How do the pros do a parent's job?
The Big Game
When it comes to kids’ sports, one of New Jersey’s best professional sports shooters Ron Wyatt expresses it this way: “Enjoy and capture it while you can, because before you know it, your child’s par-ticipation in sports will be over. The memories your camera captures now will be priceless.”
For gear, fast, long, stabilized zooms are a must for most field sports, along with monopods or tripods to support them. When purchasing lenses, make sure they’re teleconverter-compatible. Your camera should perform well at high ISOs (our camera tests can help you here) and provide fast framing rates. Leave your flash and compact camera at home.
Setting fast apertures (and investing in lenses that have them) lets you use faster shutter speeds for stopping action and blur backgrounds as Ron Wyatt did here with Sigma’s 120-300mm f/2.8 OS zoom.
Photo: Ron Wyatt
None of this gear comes cheap so, if possible, go in with other parents or relatives to buy that long telephoto zoom. If this isn’t possible, rent gear for really important games. (For really, really important games, Wyatt recommends splitting the cost with other parents and hiring a pro sports photographer!)
When you’re picking a camera position, make sure the backgrounds are clean and uncluttered. One of the best-known female sports shooters, with a specialty in cycling, Michael Crook of New York City, warns, “In some sports, it’s hard to avoid unsightly backgrounds. Before the game starts, figure out which angles are best and best to avoid. Walk around the field, court, rink, or pool and make test shots at different locations.”
Avoid locations that require you to shoot through chain-link fences. “For baseball, the only time you should shoot though a fence is if your child is a pitcher. Put yourself behind the backstop and shoot over the catcher’s head to get your child’s windup,” says Wyatt. Standing as close as possible to the fence and shooting at or near maximum aperture will throw it pleasingly out of focus.
“It might seem obvious, but the most important thing a parent can do is learn how to work their camera. You have to shoot at 1/500 sec or faster to stop action, and you have to know where the focus, exposure, zoom, and ISO controls are and be able to set and reset them without thinking. Otherwise you’re going to lose shots, and photography will become a source of frustration instead of joy,” says Wyatt.
Adds Crook, “When setting your camera, whatever you do, keep your ISO at a place that allows you to shoot at high speeds, but maintain an aperture with some depth of field, f/5.6 for example. During the day, use at least ISO 200 and at night ISO 600 to 800.” Wyatt recommends shooting in shutter-priority mode, with a shutter speed of 1/500 sec or faster. “If your camera offers it, use the back button (not the shutter release) for focusing. With the subject already in focus thanks to the back button, your camera is noticeably more responsive. And always use the continuous drive and continuous AF settings.”
Still vs. video is a consid-eration. For most parents, still coverage of their child’s athletic career makes sense, but not for all. “If your child is an up and coming star, you need to start thinking about the future,” says Wyatt. ‘The video you shoot now can be used in recruitment tapes later in life that can lead to full or partial college scholarships. You and your significant other can form a tag team. You do the video, and he or she can handle the stills.”
Wyatt’s final advice might surprise you after all this. Don’t shoot every game, he says. “If you’re constantly concerned about getting great pictures, you’re missing one of the great joys of parenting: watching and savoring your child competing and growing as an athlete and as a person. When my kids were in sports, I only brought equipment to games at the beginning of the season with new teammates, if the game was important, or the venue had great backgrounds or lighting. Otherwise, I sat in the stands with the other parents and had a blast.”
Sports Shooting Strategies:
Start by planning your position. Parents don’t get close enough to the action, says Michael Crook. “Get up to the side lines, near the goal post, get on the field or court before and after for closeups and emotions.”
To do this, you will likely need the coach’s permission. “Make friends with them by sharing all your pictures on a social media site free of charge,” says Wyatt. “This could get you best access.”
Once you have a great vantage point, follow the game closely. If it is broadcast, listen to the radio as you shoot. The announcers know the game best, and their observations will often tell you where you should stand.
When the game changes, you should change, too. “Be nimble and move around. Don’t stand in one place with one background,” advises Crook.
And shoot the whole play. “Too often parents take one shot and chimp the LCD while the play progresses. If your son hits a home run, don’t stop with the swing. Shoot the entire loop around the bases and the expressions as he crosses the plate,” says Wyatt.
To do as Wyatt did here, position yourself at an angle to its probable path and set a fast shutter speed. (Here, 1/1000 sec.)
Photo: Ron Wyatt
Tip: Learn the Game
To nail the best pictures possible on game day, it helps to study the sport you’re shooting. “If your daughter is on first base, and her team’s best hitter is at bat, don’t focus on her standing there,” says Wyatt. “Like an athlete or coach, think about where the next play involving her will be, and prefocus there—probably either second or third base depending on which angle is best from where the camera is positioned.”