Sports photography

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A sports photographer looking around during 2019 Pocono 400. Photographer (48010186141).jpg
A sports photographer looking around during 2019 Pocono 400.
Photographers at a game at Croke Park, Ireland. Note the use of telephoto lenses. Photographers at Croke Park.jpg
Photographers at a game at Croke Park, Ireland. Note the use of telephoto lenses.
Filming from a motor is done often in endurance sports. Pictured: Ellen van Dijk at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Ellen van Dijk NED (8597988270).jpg
Filming from a motor is done often in endurance sports. Pictured: Ellen van Dijk at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Photographer on the sideline of an American football game with multiple cameras, long lenses, and monopods. SportsPhotographer.jpg
Photographer on the sideline of an American football game with multiple cameras, long lenses, and monopods.
Mikaela Shiffrin Mikaela Shiffrin in Are.jpg
Mikaela Shiffrin

Sports photography refers to the genre of photography that covers all types of sports.


In the majority of cases, professional sports photography is a branch of photojournalism, while amateur sports photography, such as photos of children playing association football, is a branch of vernacular photography.

The main application of professional sports photography is for editorial purposes; dedicated sports photographers usually work for newspapers, major wire agencies or dedicated sports magazines. However, sports photography is also used for advertising purposes both to build a brand and as well as to promote a sport in a way that cannot be accomplished by editorial means.


Equipment typically used for sports photography includes a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera or Mirrorless Camera with high continuous shooting speeds and interchangeable lenses ranging from 14mm to 400mm or longer in focal length, depending on the type of sport. The proper lenses are very important as they allow the photographer to reach closer or farther as quickly as possible to keep up with the game play. Essential accessories include a monopod or tripod for stability and extra batteries. Longer focal length lenses are typically used to photograph action in sports such as football, while wide angle lenses can be used for sideline and close-up athlete photos.

Camera bodies

The preferred camera bodies for modern sports photography have fast autofocus and high burst rates, typically 8 frames per second or faster. The current flagship sports cameras produced by Canon and Nikon are the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Nikon D5; these are popular in professional sports photography. As a non-professional, there are multiple other camera bodies to choose from. If you are a fan of DSLR camera, bodies like the Canon 6D and the Canon 5D offer full frame censors to get the highest quality image without compromising ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed in your camera settings. Other non-professionals looking to get the newest technology in the photography world can use Sony Alpha A7 III or the Canon EOS R.


Different sports favor different lenses, [1] but sports photography usually requires fast (wide aperture) telephoto lenses, with fast autofocus performance. Fast autofocus is needed to focus on movement, telephoto to get close to the action, and wide aperture for several reasons:

Extremely wide apertures (such as f/1.2 or f/1.4) are more rarely used, because at these apertures the depth of field is very shallow, which makes focusing more difficult and slows down autofocus. [2] The main distinction is between outdoor sports and indoor sports – in outdoor sports the distances are greater and the light brighter, [1] while in indoor sports the distances are lesser and the light dimmer. [2] Accordingly, outdoor sports tend to have longer focal length long focus lenses with slower apertures, while indoor sports tend to have shorter lenses with faster apertures.

Both zoom and prime lenses are used; zoom lenses (generally in the 70–200, 75–300, 100–400 or 200-400 range) allow a greater range of framing; primes are faster, cheaper, lighter, and optically superior, but are more restricted in framing. As an example the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR AF lens and the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens are both fixed telephoto lenses which cannot zoom.

Apertures of f/2.8 or faster are most often used, though f/4 is also found, particularly on brighter days. Particularly visible are the Canon super telephoto lenses, whose distinctive white casing (to dissipate the sun's heat) is recognizable at many sporting events. Of these, the Canon 400mm f/2.8 is particularly recommended for field sports such as football. [1] [3]

This varies with sport and preference; for example golf photographers may prefer to use a 500mm f/4 as opposed to a 400mm f/2.8 as it is a lighter lens to be carried around all day.

Indoor sports photography, as mentioned earlier, can present its own challenges with less distance between the action and photographer and extreme lighting. For example, competition cheerleading allows for photographers to be up close to the action while looking upwards directly into harsh stage lighting against a black background. A different approach to such a situation is to use the prime lens named a "nifty fifty". The shutter speed is extremely fast while still setting the aperture to bring in enough light. In this scenario a budget telephoto lens would produce both dark and blurry images. Using a prime 50mm lens is a budget friendly option for many other indoor events such as school plays, concerts, dance recitals, etc.

