Most of this was written with Rugby, at a local level, in mind. It will apply just as readily to other sports though.
You don’t need the newest and most expensive camera out there to get the best shots. You do need a camera with an instant shutter, and you will need a lens that goes out to at least 200mm… at a minimum. Realistically I wouldn’t want to try and shoot sports with a compact camera… but it might be fun to try!
The first and best piece of advice I would offer to anyone thinking of trying their hand at any sort of action photography is that if you see it in your viewfinder, you’ve missed it! You need to anticipate the hit or shot or whatever it may be in the sport you’re watching.
With any sort of sport you also need to watch some before you go and photograph it. You need an idea of what is likely to happen and to click that shutter just at the right time.
If you haven’t shot a given sport before I would also research online ahead of going if possible. There are lots of free resources online now. Look for images of the sport you want to shoot and see what type of photographs have the most impact for you.
The other big question is where to stand for the best shots. Well for rugby, at the level that I shoot at, I can move around the pitch to an extent. I have two areas in particular that I spend most of my time at. Somewhere around the 22 is a good spot. I’m using a 70-200mm lens for rugby right now, and if my subject is more than about 20m away I’m not going to get the shot I want. The 22 gives me a range from the halfway line to the tryline and halfway across the pitch. If play breaks down around the 22 with my team attacking I move round behind the posts and shoot straight on.
Don’t be afraid to crop your photos in post for maximum effect. As long as the image remains sharp, the bigger in frame the better is a simple rule of thumb!
On an overcast day unless you are shooting with professional lenses, you will find it hard to get sharp images later in the 2nd half. Even with professional lenses, in the middle of winter it can be difficult to get a decent shot. If you’re shooting for fun, don’t give up. Just stand behind the posts and ramp up your ISO. You can get some really interesting shots of players coming straight at camera, with less chance of severe motion blur.
If you’ve taken anything from this that’s helped you, let me know!