Calculation, anticipation, execution

You may wonder how photographers get those great sports action shots. It may be of a wide receiver catching the ball in mid-air or a perfectly timed header in soccer or a dramatic drive to the hoop in basketball. There are 3 main things that good sports photographers work on to hone their craft. Calculation, anticipation and execution.

(11/22/19) Manteca’s Sunny Dozier, right, catches a pass over Capital Christian’s Carlos Wilson in the end zone but the catch was ruled out of bounds during a Sac-Joaquin Section Division III football semi-final at Capital Christian High school in Sacramento. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

The calculation aspect is, in part knowing the game that you’re photographing. This insight helps the photographer know where to stand and what kind of play might happen and what part of the field it will occur.I remember shooting my very first water polo match. I knew very little about the game. It seemed that the whistle was blown every few seconds and the action would head down to the other end of the pool. I was confused. Needless to say, I was disappointed in my photos. Over the years I picked up a little knowledge through observation here and there while shooting the games and now I can shoot water polo competently.

(12/14/19) Ripon’s Caleb Johnston, left, sacks Highland quarterback Damien Pecoraro during the CIF Divison IV-AA football state championship game at Ripon High School. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

In most instances you want to stand in a place where the team you’re photographing is advancing toward you. In a sport like football you move down the field with the action and reposition yourself before the next play starts. In other fast-moving sports like basketball or soccer, it’s best to pick one spot and have the action come to you.

I played high school football so it’s the easiest for me to shoot. I know that a 3rd and long situation could likely be a passing play or a short yardage play may result in a run up the middle. Now, this doesn’t mean that I’m right 100% of the time but it gives me some insight into what might happen so can anticipate the action.

(2/8/20) Pacific’s Pierre Crockrell II, left, drives to the hoop against Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross during a WCC men’s basketball game at UOP’s Spanos Center in Stockton. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Anticipation is big in sports photography. Often the action happens so quickly that see you can’t it all through the camera. Anticipating when and where the peak action will be is an important skill. Once you learn the sport it becomes much easier to master. Sports photos are often about the conflict of when 2 opposing players confront each other. Sometimes will be all by himself on the field of court. It’s only when an opponent confronts him or her that things will get interesting, visually speaking. Anticipating when those moments happen will help you raise the level of your sports photography. 

(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] ORG XMIT: REC1901302300399072 ORG XMIT: REC1910021845265190

Execution comes from practicing a lot. A lot of it is learning by failure. Sometimes you miss a shot because you’re standing in the wrong spot, or you pushed the shutter button at the wrong time or you’re not paying attention to the situation on the field. 

Timing is a big part of sports photography. If you see a play happen through your viewfinder and then press the button, it’s likely that you’re behind the action and missed the play. Practice, practice, practice is the key to execution.

(2/29/20) The Manteca bench erupts with joy at winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III girls soccer championship over Christian Brothers 2-1 played at Liberty Ranch High School in Galt. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

An example of when all 3 things came together for me is when I shot the Manteca girls varsity soccer team play Christian Brothers for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship. I knew enough about the game from when my kids played rec soccer when they were kids so my positioning and timing were working well and I was getting some good action shots. In the business there’s what’s know as the jubilation or “jube” shot. It’s a photo of the winning team celebrating a win. The game was winding down to its last few minutes. Manteca had a 2-1 lead but Christian Brothers was rallying. With about 2 minutes left in the game I switch from the telephoto lens which I was using to capture the action on the field to a wide angle. I turned around and concentrated on the players on the sidelines. I knew that if Manteca could hold on to win, then celebratory bedlam could happen. Keeping one eye on the clock I kept my focus on the off-the field players who were nervously pacing the sidelines. The ref blew the whistle to signal the end of the game and the players exploded with joy and I got a shot of them rushing onto the field.

(2/29/20) Manteca’s Cameron Silva, shoots the ball past Christian Brothers goalkeeper Lillian Smith to score during the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III girls soccer championship played at Liberty Ranch High School in Galt. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

There are a lot of little tips and tweaks that can help improve your sports photography, some may be unique to you, but calculation, anticipation and execution are the big three that will give you a solid foundation.

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