answer indoors. You must be fairly close to your subject in order to shoot within the effective range of the flash. (Check your manual to find out the range for your particular flash unit.) Using a fast film will permit you to shoot with flash from farther away. Be sure you have fresh batteries, and bring spares just in case. Be certain that flash is permitted by the sports officials. Some sports organizations find it can be distracting for players.

DIGITAL MEDIA: Be sure you have plenty of memory card storage space, and follow the ISO setting guidelines in the paragraph below for setting the sensitivity in your digital camera.

FILM: On bright, sunny days, slow to medium speed film (ISO 64 to 100) is generally appropriate, since the bright illumination will permit action-stopping shutter speeds. You should also have a supply of faster film, in the ISO 400 to 800 range, in case it becomes overcast or you decide to use filters that reduce the amount of light reaching the film. A polarizing filter, for example, is useful outdoors in reducing glare and saturating color.

A wide-angle lens, from right at the sidelines of the playing field, captured the peak of the action.
A wide-angle lens, from right at the sidelines of the playing field, captured the peak of the action.

A telephoto lens would bring you closer to the action when you are way up there in the stands.
A telephoto lens would bring you closer to the action when you are way up there in the stands.

If you are shooting with black and white film, you will almost unquestionably need filters for proper tonal rendition. Whichever film or digital ISO sensitivity setting you use, be sure it is fast enough for you to use high shutter speeds to stop action while providing you with appropriate depth of field to properly show your subject in its surroundings. You can often purchase film at major sports events, but can’t always count on finding your brand or type, so it is wise to bring more of your favorite film than you think you’ll need.

CAMERA BAG: It must be large enough to hold your gear and extra film or digital memory cards, but comfortable enough to carry on your shoulder all day. If you carry your camera outside of the bag, you’ll have room inside to pack a lunch. (Be sure to wrap it in waterproof plastic so that if anything leaks, your equipment will remain dry.) When the day is done, your lunch will be long gone, and you can place the camera in the protection of the camera bag for the trip home.


OTHER GEAR: Think of your personal needs if you are planning on spending a full day at a sports event. Will you need a stadium cushion? an umbrella in case it rains or the sun is hot? a thermos of hot coffee? a pair of binoculars? If you are comfortable throughout the sports event, your pictures will probably show it. So, remember to take of yourself, too.

SAFETY: Some sports activities are extremely difficult or dangerous to photograph, requiring both participant(s) and photographer to have special skills and equipment. Always keep in mind that no photograph is worth doing something risky that you would not normally do.

This sport calls for the photographer to have special skills and safety equipment.
This sport calls for the photographer to have special skills and safety equipment.
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