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Travel Photo Tips - Sports | Insight Guides Blog

Travel Photo Tips - Sports

Thai kickboxing calls for excellent timing – from boxers as well as photographers., (photo by Marcus Wilson-Smith)
Thai kickboxing calls for excellent timing – from boxers as well as photographers.
As the Olympics approach, sport is seemingly everywhere. In a little over two weeks the eyes of the world will be focused on London, as each country's finest athletes try and make their mark. Sports across the globe can be wondrously visually exciting and capturing the moment is an interesting challenge, as discussed in our Travel Photography guidebook. 

Telephoto lenses are essential for photographing people engaged in sports and other physical pastimes. Digital zooms on compact cameras are not the same: they are an optical trick, merely cropping the edges off a wider image. Only a true optical zoom or fixed lens telephoto will give crisp, well-saturated images at a distance.

Lenses and settings

Big telephoto lenses are ungainly, though they often single out the professional from the amateur and can sometimes help you gain access to events otherwise closed to the public. But unless you are a fanatical football photographer, you can forget capturing the glint in Wayne Rooney’s eye as he prepares to strike. Lenses of 600mm and upward are required, and their size, weight and cost are restrictive. The ranks of professional photographers covering the World Cup – their massive telephoto lenses supported by monopods – are using company equipment. As digital capture quality and noise reduction software continue to improve, though, pretty good replicas can be attained using a medium price range 200–400mm zoom lens with image stabiliser on a camera with 1:1.5 sensor. This in effect gives you a portable and affordable 600mm option.

A fast shutter speed is essential for freezing sports action. Don’t even think of shooting under 1/500sec. Here is where digital technology is a boon, with its ability to switch, shot by shot, to different ISO settings. It is best, for most competition sports, to fix the body on shutter priority and use an ISO of 400 to 800. For rapid action events inside stadiums, like basketball or badminton, you’ll probably have to increase this to 1600.

Rhythm and rules

Sports that involve lots of passing or unexpected movement – ultimate frisbee or Thai kickboxing, for example – are more difficult to shoot. Choose your angle and wait your moment – slightly off side and behind the goal at a football match, or the moment a ball is perfectly suspended during a tennis serve. Sometimes the look on the face of the defeated player is worth much more than that of his or her victor.

Get in close

Kids kicking around a ball in a dusty back lot, weekend cricketers on the church green or professional rally car drivers will all be 100 percent engrossed in their sport and not worried about the lone photographer – unless, of course, you get in their way.

The trick is to get close enough to re-create the feel of the fray in your images. Picking out an individual and panning along with him at a slowish shutter speed often helps (somewhere between 1/8 to 1/30sec is recommended). This works well with Dragonboat races, for example, where the panning effect increases the illusion of speed and also makes the large areas of water between competing boats seem suddenly interesting. Forget having your camera on auto exposure mode all the time; a silhouette shot can sometimes work well.

Morning light

Pastimes that take place in the early mornings are a gift for photographers. Morning light is more ethereal and enchanting than sunset, and an early start often brings rewards.

Across China, people gather in groups to practise ballroom dancing, synchronised fan dancing and outdoors karaoke sessions. In South Korea, the bicycle paths in Seoul on the Han River attract cyclists, joggers and kite flyers – try to get the kites backlit against the sun, their operators appearing as silhouettes. In Hong Kong, check out the early morning tai chi sessions and old men taking their caged birds for a stroll in Victoria Park. In Beirut, shoot strollers and domino players along the Esplanade. Across India, the calm of morning is often interrupted by the booming outburst of the local Laughing Society. Joggers pound the pavements, dogs are walked in parks…before 9am, anything goes.