Digital Sports Photography: Take Winning Shots Every Time


You can freeze that one moment in time

Sports photography gets you up close and personal with the action you crave, the athletes you idolize, or the activities that make memories for your children. It also provides plenty of frustration for amateurs and professionals alike. How do you shoot on a rainy day? What about the crowd at the finish line? Can you capture the tension as the ball trembles on the rim? You can, with the professional advice these experts provide. No matter ...

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You can freeze that one moment in time

Sports photography gets you up close and personal with the action you crave, the athletes you idolize, or the activities that make memories for your children. It also provides plenty of frustration for amateurs and professionals alike. How do you shoot on a rainy day? What about the crowd at the finish line? Can you capture the tension as the ball trembles on the rim? You can, with the professional advice these experts provide. No matter what your sport or level of expertise, this book can make you a better digital sports photographer.

  • Benefit from the advice of more than 20 top sports photographers, including Terrell Lloyd, official photographer for the San Francisco 49ers
  • Learn to handle bad lighting, weather, fast-moving athletes, flash limitations, and other challenges
  • Identify key things to consider when switching from film to digital
  • Get specific advice on how to shoot a wide range of sports: extreme, outdoor, indoor, competitive, recreational, and more
  • Discover ways to sell your photos and manage legal issues
  • See dozens of full-color examples illustrating professional tips and techniques
  • Take great photos with any kind of digital camera, from a point-and-shoot to an SLR
  • Find out how to get photos onto the Web easily and quickly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764596070
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/22/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 358
  • Product dimensions: 7.99 (w) x 9.05 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Serge Timacheff is a professional photographer and writer. He is the official photographer for the International Fencing Federation and has photographed numerous world championships and the Olympic Games. He also shoots for Corbis and is the founding partner of Tiger Mountain Photo and His work appears worldwide, and he gives frequent workshops and lectures on photography. When home, he lives in the Pacific Northwest.

David Karlins teaches and writes about graphic and interactive design, and digital printing. His recent books include Build Your Own Web Site, How to Do Everything with Adobe Illustrator CS, and The PC Magazine Guide to Printing Great Digital Photos. Visit David’s Web site at

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Read an Excerpt

Digital Sports Photography

By Serge Timacheff

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7645-9607-1

Chapter One

The Wide World of Sports Photography

Sports fans and photographers are, individually, two of the most passionate groups of people you'll ever find. Combine these two, and you've got a recipe for obsession - a lifetime of getting close to the action, capturing life at its most dramatic, and sharing it with the world.

For a sports photographer focused on shooting an event, there's nothing else in the world that matters more than what he or she is seeing and experiencing at that moment. For the professional photographer, sometimes it means shooting a sport you don't necessarily know well. For example, professional photographers at the Olympic Games often get assigned to two or three different sports every day and must quickly learn the key things to see and shoot, whether it's kayaking, equestrian jumping, javelin throwing, or ski jumping. However, while these photographers may not have a driving passion for some of the individual sports they shoot, they typically became sports photographers because of their passion for sports overall.

Let's look at digital sports photography overall: what it means to shoot sports events, how sports photographers (whether amateur or pro) integrate with an event, and the importance of knowing the sport you're documenting. In addition, this chapter looks at the types of equipment you may be using or will need to use for best results, and it reviews the various sports categories from a photographer's perspective.

Capturing Sports

If you're an amateur enthusiast or semi-pro, you're probably intent upon shooting a sport you love or one that someone you love loves (such as your spouse or child). And the dramatic moments of victory or defeat are all the more sweet or bitter as a result. Being able to document those moments for posterity in the form of a well-shot photograph is valuable far beyond its ability to create revenue or be published because it will be cherished by those who love not only the sport, but the player.

Even when you know you have taken a nice shot, it may have impact you don't realize, such as when a Swiss fencer won a gold medal that turned out to be the only one won by his country at the Athens 2004 Olympics, as shown in Figure 1-1.

Nonetheless, some digital camera-packing photographers become so involved with the gadgetry of today's technological marvels that they fail to see the action they're intent upon capturing. Then, when they go to edit their images, they hardly remember the sequence of action, often have poorly composed images, and often have missed key moments in the event.

Just like with photographing in the studio, at a wedding, or on location at a news event, photographers capturing sports - professional and amateur alike - must be in tune with their subject matter and involved with what's happening. While the athletes may be (and often are) nearly unaware of the photographers' presence, there is still at least an implied relationship between the player and the shooter.

