Syd: Sports photography is more than just action shots

Sports photography is about taking photos of sports players. Sometimes it’s not even when the players are competing in their sport. In fact, building a business in sports photography usually means taking photos of teams in sports clubs. These team photos can be the foundation of a very healthy photography business. Just do the math. Any team sport will usually involve between 5 and 35 players. Each sports club will have anywhere from 2 to over 100 teams. There are soccer/football clubs with over 60 junior teams! It’ll take several weekends and repeat trips to take photos of every team, and, if they want action shots of every player, you’ll probably end up being the “official” photographer for the club for the whole season.

So, this weekend, my job was to shoot head shots of 12 Australian rules football teams while they were participating in a fitness testing program. These were the under 18 aged teams that feed into the professional Aussie-rules clubs so it’s professionally organised. Each team has a squad of 45 players. In addition to the head shots there was a battery of other tests like vertical jump, agility, sprint speed, beep test and classroom sessions where they wanted some photos of the players in that environment. It took a whole day: 9am to 5pm. No assistant.

So how do you do such a job? By being organised. I knew from the schedule that I had about 30 minute to shoot each team as they finished one of the skills tests. So as the players finished or while they were waiting for their turn at the skill test, they can have their photo taken. I setup my “studio” adjacent to the skill test so it was obvious where they had to go. However, the client also wanted shots of the skill tests (yes, all of them) which were on at the same time in an adjacent gym hall. Consequently, I really only had 10-15 minutes to shoot a team if I wanted to get some action shots.

I also knew that its important to make sure head shots have the eyes open and a half-decent expression on their faces. It’s clumsy trying to review the images on a little LCD screen on the back of the camera so I shot all the portraits with the camera tethered to a laptop so the images can be seen on a bigger screen about 1 sec after it’s been shot. I used Adobe Lightroom’s tether mode which is great for this situation. All the players can see their images and so can their fellow team mates which makes it quite exciting for young males! This approach is a great way to achieve quality control – instantaneous subject peer review. I have only one photo where the subject’s eyes aren’t fully open. Other than that, I’m happy with all the other 500 or so.

The lighting setup I used was a simple off camera flash in a softbox. Everything was battery powered and portable taking about 3 minutes to setup and another couple of minutes to do some test shots. Having the subjects sit down also simplifies and makes the images look consistent. In between the portrait shots it was easy to take the tether cable out and go shoot some action. Here’s a screenshot of Lightroom in grid view of the head shots. Sorry I can’t post the images as they belong to the agency.

So, remember, being a sports photographer means that you’ll need to know a bit about portrait photography, off-camera flash, basic studio lighting setup, and shooting tethered to a computer.

Now go and practise and have some fun!

Here’s a breakdown of the stuff I used for the shoot:
General shots:
– Nikon D3 and D3s
– 24-70mm
– 200mm
– Manual and A mode, depending on situation, Auto WB
– Nikon SB800 flash, set on TTL and manual mode depending on situation

Head shots:
– Nikon D3
– 24-70mm
– Manual mode: f4, 1/250th, ISO 250
– Flash triggered by SU800

Lighting for head shots:
– LIghtstand with umbrella adapter
– Westcott Apollo 28 in. softbox $115. Info from Westcott’s site
– Nikon SB900 flash
– Nikon SU800 flash controller, set to 1/32 power

– 5yr old 17″ Macbook Pro
– Long USB cable connected to Adobe Lightroom

– Bus powered external Firewire disk – Lacie Rugged
– FW800 cable

Other Essential bits
– Extra battery for cameras
– Extra batteries for flashes 8xAA
– Extra battery for SU800, CR123A
– Extension cable
– Powerboard
– Gaffer tape / Duct tape

Useful reference sites:
– Lighting: Strobist website
– Lighting: One Light website
– Lightroom – shooting tethered


*Please Read Below*
Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by supporting us on Patreon and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s