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4 Tips for Better Outdoor Sports Photography

By Kristen Duke on February 26, 2014


It seems like most kids these days participate in some sport or another. And that's good because we want them to get out there and exercise a bit, right? Depending on if the game is inside or outside, the photography tips will be different. Today I'm going to focus on what you need to know for capturing kids in action when they’re playing outdoor sports.

4 Tips for Better Outdoor Sports Photography

1. Use a low ISO. Since we are talking about outdoor photography, generally speaking you'll be photographing the subjects in an open field during the day. The brighter it is outside, the lower you should set your ISO. If it’s a day with full sun, I'm at 100. On a mildly cloudy day, I'll go to 200. Even at night, stadium lights make it so bright on the field, the settings would be similar. In this event, you'll still want your ISO to be set at 100, possibly 200.

2. Get a good zoom lens. When you purchase a new camera, you’ll find that some come with a kit lens set that includes a standard lens and zoom lens. I'm not a fan of a kit of any kind with camera gear because the lenses are usually missing some extra features. Long ago, I purchased the 70-200mm 4.0 lens IS. That "IS" stands for Image Stabilization. Unless you are shooting on a tripod, it gets tricky to keep a lens with such an intense zoom steady enough for a crisp shot. The image stabilization feature really helps with the clarity of the photo.

4 Tips for Better Outdoor Sports Photography

3. Set a high shutter speed. With any type of action, you'll want your shutter speed fast enough to capture the moment without a blur. Especially when shooting outdoors, you'll also need a reasonably fast shutter speed to compensate for the brightness. You have to find a balance to keep the photo from being overexposed; however, a shutter speed that’s too fast might leave the image underexposed, or too dark. What’s really frustrating to me is when the clouds come and go over the sun. I'm constantly adjusting my shutter speed as the clouds move. You may be as high as 1/5000, but often a 1/1500 might be standard. Shutter speed varies SO much outdoors with sports, just play with it.

4 Tips for Better Outdoor Sports Photography

4. Be ready. When you’re photographing sports, you can either use the zoom lens as binoculars and follow the ball, or zoom in on your child (or another subject) and wait for the action. Sometimes I like to grab the "pensive" shot of them waiting for the ball — then when it comes, I'll snap for the action as well. With a great zoom lens, you don't need to get closer to the action — you just need a good angle. I generally stand on the sidelines in the middle of the field during a game and only walk around if I need to change my angle. I'll often keep one eye through the lens and the other eye on the field to help me gauge the timing of it all. I don't photograph the whole game, but I will pull out my camera sporadically. At some point, I have to set my gear aside, relax, and just watch the game (and cheer)!

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About the Author

Kristen Duke is a self-taught photographer, author, teacher, and mother of four. She has been a professional portrait photographer for 10 years. Kristen also brings photography and DIY projects together in her creative and colorful blog, Capturing Joy. She also encourages readers to get pictures off of the computer and onto the walls of their homes in a series called Decorating with Portraits.