Sports photography – of the amateur kind

One of the first genres of photography I really spent much time on was sports photography (alongside wildlife), but then after a while it dropped off as I moved away from the area of the team I was shooting. However more recently I’ve got the sports photography buzz back again, so I thought it would be a good time to share some experience of how I’ve gotten the buzz back, and how others may find that trying sports photography is easier than they thought (and definitely something to try at least a few times).


Initial disclaimer – As the title suggests, this post is talking about amateur photography and amateur sports, and is intended to help share ideas and encourage people to give it a try (if that’s for you, please read on). However, I know that there are genres of photography that attract some pretty toxic online behaviour, sports being one of them (cue comments about amateurs destroying the industry!). So my first bit of general advice is learn to identify when you’re doing your hobby, and when you’re doing a job. Be honest with yourself, and only you can answer when you cross that boundary.

Now that I’ve got that bit out the way, as I mentioned at the start sports was something I used to shoot a lot of. At the time I’d been playing Ice hockey and Inline hockey for my university club for several years and when I started playing less, photography took over and that gave me easy access to a sport I like, and close access to the team. This is a great way to get into sports photography as firstly the team will know you and that makes it more comfortable all round (don’t forget, this is amateur sports and not everyone is as camera friendly as the pros), then secondly if it’s a sport you like there’s a natural advantage. You know the game, so you know where/when the action will be. So for me this was a pretty easy move, I had a lot of fun and the team got some pictures they otherwise would never have had (win-win, trust me, all I had of me was my Dad’s footage of a tournament he came to – sorry Dad!). Additionally, by being a familiar face as well as being familiar with the environment, it makes checking on photography policies a much less daunting task. It’s not always something you need to worry about, but it should be something you always think about, amateur or not, you should always do some research (ignorance is not an excuse). On a related note, while I mention policies, I would also recommend insurance, not only as it covers your gear, but also my policy with photoguard (not an endorsement, just who I use) gives me public liability insurance included.

Example IH
Canon 550d, Sigma 70-200 f2.8

But what if you don’t have an easy way in with a team, or want to try a new sport that you’ve had no interaction with. Fortunately, these days with the prevalence of social media it’s very easy to find teams/locations/groups for just about anything, and contacting them is just as easy. Yes this does require a bit of confidence to ask (natural for some, but not all), but you have to remember that you’ll be no worse off than you were yesterday if they say no. Once you do find a way in, remember that it will take a bit of time to learn where the action is, who the people are etc, and that you’re doing this for fun. Don’t expect too much to start with.

Another barrier that people perceive is that you can only shoot sports with high end gear, whilst it does get easier and results may be better a lot can be done on budget gear (note – that’s photography level budget 😉). When I first started shooting Ice hockey I had an entry level DSLR (Canon 550d) and a used Sigma 70-200 f2.8 (used, with no OS to keep the cost down, and who need’s OS at fast shutter speeds!). This produced perfectly usable shots (see example above), albeit with more noise than I’d have like but in situations like that, location, shutter and timing will produce much better results than what many people are used to, regardless of noise. Incidentally, the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 was one of my favourite lenses for Canon that I owned and I kept it until switching to Fuji.

Example ski
Another example of the 550d with Sigma 70-200

One thing to remember when shooting sports, especially as an amateur is that you need to be willing to accept you can’t capture everything, but this even goes for the pros. If one person could capture everything sporting events wouldn’t have so many photographers there. So don’t look at the coverage of a whole game/event you see online or in print and expect to get that level of coverage. Whether it’s location, timing or lens choice, you will get some, you will miss many, but you don’t get any at home not trying. More recently I’ve been shooting a local football team, which has given me another sport to try (I’ll put a post up about my experience shooting football soon). Fortunately many of the same principles are similar for many sports e.g. moving into space, and so I’ve been able to get some nice shots fairly quickly (examples below). But importantly (this is my hobby), it’s been fun, local team players are also there for fun and you can get so much closer to the action, players and have a good time. So even if you’ve never tried sports photography give it a try, you my find it’s something you’ll enjoy from a photography and/or social aspect.

FB example
Recent examples of my local football team (Eagles)

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