A Comprehensive Guide to Photographing Youth Sport


Sports bring people together, adults and children alike.  Sports can teach our children how to get along with one another, confidence and humility all at the same time (with the help of a good coach).  Sports can provide memories that last a lifetime … but pictures are how you can share those memories with others.

Capture the Action:

The soccer ball being dribbled down the field, the baseball being hit, the puck flying across the ice all help tell a story.  The shots tend to happen in a fraction of a second and require knowledge of the sport, anticipation of the play … and a lot of luck!  High speed burst mode really helps the cause as well.  Action can be shown with motion blur, the capture of the kicked up dust or by composition.

Most sports don’t have action that can easily be followed by panning, so you might have to depend on one focus point and let the action happen around it.

Photo by Pam Walton

Action can be perceived in body language and position.

Fighting for the ball
Photo by Pam Walton

A hot, dry day in baseball makes for exciting slides into base!  Try to position yourself so you can get the face of the desired player.

Photo by Pam Walton

Blurring isn’t always possible (or desirable) and often the environment doesn’t help to show movement.  Here you can offset the subject and provide blank space in the direction of the action.  This draws the mind to the direction of action, and anticipation of the coming play.

Photo by Pam Walton

Sports isn’t always about action and movement.  Sometimes the most touching moments are those at rest.

Photo by Pam Walton
Lean on fence
Photo by Pam Walton
Photo by Pam Walton

How to Get Perfect Focus:

Single point focus ensures that your intended subject is the focused point in the resulting picture, and not the car in the parking lot behind the field.  Anticipating the shot and pre-focusing before the play reduces the quantity of missed shots due to camera focusing time (there’s never quite a guarantee).  During the action, center point focus is generally best.  But there are times when setting the focus  off to one side or another is preferable … if you know you want the picture composed that way.  Know your equipment and figure out how to change this setting on the fly (preferably without having to take the camera away from your face).

Photo by Pam Walton

Why You Should Consider the Shooting Environment :

There are two major issues with indoor sports: light color and light level.  Some cameras can counteract the color of fluorescent or metal halide lighting so common in gyms and ice rinks.  You might find that you need to set your white balance manually before starting to shoot a game.  You might still have to use some software to correct the color after the shot.  Most indoor sports arenas, gyms and rinks don’t provide enough light for really good photographs.  Newer DSLR cameras have better sensors to counteract this issue, faster (pricier) lenses can capture more of the available light, but sometimes you just have to figure out the manual settings on your camera.

Outdoor sports aren’t always a piece of cake, either. You can’t control when the game is scheduled.  That first tournament game might be at high noon on a cloudless day.

Photo by Pam Walton

Then the next game might be when the sun is low in the sky, but still bright and in the players’ eyes.

Photo by Pam Walton

Then you get the possibility of rain!

Photo by Pam Walton

But sometimes you get lucky and it all just comes together.

Photo by Pam Walton

You just have to work with what you’re given and do what you can.  If you try and wait for the perfect conditions, you'll end up with no pictures.  In the end, any shot is generally better than no shot.

Why You Need to Look for Facial Expressions:

It's said that eyes are the window to the soul.  Concentration or intensity are best relayed through the focused gaze of a player.

Photo by Pam Walton
Photo by Pam Walton
Photo by Pam Walton

Moments in time can be captured with a smile showing pride and joy.

man in black tank top wearing red boxing gloves
Image by Andrea Piacquadio
photo of woman riding bike
Image by Wai Yan
female and male runners on a marathon
Image by RUN 4 FFWPU

But every rule or suggestion is made to be broken, and sometimes the essence of the game shows no face or expression.

Photo by Pam Walton
Photo by Pam Walton

In this digital age of photography it doesn’t cost anything to shoot hundreds and hundreds of frames per game.  The more you shoot, the more you learn.  You learn where that next shot will be. You figure out which position from which you prefer to shoot. You learn when the conditions just won’t work for you and to put the camera down and enjoy the game.  After the game, color correct the pictures if necessary and crop your picture!  Perfect in-game composition is nearly impossible.  Fill the frame as much as possible when shooting, but cropping can focus the shot on your subject and turn a good picture into an awesome picture!

You can see more of Pam's great photographs on her Flickr stream or right here on her profile in the Light Stalking community!

About Author

Some great tips in here, but it’s unfortunately short of comprehensive. There’s many tips and topics that weren’t addressed. For example, using a monopod to help steady the shot. Another example is how many people shoot little kids from an adult POV (standing up). Many sports have the children forward leaning, looking down, etc, so shooting from a kneeling position enhances the sense of action. No mention of servo focus tracking or lens selection either. Is there any special consideration to night sports (football, soccer?)

I agree Kevin, “comprehensive” is a misnomer (it wasn’t my original title). There was so much more information I wanted to include … but it made it too long! I was considering some follow up articles to include the items you’ve mentioned. Positions around playing fields is definitely one of them (my favorite position for soccer pics is from my knees … makes the younger kids look larger)! Thanks for your comment!

I often photograph kids playing sport from a very low pov. it is a difficult way of photographing but the results are very good. The preferred lens is 80-200 f/2.8.

Thanks for the great info. Some sweet sports shots you got there. I love the ones that show the emotion on their faces – any shot that captures that kind of emotion is a winner. Thanks for the tips!

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