Remote cameras

Sports photographers may use remote cameras triggered by wireless shutter devices (i.e. Pocket Wizards) to photograph from places they could not otherwise stay, for example in an elevated position such as above a basketball basket, or to be in two places at once, i.e. at the start and the finish - such as at horse racing.[ citation needed ]


Location is often important for sports photography. At big events, professional photographers often shoot from VIP spots with the best views, usually as close to the action as possible. Most sports require the photographer to frame their images with speed and adjust camera settings spontaneously to prevent blurring or incorrect exposure. Some sports photography is also done from a distance to give the game a unique effect.

Getting to know your subjects is critical in capturing emotion. Effects and editing can only do so much for a photo. Understanding who athletes are by having a conversation with them can change your view on the person, making you a better photographer.

Knowing the game. Predicting what happens next in a sports game is critical in understanding how to compose your shot. The action moves fast so you take the time to prepare yourself before going out and taking photos.

Panning Chu Yin miku - panoramio - gundam2345.jpg

Shutter speed is critical to catching motion, thus sports photography is often done in shutter priority mode or manual. A frequent goal is to capture an instant with minimal blur, in which case a minimal shutter speed is desired, but in other cases a slower shutter speed is used so that blur shows to capture the motion, not simply the instant. A particular technique is panning, where the camera uses an intermediate shutter speed and pans with the subject, yielding a relatively sharp subject and a background blurred in the direction of motion, yielding a sense of speed – compare speed lines.

ISO speed is often high (to allow faster shutter speeds) and may be left in auto.

Photos are often taken in burst mode to capture the best moment, sometimes in combination with JPEG rather than RAW shooting (JPEG files being smaller, these allow longer bursts).

Strip photography

While the vast majority of sports photography focuses on capturing a moment, possibly with some blur, the technique of strip photography is sometimes used to instead show motion over time. This is most prominent in a photo finish, but can also be used for other purposes, often yielding unusually distorted images.

Notable photographers

A number of notable photographers are known for their sports work; they have often worked for the magazines Life or Sports Illustrated.

See also

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Aperture Hole or opening through which light travels

In optics, an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels. More specifically, the aperture and focal length of an optical system determine the cone angle of a bundle of rays that come to a focus in the image plane.

Shutter speed The length of time when the film or digital sensor inside a camera is exposed to light

In photography, shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time when the film or digital sensor inside the camera is exposed to light, also when a camera's shutter is open when taking a photograph. The amount of light that reaches the film or image sensor is proportional to the exposure time. 1500 of a second will let half as much light in as 1250.

Bokeh Aesthetic quality of blur in the out-of-focus parts of an image

In photography, bokeh is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in out-of-focus parts of an image. Bokeh has also been defined as "the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light". Differences in lens aberrations and aperture shape cause very different bokeh effects. Some lens designs blur the image in a way that is pleasing to the eye, while others produce distracting or unpleasant blurring. Photographers may deliberately use a shallow focus technique to create images with prominent out-of-focus regions, accentuating their lens's bokeh.

Canon EF lens mount Standard lens mount on the Canon EOS family

The EF lens mount is the standard lens mount on the Canon EOS family of SLR film and digital cameras. EF stands for "Electro-Focus": automatic focusing on EF lenses is handled by a dedicated electric motor built into the lens. Mechanically, it is a bayonet-style mount, and all communication between camera and lens takes place through electrical contacts; there are no mechanical levers or plungers. The mount was first introduced in 1987.

Autofocus Optical system to focus on an automatically or manually selected point or area

An autofocus optical system uses a sensor, a control system and a motor to focus on an automatically or manually selected point or area. An electronic rangefinder has a display instead of the motor; the adjustment of the optical system has to be done manually until indication. Autofocus methods are distinguished by their type as being either active, passive or hybrid variants.

Digital single-lens reflex camera Digital cameras combining the parts of a single-lens reflex camera and a digital camera back

A digital single-lens reflex camera is a digital camera that combines the optics and the mechanisms of a single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor.

Nikon FE

The Nikon FE is an advanced semi-professional level, interchangeable lens, 35 mm film, single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. It was manufactured by Nikon in Japan from 1978 to 1983, and was available new from dealer stock until c. 1984. The FE uses a metal-bladed, vertical-travel focal plane shutter with a speed range of 8 to 1/1000 second, plus Bulb, and flash X-sync of 1/125th second. It had dimensions of 89.5 millimetres (3.52 in) height, 142 mm (5.6 in) width, 57.5 mm (2.26 in) depth and 590 grams (21 oz) weight. It was available in two colors: black with chrome trim and all black. As on the FM, its model designation did not appear on the front of the camera, but was engraved as a small "FE" preceding the serial number on the rear of the housing.

