Sports Photography- Learn from the Shoot

We all have a choice in what we decide to shoot, or what we decide to include in our shots. Of course, what we choose often depends on our perspective. That perspective is what makes each individual photographer, unique. Our uniqueness is usually acquired from our previous life experiences.

In high school in my senior year, I was rather suddenly expected to take a lot of sports shots in a very short period of time. Now if you are a big sports fan that might have seemed like a great assignment. My only sports involvement at that point in time was racket ball and track and field, both of which focus on the individual. Team sports like volleyball, football, basketball, and baseball were totally unknown to me, yet that was what I was supposed to shoot. As I have mentioned in other articles; I quickly came up with the philosophy of: if it has the word “Ball” in the title, then follow the ball.

At that point in time, I was already aware that clutter in the background was not a good thing. My rule to live by was “simply shoot simple.” The problem that arose is how do you simplify the shot, if you shoot two teams (us and them) who both have 10 or 20 people, and are running all over the place?

I started with volleyball. In this case, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the net was just as important as the ball. I did follow the ball around for a while, but I found out that this can be really frustrating too. Sometimes the action can get going so fast that it’s really hard to tell what the peak action is, until after you’ve already missed it. I started positioning myself to be able to shoot right down the length of the net. There I found; when the ball was at the net and someone was trying to spike or block the ball, was a great peak action moment. I was able to simplify the shot because I got the elements I wanted (teams, the ball, the net, peak action); not the elements I didn’t want (arms, heads, and legs) in the way, blocking my shots.

When I went to do football, the first thing I realized is that I needed to be closer. A 200mm lens from the bleacher may get you close to a cheerleader, but not much else. Unlike the volleyball, I soon realized that one vantage point was not going to cut it. The game was simply played on much too large an area for me to cover it properly. I divided the game up into shooting sections; 20 minutes on the fifty yard line, 20 minutes from our end zone, 20 minutes from their end zone, etc. I kept my eye on the ball, but each location brought a new perspective.

Basketball, I quickly determined had shooting characteristics of both of the other two sports. Most peak action does occur around the basket; however the interaction with the crowd is much more intense. The fans at a football game are still 30 or 40 feet away from where the action is; in basketball they are often 3 or 4 feet away. When they get up and start cheering, it gets worse. The difference that made was, in reality I was not as free to move around as I had been in either of the other two events. But on the other hand, I was also able to get many more shots with the fans reactions too. It was as if I now had to plan for three teams (ours, theirs, and the fans).

Baseball was both the most frustrating and most rewarding for me to learn how to shoot. It was frustrating because my movements were more limited than before. It was not because of the crowds, it was because it was not allowed. I could work around the crowds if I needed, but photographers are not allowed to stand in the middle of the outfield. I could shoot from either dugout or from behind the batters cage. Visually they were all spread out; it seemed impossible, then I remembered thinking: “Simply shoot simple. I shot individuals at first and third base. I shot them as they got the ball. I shot them as guys came in for a slide. I shot the batter and pitcher by putting my lens right up against the fence and looking over the batters’ shoulder.

I only shot sports for a very short period in my photographic career, but I believe I learned a lot from shooting in these different environments.

A) From volleyball, I learned to shoot smart. Don’t just wave your camera all over the place and hope you get lucky. Find the key location for peak action.

B) From football, I learned to shoot systematically. If the action happens at several locations don’t just wander from place to place. Focus your attention on one perspective at a time, and then move on.

C) From basketball, I learned to incorporate obstacles. Fans were blocking my shots, until they became part of the shots. Expressions in the background gave my shots an emotional edge.

D) From baseball, I remembered “Simply shoot simple”. By being forced to shoot from a certain vantage point, I actually was able to simplify my images more than I had planned.

The thing I learned from all of them is that, perspective is everything. If you ever have to shoot something you know little or nothing about, learn to observe. What makes this event or item unique? What you shoot or do not shoot comes down to a matter of choice; but what you choose to shoot is based on your perspective.

This Article Written By: Tedric A. Garrison Cedar City, Utah

Tedric Garrison has done photography for over 30 years. In college; Tedric was an Art Major, and firmly believes that “Creativity can be taught.” Today; as a writer and photographer he shares his wealth of knowledge with the world, at:

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