Athletes and Digital Photography

Often the biggest customers of sports photography are the players who want to be able to see themselves performing on the field of play. And, although they may not be thinking of the photographer during the intensity of competition or athletic endeavor, they undoubtedly know at some level of consciousness that they are being watched. This, in turn, affects how they perform, heightens their adrenaline at least a little, and gives them a bit more of the home court advantage knowing there's an interested audience.

Some athletes may take the opposite tack, shunning publicity or being watched on- or off-camera. For some, participating in a sport, in spite of its inherent public performance factor, is a very private thing, and these athletes find themselves easily distracted by anyone observing them. Yet as a photographer, you may still want or need to get shots of these reluctant subjects engaging in their sport, which adds a further bit of challenge to the effort.

Capturing the moment in Figure 1-2 required being discreet while shooting in a weight training facility so as not to disturb athletes while they were training.

The relationship between observer and performer, player and photographer, athlete and spectator is intertwined permanently. And you, the photographer, must understand and engage in this relationship in order to create the best images of the player and the event. To do so means understanding how to shoot the event, how to best use the equipment you have, and what to do best with the images you capture.

Trials and Tribulations of Shooting Sports

For most sports, photographers have little, if any, control over their environment. Unlike a studio shoot, or even taking a snapshot of friends, the lighting cannot be controlled, the players cannot be posed, and finding a good spot from which to shoot may be tough. At the most exciting moment of the event, the action you want to shoot may be on the other side of the field, the player may be facing away from you, a zealous fan may jump in front of your lens, or another photographer may suddenly obstruct your view or bump into you.

The photo in Figure 1-3, taken at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, shows the difficulty that even pro photographers sometimes have in getting a good vantage point to do their work.

Pro photographers often have to fight for the best positions at sporting events. At the Olympics, official photographers are given key positions, and hierarchies exist among the ranks. Photographers receive official vests for identification, and a special vest is given to each photography/media organization, allowing those individuals premium positions in front of other photographers.

Still, photographers often have to elbow and wedge their way into a good slot to be able to see athletes receive medals or top performers doing their thing on the field or court. Add to that the language barriers and variety of cultures at an event like the Olympic Games, and you suddenly have a group of pros that can become hostile at a moment's notice if they aren't getting the shots they want or need.


One distinguishing characteristic of how pro versus amateur sports photographers shoot is how they anticipate the action. Amateurs typically shoot as things happen - usually with only one camera - and wait for the best moment to try to take a great shot. Pro photographers are ready for anything and shoot almost all the action - even the boring parts. They know they can simply delete or edit out the useless images later. Furthermore, they anticipate the action.

In Figure 1-4, for example, I had taken a quick sequence of shots where these Olympic foil fencers were actually trying to keep each other away; however, in the process, the image ended up appearing much more like a malicious act where one was kicking the other in the chest. However, because of the action that preceded this move, I had been able to anticipate that the fencers would execute an action that would be interesting.

If a gold medal is about to be won, pro photographers have an alternate camera ready to go that's been preset for the lighting changes when the team rushes onto the field to celebrate the win; often the settings and lenses needed for capturing celebration shots are different than what might have been needed for the final scoring action.

Of course, you may not be shooting the Olympic Games, and you might not be out on the field with two or three cameras. Nonetheless, the concept of anticipation and the principles of sports photography apply to successfully capture great photos, whether you have a fixed-lens, point-and-shoot camera or a high-end SLR (single-lens reflex) camera - meaning it uses detachable, interchangeable lenses and, when you look through the viewfinder, you are looking through the lens. When you're anticipating action, it depends on the capabilities of your camera as to how you can shoot an athletic sequence. If your camera can take bursts of shots in rapid succession, you can anticipate when action is just about to take place, hit the button, and let it go (assuming you have your settings, focus, etc. correctly adjusted). If your camera is a bit slower, or the number of shots it can buffer in a burst is low, then you may be better off pressing the shutter release one shot at a time. The slower the camera, the more you'll need to hone your anticipatory skills - and you'll also want to know the sport well. So anticipating and getting good shots involves knowing the capabilities and limitations of your equipment, understanding the sport, and composing the shot well. Anticipation is all about being prepared to position yourself to take different types of shots as the phases of sports action and ultimate victory (or defeat) take place.

Adapting to the action

As a photo enthusiast, you may find yourself limited to being able to shoot from only one seat in the stands, or being very limited in terms of where you can go to take a good photo. This is where equipment can help, at least to a degree, in allowing you to have a closer view with a longer lens, a camera able to shoot good photos in limited light if a flash isn't an option, or the ability to take multiple frames per second to ensure that you catch the action as it takes place.

