The sporting life

We’re in the middle of the fall high school sports season and you may be wondering how to improve your sports pictures. Here are some tips on how to get a good sports action photo.

(9/13/19)
Lodi’s Christian Zamora, left, is tackled by Stagg’s Richard Lockhart during a varsity football game at Tokay High in Lodi.. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

One the technical side there are 3 related things in sports photography: shutter speed, ISO and equipment.

(9/10/19)
Linden’s grace Solari dives for the ball during a girl’s varsity volleyball match at Bear Creek in Stockton [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Most sports photos depend on stopping the action to get a sharp, crisp image. If you’re getting some motion blur that means that you should increase your shutter speed. To freeze most action you need to shoot at a minimum of 1/500th of a second, faster if you can.

(9/10/19)
Linden’s Rose Nealy, right blocks the spike of Bear Creek’s Vallon Bucayu-Lee during a girl’s varsity volleyball match at Bear Creek in Stockton [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Since most high school sports are either shot at night or indoors, lighting is relatively low, so you’ll be shooting at whatever the widest aperture of your lens is (a side note: although most fields and gyms may seem well-lit, they’re usually minimal for photography).

(2/23/18)
Sierra’s Jadyn Shinn, left, fights for the ball with Manteca’s Alexa Mayen during a girls soccer playoff game at Sierra. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Also because of the low light you’ll need to shoot at a high ISO, or light sensitivity. The higher you go the more noise or graininess your picture will have. To a point that’s OK. I’d rather have a noisy picture than one that’s blurry due to a shutter speed that’s too slow.

(9/13/19)
Lodi’s Andreas Pappas is tackled by Stagg’s Richard Lockhart during a varsity football game at Tokay High in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Sports is one genre of photography where equipment makes a difference. First off, it helps to have a telephoto lens. Most sports require something in the 200mm-400mm range. This will help bring in the action closer to you. Secondly, having a lens that will gather more light, known as a “fast” lens, will help with low-light situations. However, the faster the lens, the more expensive it is. Most professional photographers like to have a lens that’s has f/2.8 as its widest aperture, but they’re very expensive. Most amateur equipment doesn’t go that wide. Having a camera that can handle high ISOs can help ameliorate that shortcoming. Most modern cameras can handle ISOs of 3200 to 6400 or more which can be enough for most venues.

(9/27/19)
Bear Creek’s Brian Adams, right, is tackled by Lodi’s Adolfo Sanchez during a varsity football game at the Grape Bowl in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

You want to position yourself in which the action of your team is coming towards you, not matter what sport it is. Your distance will be determined by the length of your lens. The longer the lens, the farther away you can stand. After you master the technical aspects, sports photography is all about action, conflict and effort.

20181005
Bear Creek’s Charles Baker, right, breaks up a pass intended for Edison’s Javone McGee-Spivey during a varsity football game at Edison’s Magnasco Stadium in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]
Transmission Reference: REC1810060041347120

The action will be stopped by a fast shutter speed but you want to get what is known as “peak action.” Think of the action of a play being a bell curve. There’s the activity leading up to the play, say a pass reception, that’s the leading edge of the curve. Then there’s the apex of the curve where the catch is made, That’s the peak action. A camera with a high frame rate (the number of frames per second at which it shoots) is helpful for this, but it still takes timing and practice to get it right.

20181005
Bear Creek’s Terry Holmes, right, stiff arms Edison’s Christopher Marsh during a varsity football game at Edison’s Magnasco Stadium in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]
Transmission Reference: REC1810060036247112

The best sport photos involve conflict. A shot of a running back fending off a tackler or soccer players vying for a header or a volleyball player fending off an opponent’s spike make for much more interesting photos than the athletes alone.

(9/30/19)
St. Mary’s Halle Wunsch, left, attempts to block a spike by Tracy’s Leila Sardinha during a girl’s varsity volleyball match at Tracy. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Lastly, sports photos are about athletes giving their all. That’s shown in the expressions and concentration on their faces. I’ve shot sports photos where the athletes have cool, calm, nearly expressionless faces and frankly, they look like they’re not trying at all. A grimace, sneer or scowl can make giving an ultimate effort.

(1/30/19)
Lodi’s Edgar Lopez, left, and Tokay’s Eduardo Guillen fight for a header during a Tri-City Athletic League soccer game at Tokay in Lodi. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

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