Mike Sewell has provided five fantastic tips on taking sports photographs of children and young people.
Mike curated the Leicester Mercury sports photography exhibition The Back Page which toured Leicester art galleries. I saw it outside the High Cross Centre in Leicester and I had to be dragged away!
Currently the Midlands Media Sports Photographer of the Year, Mike has been a professional photographer since 1997 and joined the Leicester Mercury in January 2002.
Update May 2016 – Mike is now a freelance photographer and is building his own blog, which includes THAT iconic picture of Jamie Vardy!
As a photographer with the Leicester Mercury, I take pictures of anything and everything. Our writers may specialise but the photographers cover news events, sport, features, business, health, education and commercial work.
The variety of the job keeps every day fresh. We do not know where we will be or what we will be doing. But if I were to choose my favourite part of the job, it would be sport. I am a passionate supporter of sport in Leicestershire and we are so lucky to have so many great teams and individual sports stars in the county.
As Mercury photographers we cover all Leicester City and Leicester Tigers games. Both home and away. These two teams grab most of the headlines but I get as much of a buzz covering speedway and cricket as I do photographing big football and rugby games.
We use the latest Nikon cameras and lenses to take our sports photographs. Long telephoto lenses and fast motor drives make the job a little easier but you don’t need to spend thousands of pounds on equipment to take great pictures.
So here are my top five tips on how to take the best photographs at junior sports events.
1- Move Around
When I am covering a Leicester City game I will sit at the end which the Foxes are attacking and I will get all of my pictures from that point. We stay in one spot because the stewards do not want us getting in the way of fans and TV cameras. I will have two camera bodies, one with a long lens on (400mm) for midfield play and one with a shorter zoom lens (80-200mm) for closer action.
With local sport events, where the rules are not so strict, I move around to be closer to the action. I will shoot junior football games with one camera and a zoom lens. If I stayed in one spot, the players would sometimes be too far away. So I literally follow the action and walk around the touchline. That way, I am never too far away from the ball.
In the athletics example, I have taken a position close to the track just after the finish line. You don’t need a big long lens to get close up pictures from here. Just make sure the time keepers are happy with your spot.
2- Change the angle
If you have the freedom to move around the sports field, look for interesting angles to shoot from. What does it look like from over there? What would it look like from that balcony? What would it look like if I lay down here?
Experiment. Some sports, like football, you have to wait for things to happen and record it. When photographing other sports, like cricket, you can create pictures. When I saw these two young batsmen waiting in the pavilion I could see the long shadows they were making in the evening sunshine. Getting behind them and shooting into the sun made a lovely illustration. Look beyond the action.
3- Predict the action
Knowing and understanding a sport makes it easier to photograph. If you know where the action is likely to go you are better placed to capture it. Track sports, like athletics, are more predictable. You know exactly where the runners are going so you can get ready to take the picture. When photographing football and you see the ball bouncing and two players running for it, (as in the example) you can predict a collision is imminent. This is when you need to fire. Get the timing right and you will have a big tackle and the ball. If you wait until you see the ball in the viewfinder – you will miss the moment. The golden rule of football action is to have the ball in the picture.
4- Look for emotion
Sport photography is not all about action. It’s about re-action too. I have never seen Leicester City score a goal! I will fire away when the player shoots and stay focussed on him. If he misses I will get a ‘head in hands’ picture but if he scores I will hopefully get smiles, jumping in the air and hugging team mates.
If, however, I see him shoot and look up to see where the ball goes, I will miss his reaction. Covering sport for newspapers is all about telling the story of the event. But even if you are not, look for reactions. In my experience, children show the most emotion.
5- Crop the image
When photographing sport, it is not always possible to fill the frame with the action. When this happens you will need to crop the image using your computer’s photography software. File sizes in digital cameras are getting bigger all the time and this makes it easier to crop pictures and keep the quality high.
At a football tournament you might get cars in the background or see a distracting ice cream van in the frame. Use the cropping tool to isolate the players around the ball. It makes the photograph a lot cleaner. Cropping the image will concentrate the viewer’s eyes on the action.
In the junior cricket picture shown, I have cropped out the surrounding fielders so you can see the expression on the batsman’s face. You really feel part of the action.
I hope you find these tips useful. Photography is a lot of fun. Take lots of pictures, enjoy it, and you will get some great shots. Let me know how you go.
Please feel free to contact me through Twitter – I’m @mikeysewell
Best of luck,
All pictures © Leicester Mercury