On Sunday, I had the opportunity to photograph the Portland Timbers Reserves vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps Reserves soccer match. This was all thanks to Craig Mitchelldyer and Thomas Boyd and their sports photography workshop. On top of the awesome-nesss of having the two nicest sports photographers I’ve ever met instruct us, they also hooked us up with cameras and lenses from Canon and ProPhoto Supply.
They taught us some great pointers on what makes a good sports photo (like having a good background), and then let us loose us for some real game experience (aka. released us for the slaughter). Shooting soccer is awesome. And difficult.
Here are 4 of the bazillion shooting pointers I learned while out on the field:
1) Have patience.
One of my goals was to get a good shot of the goalkeepers. Why? Well, ever since I saw Fabien Barthez win the 1998 World Cup, I’ve loved watching goalkeepers in action (especially when they have shaved heads).
I tried to use what I had learned in the keynote to get a good shot of the goalkeepers. However, it’s easy to get distracted and start looking at the ball. I had found an angle of view that I liked for the goalkeeper, but I often looked away to grab other action shots. Pro soccer is so fast (very fast) that before I knew it, the ball was already going towards the goalkeeper and I missed my shot. Next time I’ll get it. (because there will be a next time ;p heh)
2) Understand your subject.
I know enough about soccer to follow signs of what’s going to happen (direction changes, field kicks vs. corner kicks, etc.). What I don’t know are the Timbers. I confess, I’ve only gone to two games. Going into the game, I had no idea who was likely to get the header or who liked to strike often. (I do know that goalkeepers like to yell at everyone).
3) Know your equipment.
I spent a good amount of time in the first half getting used to the zoom of the 400mm lens and how far or close I could take a decent photo. It’s fairly zoomed, but it also has an okay depth of focus with the compression. Also, even with the lens on a monopod, it was very difficult for me to hold steady. I took photos of the other end of the field and at 1/8000 the photos were blurry. Tom mentioned the heat waves may cause issues. It could be them, it could be me. Oh, and all the awesome gear in the world (trust me, it was at this workshop) can’t make you an awesome photographer. This workshop confirmed it for all of us. You know what does…?
It wasn’t enough to know where the ball was going, but I need to work on the timing of getting the ball in “peak” action. Sure, little league soccer players don’t move as fast, but the physics is the same, and getting experience is always great. Not just that, but, I need to practice all these pointers (making good pictures, having patience, reading the ball and the players, using a monster lens).
In the end, this was the best experience in my photography career so far. Thanks Craig and Tom!
In this post, I’m going to discuss the importance of good backgrounds. Backgrounds can do a lot for a photo. They can enhance your subject, or detract attention from your subject. Watching out for your background is one of the easiest ways to improve a photograph. In general, you want to avoid distracting elements or unattractive elements in the background of your photo. I’m going to use my experience from photographing the Kleinman Eruption Ultimate Tournament to help explain my points.
Unhelpful Tip: Make the background out of focus. In other words: use a wide aperture. Or increase the focal length with a telephoto lens.
Before getting into the 7 tips, I’m going to address this tip. While it does help improve your background, it doesn’t actually fix the issues. Plus, it makes you reconsider your gear. In this following photo, the photo is a pretty cool shot of him diving for the disc, except there’s a car and a fence in the background, and a pole running right through him.
In this photo, I see a ton of cars that take away from the action.
So how about we use a wider aperture? A telephoto?
Cool, now instead of a focused pole running through her head, we’ve got a fuzzy pole running through her head. So a wide aperture won’t just do it. You’ll need to reorient yourself so that the pole doesn’t intersect your subject.
This photos brings me to the next problem with wide apertures. Sometimes, no matter how wide the aperture you use, you still can’t completely fuzz something out. Like bright blue port-a-potty’s.
I see you building.
And I see you cars. Why, you look even bigger now. This is due to the long focal length. I will explain that optical element in another post.
So, in this case at Delta Park, the field had some pretty unsavory backgrounds. Using a wide aperture or a telephoto wasn’t going to solve my problems.
Real Tip for Getting Good Backgrounds:
Move yourself. Look for a good background and point yourself in that direction.
So, how do you find a good background?
1. Avoid Distracting Elements:
Sometimes, the background is all you get. If there’s a distracting element, avoid them by keeping your subject off them. In this photo, there were a ton of distracting elements, but at least the poles weren’t through the subject (the passer).
2. Look for Clean and Simple:
If you have uncomplicated backgrounds, you can focus on your subject, and make it obvious as to who your subject is. In the following photo, this was the cleanest angle I had. I had moved myself to a far end of the field. Sure there’s a huge building, a bit bright, but the red pops out and you look at that first, before moving onto the rest of the photo.
And, if you catch a sliver of a port-a-potty, you can always crop that out, which I didn’t do for discussions sake.
3. Look for Complex or Intricate. But Keep Their Head in a Clean Space:
Sometimes the background can tell a story. Here, you see the story: a sunny day, teammates and spectators lounging on the side and watching the game.
But if you can, be sure to keep your subject’s head in a clean space.
And throw in a shirtless guy while you’re at it.
4. Look for Contrast:
Contrast between subject and background can help your subject stand out.
And, these two photos bring us to the next tip.
5. Use Your Background Space If You Want It.
Sometimes, the background is important, so rather than filling the frame, if the background helps to tell a story, include it.
In this photo, without seeing the other players in the background, you might not understand what’s happening. If I had cropped in tight, so the photo was without them, he would have been just a guy holding a frisbee. With them, he’s a guy waiting to start the game.
6. Change your angle:
With events like sports, you don’t really have much control over what your subject moves in front of. So instead, try adjusting your angle. For this tournament, I mostly shot from as low as possible so that the players’ heads were in the sky as much as possible. Generally, the sky offers a great space to put subjects’ heads in a clean spot.
7. Have fun, get creative…
… and don’t stop shooting just because the background isn’t nice.
You never know when it might be the game winning point!
Hope this is helpful to you, and if you have any more suggestions or tips for me to add, let me know!