Check out this sneak peak of our Online Learning Course, Get in the Game: Winning Youth Sports Shots, taught by sports photographer and Canon Explorer of Light, Damian Strohmeyer. This course consists of video content as well as PDF guides and interactive content, in which Damian covers many different sports, including baseball, soccer and swimming. You can find this course, as well as other courses on the Canon Online Store.
Basic Tips for Sports Photography
- Know how to operate your camera and lenses before you get out to the athletic venue. Take the time to read over the instruction manual and experiment with the camera before you actually go out. The field isn’t the place to learn camera operation.
- Do some research about what you are attempting to photograph: both the sport and the images you would like to capture. Search books and magazines for photos that you can emulate. Have a plan about what you aspire your photographs to look like before you start shooting.
- Approach the event you are covering like a professional. Leave your social commitments for after the event. Pour your efforts into making the best images you can make. Remember there are no “do overs” at sports events. It happens, you photograph it, no second chances.
- Concentrate, concentrate, concentrate. Photographing sports is really difficult. You need to keep your thoughts on what you are photographing and what might unfold next. Be prepared and be ready. Frame your photos carefully, taking care to not cut off feet or heads. Watch your backgrounds so that once you have a nicely composed photo, the background doesn’t detract from your photo.
- Have fun but keep the camera up to your face. The only way to get better at sports photography is to keep shooting and shooting and shooting—it gets easier to execute the more experience you have behind the camera.
Shooting Positions for Baseball & Softball
Position 1: This position that professionals refer to as “outside first” is a handy stopgap position that lets you look at right-hand batters as they swing, at left-hand batters as they follow through, and all batters as they leave the batter’s box for 1st base. It puts you in a good position for reaction as batters return to the dugout, or portraits as they return to the dugout. You have a good view of the 3rd baseman, the shortstop and the whole outfield. With a shorter lens you can pretty easily cover 1st and 2nd base. For plays on the bases you have good looks at both 2nd base and home plate and a decent look at 3rd base. This isn’t a particularly dramatic angle but it probably covers more positions than any other.
Position 2: Professionals refer to this position as “outside third.” I like this position quite a bit as a good spot for home plate action as often the catcher is blocking the plate looking up the 3rd base line for the advancing runner. It’s a dramatic head-on look of the play. I also like this position for power hitting right-hand batters who tend to follow their hits and more particularly their home runs to the left side of the field. On home runs it almost looks like they are posing. Your view of 2nd base is all right but a little profile compared to a 1st base position. Your view of 3rd base action is dramatic but unfortunately plays at 3rd base are relatively rare.
Position 3: This “inside first” position is one that you can sometimes create in your local ballpark. I like this look for shooting the left side of the infield and also for left-hand pitchers. In softball it’s a nice place to shoot a left-hand pitcher. Your view of 2nd base action is good but can get obstructed by an on deck batter or umpire moving up the line toward 1st base. Your view of home plate action is really dramatic but also can be obstructed by the catcher, umpire, or even the pitcher coming in to back up the throw to the plate. At high school and youth league baseball and softball this position is often through a fence, which creates problems of image distortion from the fence, more difficult with a silver chain than a black one. You can get around this issue most easily by getting the lens as tight as possible to the fence and then if it is still distorting you can sometimes eliminate the issue by putting black tape around the cutout you are looking through to create a shadow on the front of your lens.
Position 4: Inside 3rd base is a very handy position to shoot right-hand pitchers and most of the infield. Plays at 1st base look good from here, as do plays at 2nd base. You are less likely to be blocked by an umpire at this position for plays at 2nd base and home plate but often the action is a little profile rather than head-on. This is a really good spot for photographing right-hand pitchers.
Position 5: This position is one that you would normally have to create by sitting in a seat in the stands or crouching behind the plate at a Little League or high school game. If a pitcher is a key part of what you need to photograph this is an important position to consider. In softball, which is mostly a pitcher/catcher game, this will almost definitely be part of your coverage. If you are working through a chain link fence, see the instructions for Position 3.
Positions 6 & 7: Overhead positions are often referred as “safety” positions. The beauty of an overhead position is that you can almost always see the whole field, so you shouldn’t miss any significant photos. Another really nice part of overhead photo positions is that they allow you to use the graphic elements of the park as part of your composition. At day games you sometimes get really interesting shadows and patches of light illuminating the field. At the Little League level of baseball it is often one of the ways to make photographs of the game without being forced to photograph through a chain link fence. An overhead photo position is a good way to stretch your graphic and compositional skills.
Position 8: Outfield positions are really nice positions if you have a smaller field like in softball or Little League, which make facing head first into the batter with a telephoto lens more reachable. At the higher levels of play, this position needs an 800mm lens or more. For softball or Little League, you can shoot pretty tight with a 400mm lens; or if you are trying to really fill up the frame, use a 600mm lens. The crop sensor cameras are a photographer’s friend as well, as the crop factor allows the photographer to photograph with a less telephoto lens and have the crop sensor help you fill the frame. I have found this position to be critical in editorial coverage of a game, because it gives you a head-on look at the batter for big hits like home runs or game-winning hits. It also gives you the reactions at the end of a championship game from the dugouts spilling onto the field towards the pitcher. The catcher also runs straight toward the pitcher at the end of a championship and is often best viewed from this outfield position. A lot of really nice photos come from this position in a championship or emotional game.