There are lots of sweet milestones in a child’s lifetime. First steps. First words. The first day of school.
And in the our household, one of the big milestones is our kids’ first time up to bat. We are a baseball family through and through and when one of our kids gets to put on little cleats and have a helmet wobbling on their heads as they trot up to the tee, it’s a major event.
Sports are a big part of so many kids’ memories. The competition and camaraderie are transformative and can help shape the kinds of people they become.
As a mother, I find documenting my kids’ experiences in sports to be incredibly rewarding. Not only am I capturing them in their element doing activities they enjoy, but I am also capturing the process of them learning lifelong lessons. And it doesn’t hurt that they are usually way more excited about me taking these photos than they are about more formal portraits!
All that said, there are a lot of things to consider when photographing kids playing sports. Over the years I have learned some good lessons and today, I am here to share all of them with you.
Bring the right lens
I am a big fan of making the gear I have on me work. It’s the photographer who takes the picture, not the camera, right?!
But in a special situation like a sporting event, having the right camera and lenses can make all the difference in getting *the* shot or missing it altogether.
You are likely going to want to use a telephoto lens (unless your kid doesn’t mind you laying in the middle of the field during the game…and I promise you that she minds!). A 70-200mm is a great versatile focal length that will serve you well on and off the field. You will likely still have to crop in from time to time as those fields get bigger as the kids get older but it’s a great place to start.
If you want to get in on all the action, consider renting a super telephoto lens (I love the 200-500mm zoom) for a special game and feel like you are a Sports Illustrated photographer for the day.
The key is to have something that allows you to zoom in beyond what your naked eye sees. This will keep you out of the way but make it feel like you were right there.
Choose the right settings
In most cases, your kids are going to be moving quite a bit when they are playing a sport. This means that in order to freeze the action you are going to want to have a fast shutter speed. This means that every time you hit the shutter button, the shutter is opening and closing super fast to ensure that only one part of your athlete’s movement is captured in the photograph.
For game time, I like to keep my shutter speed as fast as possible. My camera goes up to 1/8000 second and if I can stay there, I will! If the light situation makes that impossible, I will adjust my ISO and aperture settings so that I can stay above 1/1250 at the very least. This ensures that I don’t have any motion blur in my photos and I get that frozen action that looks so great in sports photography.
Another thing to consider is your white balance. While it’s not as much of a concern on the baseball field where we are outside, indoor sports like basketball and volleyball have much trickier light situations where correct white balance can be a real challenge.
Be sure to dial in your settings to correct for any strange color casts that might be coming from fluorescent lights. You might have some color casts to edit out from green grass or yellow wood flooring, so keep an eye on those things when you have your photos in your post processing program of choice.
Get the in between moments
While the action shots are definitely awesome, I find that the photos that most often pull at my heart are the ones of the in between moments. My camera is always seeking a furrowed brow watching the action, a big gulp of water, or a simple moment taking a break from the work of running up and down the field.
When photographing your kids’ playing sport, don’t forget to seek out the quieter moments. These can be filled with so much emotion and are a great way to tell the story of the whole game.
Scan the sidelines, be watchful during timeouts, and keep your camera ready when they’re sitting the bench. The in between moments are just as important as any touchdown or home run.
Capture the details
From our place on the sidelines, we see the whole game. It’s a wide angle view of the venue and allows us to appreciate all of the action happening on the court/field/arena/stadium/gym.
But when you are playing the game? Everything is right up close. A pitcher can feel every individual lace on the baseball. A golfer can see every dimple on the golf ball. Basketball players feel the net brush by their fingertips.
So it makes sense that when we are wanting to tell the story of a sport, we would want to capture the details as well as the big picture. Consider zeroing in on a foot kicking a ball or hands holding a bat. Removing everything else from the frame is a great way to draw attention to the little things that make the athletic experience so unique.
I dusted off my macro converters to capture this up-close shot of my son holding a game ball. I love how you can see the individual threads in the laces and the dust from the field. And he likes the photo so much that he asked for a print for his bedroom!
Include the team
While I am most definitely at any game with my camera to capture my kids, it would be tragic not to get shots of the whole team. The friendships formed through playing together are a huge part of what makes sports in childhood so special.
I love getting the team dynamic in pregame pep talks and huddles. Whether it be a shot of teammates in action making the play together or a celebratory high five after a hard won game, be sure to include the team in your sports photography.
We have a team photographer who always takes a more formal photo of everyone together. However, I like to capture the more candid moments and let the kids show their personalities a bit. At the end of the season I will have prints made for everyone as a thank you for a great season.
Put down the camera and cheer!
As a mom-photographer, there aren’t too many things that make me happier than capturing my kids in their element. But it’s also super important to put down the camera from time to time and really watch the game.
I don’t want my kids to think that I missed the action because I was stuck behind the camera! Instead, I want them to know that I am their biggest fan and am there to cheer them on and celebrate their hard work.
Documenting your kids in their activities is an amazing way to show their personalities and celebrate who they are. I can’t wait to hear all about how you capture your little athletes in the comments below!