Why 99% of Parents Take Terrible Pictures at Their Kids’ Sports Games – And the Simple Fix

10 Apr

If you have kids who play youth sports, you’ve probably tried taking pictures at their games before. Chances are, some of the other parents do too. Have you ever wished you could take better pictures at the games, to show friends and relatives?Parent with DSLR Camera

I did. When I started taking youth sports photos, they came out pretty bad. But I really wanted to get better ones. Ever look at sports magazines and wonder how the photographers get photos like that? Well, over the years, I learned a few of their secrets. And I’m about to share those with you today.

See, if you want to bring home some eye-catching, jaw-dropping, magazine-cover-worthy shots of your kid, you can’t just grab your DSLR and snap a few shots when you feel like it.

So let’s think: if you hired a professional photographer to shoot at your kid’s game, what would he do differently? Actually, there’s one big thing that professionals do, that 99% of parents with cameras don’t even think about. It’s sort of a “secret” in the photo industry, and it’s the biggest thing that separates professional shots from boring shots.

That secret is positioning.

Where you position yourself is the number one factor that will determine the quality of your youth sports photos. Notice I didn’t say how fast your camera is, or how long your lens is, or how many pictures you take. Those are important, but none of them matter if you don’t get positioning right.

There are three reasons why positioning is so crucial in youth sports photography:

  1. It determines how you’ll see the subject
  2. It determines what action you will see (being at the end of the field vs the middle), and
  3. It determines what kind of lighting will fall on your subject.

To become good at positioning, we have to look at each of these in detail. Once you understand these three ideas and begin trying them out, your pictures will show a significant improvement.

1) Positioning determines how you see the subject.

What do I mean by this? Angles. Angles are everything in photography. And honestly, this is the BIGGEST reason why most parents’ sports pictures are bad. It’s crucial that you think about your angle in relation to the subject. Here’s what I mean.

When you see most parents try to take photos at a sports game, what do they do? They go stand along the sideline and take photos. Notice anything wrong with this approach? Hint: the key word is stand. In kids’ sports, especially younger kids, the players are usually much shorter than their parents. So the parent’s camera angle is way above the kids’ heads, and they’re shooting downward. Shooting downward is NOT the best way to get great action shots.

TIP: Get low. Here’s a secret: shooting from the players’ level will make your shots 100x better, instantly. Don’t believe me? Look at all the photographers on the NFL sidelines – they’re kneeling. Look at the photographers’ booths at baseball games – they’re dug into the ground. You rarely see pro photographers shooting sports standing up. Why? Because shooting from a low angle looks so much better. Low-angle shots make the image dramatic and draw the viewer into the shot.

Professional Sports Photographers on Sideline
If you want to instantly separate yourself from almost every other parent with a camera, simply shoot from a lower angle. The most practical way to do this is to bring a folding chair and shoot while sitting in that. If your camera is heavy, you can get a monopod and use that to hold your camera’s weight up.

2) Positioning determines what action you see.

When parents post photos of their kids’ sports games on Facebook, most of them are photos of the kids just standing around. That’s great, but it’s also boring. You can do better. How about tons of photos of kids in action – running, throwing, and kicking? Here’s how.

Again, the secret is positioning. You have to anticipate where the action will occur, and go there. Think about it: most parents either shoot from their seat, or walk up to the fence/sideline and shoot. Here’s what you will do. First, decide what shot you want. Then go to where you can best get that shot.

Youth Baseball Action Photo

Example 1: Your kid plays little league baseball, and you want a shot of him running. Since players run to first base, you would position yourself behind first base along the fence. If he does indeed run to first base, you have a perfect angle from which to take the shot. Instead of just shooting from your seat, you’ve placed yourself where the action will happen. This greatly increases your chances of getting a great shot.

Example 2: Your kid plays youth soccer. You want a shot of him shooting the ball at the goal. You would position yourself at the end of the field, to the side of the goal. Get as close as you can, and wait for the shot. Obviously, this is easier at some levels than others. But remember, patience is key in youth sports photography. How much do you want that shot?

TIP: Get close. REALLY close. The great thing about youth sports is that as a parent, you can go right up near the action. And you should take full advantage of that. There is a direct correlation between how close you are to the action, and how dramatic your action shots are. Try it: Get as close as you can, take a shot, then take ten steps back and take the same photo. Tell me which you like better.

3) Positioning determines what kind of lighting falls on your subject.

Lighting is a huge factor in photography, because it’s what makes up the image. Without good light, you can’t have a good image. So if we’re going to take great sports pictures, we should probably think about lighting.

Sun at Midday Sports Game

Time of day is the biggest factor in lighting. Noon on a sunny day will be difficult to shoot, because of all the harsh shadows the sunlight will cast. Shooting around sunset will give you nicer light. Cloudy days are also great for photography, because the clouds diffuse the harsh sunlight into nice, soft, even light.

But the other big factor in lighting is where you are in relation to the sun. This is where positioning comes in. On cloudy days, you don’t have to think about it, because there are no shadows. But on sunny days, you have to check where the sun is and take that into account when deciding where to shoot from. Here’s what I mean:

1. If you position yourself between the sun and the player, you will see sunlight on the front of the player. This is called front lighting. This is good for when the sun is low in the sky, because it gives that nice golden light on the player’s face. It’s not as ideal for when the sun is high, because you’ll get harsh shadows on facial features.

2. If you position yourself on the opposite side of the player from the sun, so that the sun is behind the player, you’ll see shadows on the front of the player. This is called backlighting. This is often ideal for when the sun is high, because it eliminates the harsh sunlight/shadow mix. It also works when the sun is low, but I like to use front lighting then, to get that nice golden light.

Here’s all you have to remember: midday, shoot with the player between you and the sun; sunset, shoot between the sun and the player. Cloudy, do whatever you want ;-).

Summary: Positioning is important

If you have one key takeaway from reading this post, it’s this: where you position yourself is super important. In fact, with a few small changes, your pictures can get way better. Think about that: you can take better pictures than everyone else just by standing (well, actually sitting!) in different places. Sounds worth it to me. Try it at your kid’s next sports game. I think you’ll be surprised at the results.

Tip: print out this article and take it with you to the game, so you can refer to it while shooting.

Also, if you have any friends who you think would like this article, do them a favor and pass it along to them.

In the comments, let me know how this strategy worked for you.

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