Taking Better Images of Your Kids’ Sports |Tips and Tricks

School’s back in session, and fall sports have started up.  Now’s a perfect time to talk about how to improve the images you take of your children playing sports.  These tips are geared for parents using a point-n-shoot or a dSLR on the automatic or creative modes.     Each sport is different, as is the locale – field, gymnasium, and weather of the day.  Since it’s fall here in New Hampshire, field sports like soccer, field hockey, and football are in season.


 So, let’s talk about ways to improve your outside sports photography:

1.  Know your camera – Meet the Running Man!

If you shoot on the automatic modes of a dSLR or a point-n-shoot, know what the Sports mode does.  I like to call the Sports mode “The Running Man”.  In Sports mode, a few things will or won’t happen – your camera is operating differently than when just on automatic (green square).  By using the Running Man, you are giving you camera a lit bit of information about what you are trying to do.

  • The camera will choose a higher shutter speeds that are key to “freezing” the action.
  • The flash will never go off – think about that, chances are even on the sidelines you are too far away for the flash to reach the players and add light to the action.  And, a direct flash during a game can distracting.
  • The focus mode in Sports will track the action.  What’s that mean?

When you press the shutter halfway, the focus will lock in on your focus points, most likely set for the center of the frame.  In normal modes, it would focus on that point in space regardless of where your subject moves or you point your camera. In sports mode, the camera will track so that whatever is on that focus point (usually the center) will be in focus.  As you follow the action, the camera does, too.

A little disclaimer – all the images in this post were shot on Manual, not Sports mode.  Shooting in Manual modes, gives you more control over the settings to help combat tough conditions and gives you flexibility to adjust the shutter speed, ISO, and depth of field.  If you want to learn to use your camera this way, it would be worth your investment in taking a class or two.

2.  Know your conditions.

A noon soccer game on a cloudless day is going to be really difficult to photograph regardless of your equipment.  The shadows are too harsh, and there’s so much difference between light and shade, your camera gets confused and doesn’t know what to do – sometimes it will underexpose and players will be in silhouette, other times it will over expose and everything will be too bright.  A lightly cloudy day makes for perfect conditions.  Be ready for changing conditions, and a way to protect your gear if it starts to rain.  That doesn’t mean don’t bring your camera to the championship game on a bright sunny day – just be prepared to know what your camera is going to want to do.


 3.  Get off the bleachers.

Leave your seat on the bleachers or camp chair on the sidelines.  From your seat at midfield, the best you are going to get is a profile, and more often than not you’re going to get the backs of players.Think about where the action is.  The trifecta of a great sports image is a face, the ball, and the goal.  Move to where you can get at least two of those to see a big improvement.  If you can stand on the end line, that’s a great spot to get the action coming down the field.  BUT, always remember to stay alert, as well as not be distracting.

Also, think about perspective.  What’s the action going to look like if you sit on the ground vs. stand up?


4.  It’s the experience, not just a competition.

Not every shot has to be an action shot.  You are there photographing your child, so don’t forget those little moments, that sometimes are big moments.  Interactions with her friends, the moments after he scores a touchdown, quiet moments on the bench,  or the crazy socks.  All those add up to tell the complete story.


 5.  Be a parent first, not a photographer.

I don’t bring my camera to every game, in fact I don’t bring it to most games.  I pick and choose.  I like to sit back and watch, and in the case of my older daughter, even coach.  Coaching limits the amount I photograph even more, but gives me more joy at the end of the day.

Don’t think about the shot you missed because you didn’t have the camera….think about the shot you missed because you were looking through the camera.  Remember, you are there because you love to watch them play.  When they look over to the sidelines to see if you’re watching, our kids want to SEE us watching – not a camera in front our faces.  So, be sure you aren’t always watching through a viewfinder.

I’m headed to soccer games this week, but not sure if I’m bringing my camera.  My girls are due for their first goals at their respective levels, and I want to watch with my own two eyes…but, the camera will probably be in the car in case the mood strikes me.

What are you photographing, or not photographing but watching, this week?


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