The photo in Figure 1-5 required me to shoot at a distance, in low light. For this type of shooting, you'll need an SLR with a detachable lens that supports a wide aperture (such as f/2.8) and a high ISO rating. The newer, high-end SLRs allow you to take photos at a high ISO (like 1600 or higher) with a surprisingly small amount of digital noise in the image.

Most often, these options mean buying cameras and accessories that cost more and are more bulky than the simple point-and-shoot models, but if you're truly intent upon getting good photos, you'll have to consider spending the extra money and toting the extra weight.


I return to special issues involved in shooting action shots in the course of addressing specific challenges of different sports in Part II of this book.

Obviously, some sports place more demands on your ability to capture high-speed action than others, but these are some basic principles involved in capturing action shots:

* Know the sport. Even photographers with only moderately fast cameras can often get good shots if they know what's happening, they make educated guesses as to what might come next in a key competition, and they find the best or most creative vantage points. * Know what your equipment can and can't do. For some action in certain lighting conditions, only an expensive, high-speed SLR with a fast lens (meaning that it can shoot at any focal length at a constant, wide aperture setting such as f/2.8) will suffice; in other instances, you may be able to use a point-and-shoot and get good results. In any event, practice with your equipment before having to shoot a "moment of truth." * Get as close as possible to where pro photographers locate themselves. Sometimes being close to referees and coaches - as long as you don't get in their way - can provide a great place from which to shoot action shots. I've even shot from the platform of a TV camera before, using a long lens. * Know the shots you need to get, and study them ahead of time. Read major sports magazines, such as Sports Illustrated, and look at the Web for various images. Use Google or Yahoo! to search for images instead of text; the Web is a great resource. * Take more shots than you think you'll need. You can always delete images, but you can't add them! * If you need your camera to catch more stop-action and you can't get the right exposure, shoot a little darker than you normally would. This allows you to increase your shutter speed. You can lighten images in your image-editing package relatively easily. * Don't be afraid to shoot tight, meaning that some parts of the athletes are cut off. This adds drama to your action composition and makes the person seeing the image really feel close to the action.

The Reality of Equipment

Ever wonder how the pro sports photographers in Sports Illustrated and other publications get those great shots that you just can't seem to get, even when you're just as close to the action as they are? In part, the answer lies in techniques that I'll be illustrating for you throughout this book. But the other factor behind those spectacular photos involves the equipment those pros are using.

There's no substitute for a high-quality camera to capture the essence of an athlete, and this can be true both in action as well as personal portraits, such as the image in Figure 1-6.

Here, and throughout this book, I'll be sharing insights into the type of equipment that I and other professional sports photographers use to capture those insanely hard-to-grab sports moments to which we all aspire. Don't despair if your personal equipment isn't professional quality - this doesn't mean that you can't get professional-quality photographs with some practice. You'll find the behind-the-lens insights shared throughout this book are helpful no matter what kind of digital equipment you currently use. And the range of equipment options available is enormous.

Great cameras aren't cheap

The camera that I use for shooting fencing and other sports is a Canon 1D Mark II, a top-of-the-line sports and photojournalism camera. It is capable of shooting more than eight frames per second at 8.2 megapixels, up to 40 frames without stopping or slowing down. Dozens, if not hundreds, of lenses are available for the camera, and it can shoot at 1/8000 second at up to 3200 ISO. If it can be seen, this camera can see it. High-end cameras, such as the ones I use, are protected by multiple seals and magnesium bodies that prevent moisture, dust, sand, and other elements from affecting the cameras' performance.


Canon is not the only company making high-quality digital SLRs. Nikon also has a line of these professional-grade cameras.

The photo of the French Olympic saber team, shown in Figure 1-7, was taken with a Canon 1D Mark II. I used the camera's ability to shoot more than eight frames per second to capture the team jumping in the air all together, something I couldn't have pulled off as easily with a camera that had shutter-lag. With a point-and-shoot or camera that's not quite as fast, getting images like this will result from really knowing how to anticipate the action or by getting lucky when you hit the shutter release. However, by placing any camera on manual instead of automatic settings, your speed will be optimized, and, consequently, your likelihood of getting spontaneous action shots.


More detailed settings for various cameras and sports are covered in the chapters located in Part II of this book.

