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Emotion in sport

Competitive activities can be highly emotional.


Emotional releases generally occur after moments of high action, and taut emotions are often revealed immediately beforehand. .
Emotional releases generally occur after moments of high action, and taut emotions are often revealed immediately beforehand. .

Capturing the emotion of a sports event is significantly different than recording the play, which concentrates your attention on the high points of the action. In photographing action, we are fundamentally seeking pictures that show exertion or finesse, which are not emotions but rather a player’s physical efforts or expertise. Emotions are usually more evident immediately before or after moments of exertion. The “before” pictures can show a player filled with anticipation, doubt, nervousness or even fear, while the “after” images often portray exuberance at succeeding or disappointment at not being victorious.

The story of a game’s emotion can also be portrayed in photographs of the spectators as they react to a play or a ruling. The viewer can almost feel the uplifting excitement of an event in a picture that shows the crowd leaping to its feet, with arms in the air and everyone smiling gigantically. Disappointment in the outcome can also be quickly revealed by the expressions and general posture of the onlookers.

Pictures that capture high emotion generally show the subject's face, however sometimes an image contains enough emotion-revealing indicators that the subject can have his or her back to the camera. Body language tells the story:
Pictures that capture high emotion generally show the subject's face, however sometimes an image contains enough emotion-revealing indicators that the subject can have his or her back to the camera. Body language tells the story: "Sorry. You're retired."

In most instances, an emotional sports picture shows the subject’s face, which is usually where we direct our gaze when attempting to perceive how a person is feeling. But, a photograph of the back of a huge football player, bent over with slumped shoulders in obvious dejection or leaping with arms outstretched in jubilation, can also clearly show his emotion. The face, however, is the best indicator of a person’s feelings, and the closer to the player’s face you are, the more clearly will your image show its arrangement of features.

Even when you are positioned very close to the play, a long lens is still an essential tool in close-up framing of the players’ faces. This is where a sharp zoom lens can be particularly useful, set at wider-angles to shoot the play, then zooming in to catch the reaction of an individual.

A tight close-up of a player’s astonished, sorrowful or jubilant face can make a very telling image. But, don’t concentrate all your shots on the reactions of individual players. Look also for group shots that show a wave of feelings among the players.

Emotional reaction is always evident among the fans watching an event. Here, emotions are mixed - uncertainty or perhaps disappointment with a readiness to applaud.
Emotional reaction is always evident among the fans watching an event. Here, emotions are mixed - uncertainty or perhaps disappointment with a readiness to applaud.

Try also to capture contrasting emotional reactions - the victor and the vanquished. Find an area of the stands where there is a mixture of home team and visiting team fans, where some will be out of their seats, waving in glee, while others are slumped over, face in hands. Or, you may photograph a child who just couldn’t stay awake while fans all around are going wild. Extremes of emotional reaction can provide a picture with great human interest.

Your sports photography should not be limited to recording pictorial highlights of the game. Often, your best pictures will be those that reveal the emotions brought out by the game.

Capturing player emotion at a very big sports event is usually not possible because you just can't get close enough. However, the crowd's enthusiasm can still be shown.
Capturing player emotion at a very big sports event is usually not possible because you just can't get close enough. However, the crowd's enthusiasm can still be shown.