The term sports photography is far reaching and includes various types of sport, from horse racing to football to motor racing to athletics there are many disciplines of sports, all of which have their own unique quirks that provide a challenge to photographers. In addition, sports events can be held indoor or outside, which can create many lighting issues to provide even more challenges for the photographer. And to top it all off the speed of sport provides even more challenges to the photographer.
Enter a camera shop or go on to any photography website and you will come across hundreds, if not thousands of different products available to buy. Purchasing photographic equipment for sports photography is not an easy task and it is all too easy to get sucked in and purchase many pieces of photographic equipment that will be of little or no use. In order to get started in the world of sports photography there are some essential pieces of photographic equipment, as detailed below;
- camera with a fast burst rate
The majority of sports are fast paced and action packed, therefore requiring lightning reactions. Unfortunately not many people are blessed with such fast reactions however there is a way of overcoming this and that is to have a camera with a fast burst rate, i.e. one that can fire off multiple shots quickly such as the Canon EOS 7D.
Some cameras have the ability to fire off three frames per second where as others can fire off up to ten. When dealing with sports photography the rule is the more frames per second the better as it allows multiple shots to be taken of which at least one, hopefully, will be tack sharp.
- Fast memory cards
In order to take multiple images quickly a fast memory card is needed. If the image cannot be written to the card quickly there is no point in having a camera with the ability to fire off many shots per second. The rule of thumb is the faster the card the better.
As well as being fast the memory cards also need to be large, i.e. have the capacity to store many images as a sports photographer will quickly use up available space whilst trying to bag those great shots.
- An appropriate lens
A fast lens is one that has a large maximum aperture, i.e. one with a small F number. Since most sports are held outside, where the photographer is at the mercy of Mother Nature, or inside where the light is likely to be poor, a fast lens is needed to enable the photographer to keep fast shutter speeds which are vital to freeze the action of sports photography and eliminate any motion blur.
A lot of sport takes place far from the photographer’s location therefore a long tele zoom lens is often required to get close to the action. Short focal length lenses can be used in sports photography, however they are far from ideal. Many photographers require lenses with focal lengths of 300mm or more, such as the Canon EF100 – 400L IS, which is a great lens for sports photography. This range of focal lengths allows this lens to be used when the action is both close up and far in the distance making it exceptionally versatile.
- A tele converter
Typically, tele converters are available in 1.4x and 2.0x sizes. Sigma do make a 3.0x tele converter, but the degradation of image quality and light when using one of these renders it pretty much useless.
By placing a tele converter between the camera body and the lens the focal length of the lens increases. When using a 1.4x tele converter the focal length increases 1.4 times. So, if using a 400mm lens the focal length will effectively be mm. A 2.0x tele converter will double the focal length, so using the same 400mm lens will result in a focal length of 800mm.
Tele converters do reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor somewhat, which obviously makes the lens a stop slower when using a 1.4x converter or two stops slower when using a 2.0x tele converter. The reduction in light needs to be taken in consideration before using a tele converter, especially in low light conditions.
- A monopod
Long telephoto lenses are heavy and require support to hold them steady and avoid camera shake. Even if the lens has image stabilisation technology built in, some support is required to ensure tack sharp images.
Arguably, the best type of support is the tripod however these are not suitable for sports photography. Tripods take a long time to set up and are to slow and cumbersome. By the time the photographer got everything in position the action would have passed by. The best type of support in sports photography is the monopod. Monopods are light, transportable, take up little room and can be set up and used in seconds.
New and improved photographic equipment is released all the time, however if you buy the equipment described above it will provide you with enough photographic equipment to get started and take some exceptional sporting images.