Fast, professional cameras are prohibitively expensive for the average amateur and enthusiast photographer; however, we want to address how you can optimize your camera to get the best shots possible, even if they aren't Olympic images. Within the scope of consumer cameras, there is still a large difference between products that will produce decent photos of fast action and ones that won't. And, for many consumer cameras, they've been geared for totally automatic shots taken by someone who really has very little interest in knowing how to set the camera in an optimal way. Yet, many of these cameras are capable of quite a bit more than you might expect if you go to the trouble of understanding how to operate them manually. But this also means knowing how to set the camera for the type of action, light, and sport you're shooting.

Optimizing the point-and-shoot camera

For sports, you might think that a point-and-shoot digital camera is often very impractical, and for the high-end professional photographer, it is. However, many consumer photographers - from amateur to avid enthusiast-are finding them very practical for a wide variety of photography. In addition to my high-end SLR equipment, for example, I also carry a Canon point-and-shoot for photo opportunities where it's a pain to drag-out all of my big equipment.

First, the limitations: For shooting fast sports, the biggest problem is that point-and-shoot cameras usually have the greatest degree of shutter-lag, which means that they have that pesky tendency to respond slowly when the shutter release is pressed, making shooting any action sport very difficult. Also, a simple digital camera often does not zoom in very well. With a point-and-shoot camera, you cannot interchange lenses, and you usually cannot add a flash. Simple digitals can take a long time to record a single image onto the flash card, and they are limited when it comes to sensitivity (often with an ISO limited to 400).


Excerpted from Digital Sports Photography by Serge Timacheff Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents




Part I: Understanding Digital Sports Photography.

Chapter 1: The Wide World of Sports Photography.

Chapter 2: From Shoot to Print: Workflow.

Chapter 3: Equipment and Techniques for Digital Sports Photography.

Part II: Shooting Sports on Location.

Chapter 4: Outdoor Field and Court Sports.

Chapter 5: Outdoor Recreation and Competition, On and Off the Water.

Chapter 6: Indoor Competition Sports.

Chapter 7: Extreme and Adventure Sports.

Chapter 8: Specialized Sports.

Part III: Working with Sports Images in the Digital Studio.

Chapter 9: Creating a Digital Studio.

Chapter 10: Working in a Digital Studio.

Part IV: The Ins and Outs of Presenting Your Digital Sports Photos.

Chapter 11: Output: Getting Sports Photos Online, In Print, and On Display.

Chapter 12: Going Pro or Covering Costs: Selling Sports Photos.

Chapter 13: Legal Issues: Taking, Displaying, and Distributing Sports Photos.

Appendix A: Photography Resources.

Appendix B: Contributing Photographers.



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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    Excellent for most Photographers

    We own a full-service photography studio in the Midwest. Each holiday season, we give ourselves a book or books on photography. This year, we decided to get two books by the same author(s): Total Digital Photography and Digital Sports Photography. We bought these after reading the reviews and looking at them at a local bookstore. We converted from film to digital about three years ago, and workflow has been an issue for us as we¿ve expanded and grown our studio, and dealt with all the factors involved with adding computers, archiving, etc. We do commercial, sports, and portrait photography so these books were right in-line with what we were doing. Normally we have not written reviews on books in the past, but we felt it only fair to give these books a synopsis that we think more accurately matches the audience for which they are intended ¿ and not all the reviews do that. Reading the other reviews of these books, most of the complaints seemed nit-picky and not very substantial, and the overall impression was positive. A few of the technical points are well-taken, but seem a bit out of proportion to the overall spirit and gist of the books ¿ which aren¿t intended to be deep technical works. We¿ve used the books now for a bit more than a month, and we¿ve found them both to be, for the most part, technically accurate, well-written, and very helpful for our work. A few of the reviewers questioned the authors¿ use of fencing images, but we found these to be an interesting way to take an unusual and interesting subject, describe personal experience, and apply it to a variety of sports. And the images of all types were well done ¿ good examples, well-composed, and applicable to a variety of photographers. We liked the use of a wide variety of sports photogrpahers¿ images in the sports book. We must point out that these books aren¿t meant to be coffee-table books. One reviewer said many images are like snapshots. We disagree ¿ they are like standard, everyday professional shots we might take, and aren¿t meant to be ¿haute¿ art photos. A few are of this caliber, but it¿s clear the authors¿ are attempting to reach ordinary photography enthusiasts and working professionals, not gallery artists. One of the things we liked most was how personal and readable the books are ¿ way more than just a reference where you¿d read a snippet or two from various pages. These books have helped us understand digital photography much more deeply, and put into place a workflow and method for managing our studio more efficiently and profitably. We recommend the book to anyone seriously interested in photography as a regular pursuit¿whether you¿re in it for the money or just as an active pursuit.

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    Posted December 17, 2008

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    Posted February 11, 2009

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