Canon A-1

The Canon A-1 is an advanced level single-lens reflex (SLR) 35 mm film camera for use with interchangeable lenses. It was manufactured by Canon Camera K. K. in Japan from April 1978 to 1985. It employs a horizontal cloth-curtain focal-plane shutter with a speed range of 30 to 1/1000 second plus bulb and flash synchronization speed of 1/60 second. It has dimensions of 92 millimetres (3.6 in) height, 141 millimetres (5.6 in) width, 48 millimetres (1.9 in) depth and 620 grams (22 oz) weight. Unlike most SLRs of the time, it was available in only one color; all black. The introductory US list price for the body plus Canon FD 50 mm f/1.4 SSC lens was $625, the camera was generally sold with a 30–40% discount.

Canon EF 1200mm lens

The EF 1200mm f/5.6L USM is a super-telephoto prime lens that was made by Canon Inc. It uses an EF mount, and is compatible with the Canon EOS camera range. It has a focal length of 1200 mm and so on a digital body with a sensor size of 22.5 mm × 15 mm, such as a Canon EOS 40D or 450D, it provides a 35 mm field of view equivalent to that of a 1920 mm lens. With a body with a sensor size of 28.8 mm × 19.2 mm, such as a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, the field of view is equivalent to that of a 1560 mm lens.

Canon T80

The Canon T80 is Canon's first autofocus 35mm single-lens reflex camera. It was introduced in April 1985 and discontinued in June 1986 and is part of the T series of FD mount cameras. It is not compatible with Canon's later EOS system and its autofocus EF-mount lenses. Three special lenses, designated AC, were produced specifically for the camera. Other FD-mount lenses can also be used, but without autofocus capabilities.

Canon EF 85mm lens

The EF 85mm lenses are a group of medium telephoto prime lenses made by Canon Inc. that share the same focal length. These lenses have an EF type mount that fits the Canon EOS line of cameras.

Nikon F90

The Nikon F90 is a 35mm SLR camera manufactured between 1992 and 2001 and replaced the earlier Nikon F-801. At the time of its release it was noted for its fast autofocus speed compared to previous Nikon models, which had lagged behind competitor Canon's. It was thus seen by many as a 'stop-gap' measure to prevent the mass migration of many Nikon-using professional photographers to Canon, as Nikon's next fully professional camera, the F5, was some time away from release. The Nikon F4, the professional model available at the time of the F90's release, had very slow autofocus compared to Canon's autofocus SLRs.

Lens speed

Lens speed refers to the maximum aperture diameter, or minimum f-number, of a photographic lens. A lens with a larger maximum aperture is called a "fast lens" because it can achieve the same exposure with a faster shutter speed. Conversely, a smaller maximum aperture is "slow" because it delivers less light intensity and requires a slower (longer) shutter speed.

Nikon D40 Digital single-lens camera by Nikon

The Nikon D40 is Nikon F-mount entry-level digital SLR, announced November 16, 2006 and made until March 2009, when it was succeeded by the Nikon D3000. Compared to its predecessor, the D50, the D40 had several features removed, a few added, and a lower price: US$499.95 ESP as of November 2009 with the 18–55 mm G-II kit lens, positioning it as an entry-level model compared to the D80. The D40x has a 10-megapixel maximum resolution, up from 6 megapixels of the D40 and D50.

Lenses for SLR and DSLR cameras

This article is about photographic lenses for single-lens reflex film cameras (SLRs) and digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs). Emphasis is on modern lenses for 35 mm film SLRs and for DSLRs with sensor sizes less than or equal to 35 mm ("full-frame").

Digital camera modes User selectable camera configurations

Most digital cameras support the ability to choose among a number of configurations, or modes, for use in various situations. Professional DSLR cameras provide several manual modes; consumer point-and-shoot cameras emphasize automatic modes; amateur prosumer cameras often have a wide variety of both manual and automatic modes.

Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG lens

The Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG lens is a professional-level telephoto zoom lens made by Sigma Corporation. It is notable for being the first lens with an aperture of f/2.8 and a focal length of 500mm. This combination allows very distant objects to be photographed at high shutter speeds in dimmer light, compared to other telephoto lenses. It also allows for very narrow depth-of-field and diffuse bokeh. The main markets for such long, fast lenses are wildlife and sports photographers.

Nikon F-mount teleconverter

The Nikon F-mount teleconverters are a group of magnifying lenses mounted between the lens and camera bodies using the Nikon F-mount. Currently, 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x converters are available separately; a fourth, the 1.25x, is available only with Nikon's newest 800mm supertelephoto lens.

Canon EOS R Digital mirrorless camera

The Canon EOS R is a 30.3 megapixel full-frame mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera launched by Canon in October 2018.