Professional sports photography necessitates a skill set not seen in most other types of photography. Of course, knowing composition, lighting, and the best camera settings is essential, but the brutal fact of sports photography is that you must also be able to forecast the future.
Professional sports photographer Al Bello goes into incredible detail about what it takes to get spectacular sports action shots in his lesson, Sports Photography: Making the Shot.
Hundreds of photographers will often be stationed on the sidelines of high-profile sporting events, all photographing the same event. Despite this, Al consistently captures amazing and unforgettable photographs that stand out from the crowd. To see what we mean, have a look at his portfolio. He has the ability to capture those fleeting moments in time that characterize why we love sports in the first place.
How does he manage to do it? After observing his class, it’s clear that he’s honed the ability to predict those moments before they occur. Here are some of his top recommendations for how he does it from his class:
Know the sport:
A sports photographer must have a thorough understanding of the sport he is covering. This allows you to recognise the high-tension times and where the action is taking place.
Knowing that the game-winning touchdown pass is about to be thrown, for example, allows you to frame your shot towards the end zone, ready to capture the moment if it arrives.
Get to know the athletes:
It’s also beneficial to be familiar with the history and specifics of the athlete you’re attempting to photograph. Everyone is unique, and athletes have their own habits, facial expressions, and tendencies. Knowing these things ahead of time can allow you to anticipate when such moments will occur, allowing you to be ready to record them.
“It’s not only about shooting with your fingers when it comes to fantastic moments.” Many photographers can get by simply by using the camera and not paying attention to what’s going on within their heads.”
Consider the players’ personalities, as well as what they’ve done in the past and the emotions they display whether they win or lose. For example, knowing that when a tennis player loses a point, they throw their racket on the ground.
Prepare ahead of time by scouting your position:
The spots where you will be able to position yourself, especially during high-profile events, are quite limited and are frequently prescribed by the officials. For the Olympics, Al will come up to three hours early to find his spot and ensure that he is in the right place during the high-profile action moments.
It takes a lot of effort to train your brain in this manner, but you must try to imagine what might happen. In hockey, for example, it is beneficial to research who is favoured, plan out the shot you want to obtain, and then position the camera above the goaltender net to capture that moment. You can achieve this by putting your camera somewhere you can’t reach it and then using a remote to fire the shutter.
Keep an eye out for patterns:
This applies to everything mentioned thus far, but the ability to discern patterns and repetition is crucial to anticipating these high-profile events. Knowing that a skier gets a lot of air when they crest that one hill, for example, will help you anticipate and be ready to capture that moment the following time. Timing is crucial, and you must know what to expect in order to be present at the right time.
Sports photography is a fast-paced business; golden moments in sports occur quickly and frequently with little or no warning – and then they’re gone. You must always be paying attention in order to capture these moments. You can easily miss these moments if you blink, if you’re sleepy, or if you’re distracted, since you never know when these incredible moments will occur (unless of course you are able to predict the future).