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Tips on Taking Great Photos of Kids Playing Sports

Submitted by on August 19, 2013 – 5:47 pm2 Comments

Photography Kids - Taking Photos of Kids Playing Sports

Freeze Frame: Taking great sports photos easy as having the right equipment

by Misty Hoyt

With an early Saturday morning Starbucks coffee in one hand and a brand new Rebel Canon camera in the other, today’s the day Dad’s going to get that perfect shot of Braylen scoring the winning goal.

After every click of the shutter, Dad checks the Liquid Crystal Display (LCD). Although certain he captured Braylen’s magnificent header, to Dad’s disappointment only the before and after shots appear, neither of which included the ball. That’s ok, however, as he continually checks the LCD, there are plenty of fairly good action shots. That is, until Dad gets home, pops the memory card into the computer only to discover that blown up to larger than a 3-inch-by-2-inch image, the ball, Braylen and even the grass are out of focus. Even the newest technology can’t fix motion blur. Darn! Back to the drawing board.

In a world where even 5-year-olds can take a decent photo with an iPhone, how can it be possible that a parent with a fairly great knowledge base of digital photography can’t take a brag-worthy picture of their kid hooping it up? Even the priciest of cameras won’t do the trick without the right settings and glass.

Camera Settings

First of all, focus on the settings. Outdoor daytime sports photos are almost no-brainers. It’s the indoor and nighttime pictures that give people problems.  For indoor or nighttime sports, a high ISO (old school film speed) helps bring in as much light as possible. An ISO of 1600 is great starting point. Although cranking it up to 3200 is acceptable and sometimes necessary. In the days of film, 3200 would result in a lot of noise, also known as grain, but with today’s technology, it’s no longer a number to be feared.

Shutter Speed

Next, the focus should be on shutter speed. Although sometimes children’s sporting events seem no more action packed than watching paint dry, with any luck those really fast shoes will result in some fast action on the track, court or field. In that case, getting the shutter speed up to 1/100 of a second would be fabulous. However, more times than not (to allow for enough light) 1/60 or 1/80 is more realistic. A couple of test shots are allowed of course – even the professionals glance at the LCD to make sure they are on the right track.

Lens Size

Now, here’s where the glass comes into play. This is also where even those who just dropped several hundred or even between one and two thousand dollars on new camera equipment start to have problems. The real key to sports photography is the glass – the lens glass.  To put it simply, the wider the aperture capability of a lens, the better for sports photography. It has the capability of letting in the most light and offering a shorter focal point. Not only do f-stops such as f/2.8 and f/4 offer the most aesthetically pleasing results (with nothing more than the athlete in focus), they are imperative to poorly lit events.

Grrrr . . . now what? Should Dad go out and spend $1300 on an L series Canon lens? Not necessarily. Renting a lens, even if the ultimate goal is to purchase, is a very smart start and maybe even the solution. Depending on the retailer, sometimes a lens rented on Friday and not returned until Monday is the same minimal cost as if it was rented from Monday to Tuesday. Sweet, right? Indeed. That’s more time to play and practice.

In the Metroplex, Dallas Camera, Competitive Camera and Camera Stop all rent lenses for as little as $25-$45. Most amateur photographers looking to capture their kids’ sporting events will have a SLR digital capable of handling a high-end lens. If not, renting a camera, while a bit pricier than a lens ($64-$165), is also an option. Double check compatibility with the retailer.

Here are a few more sport season pointers:

1 .  Choose one or two games a season to take photos. Sure, you might miss the winning soccer goal, but with one eye on the viewfinder all game, every game, you’ll certainly miss more than a goal. Chances are you might not get that shot anyway.

2.  To increase the likelihood of getting that million-dollar shot, focus on your kiddo. Once people see you shooting with more than an iPhone, they’ll start asking you to capture their kid as well. Don’t fall into the unintentional trap. All of a sudden you’ll feel more pressure, and more than likely, be more intent on getting great pictures of the other young athletes instead of your own.

3.  Take your test shots during warm-ups and then double-check your work during halftime. When viewing, zoom in as much as possible, as even fairly poor photos look great in the small LCD. Try to avoid checking your images during the game. Again, you don’t want to miss that All-Star play and you darn sure don’t want to get hit in the head with an awry ball.

4.  A 70-200mm lens will be perfect for indoor pictures, but if shooting outdoors, go for the 300mm (you’re renting, anyway, so go for the big gun). Big gun, big burden – go ahead and score a monopod for a $5 rental fee. You’ll be glad you did as the 300 can get heavy, and the monopod will hold it steady. Crisper, cleaner photos will result.

5.  Get up and move around. Why go to the trouble of renting a lens and then sit in the bleachers with the iPhone and point-and-shoot parents. Remember, you will have the rest of the season to sit in the bleachers and enjoy the nachos and hot dogs.

6.  While you’re on the sidelines, go ahead, be obnoxious, lay down on the field, sprint to the top of the bleachers, just do whatever it takes to find new angles and be creative. It’s part of your job to embarrass your kiddos, so get some creative pictures while you’re at it.

7.  And if that big game does end up being a snooze fest, take the opportunity to shoot candid shots. Some examples of great unsuspecting moments include the coach’s look of frustration, animated pictures of the coach (sometimes watching the coach is more fun than observing the game), Emma in the outfield picking daisies or Sam and Alice playing a game of “I touched you last” on the bench. There is always something picture worthy at a sporting event.

Happy shooting!

Misty Hoyt is a Plano-based photographer who specializes in family, individual and business professional portraits. She also captures her own teens in the pool and on the court. For more guidance on sports or other photography, contact her at 214.235.3239 or




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