Your Best Shot – by David Liam Kyle

April 19th, 2012
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As a team photographer for the Cleveland Cavaliers since 1991, David Liam Kyle  is one sharp shooter. His sports images have graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and many other publications. As a former athlete himself, David is used to being close to the action. His images show the perspective of a talented photographer as well as a true sports fan. David is also a part of our very own Pro Team. In this blog post David spills his tips and advice for taking your best sports photography shot.

Your Best Shot – by David Liam Kyle

Getting Down to the Basics: Baseball and Track

Spring training isn’t just for athletes. Photographers need to be ready when it is time to shoot baseball games and track meets.  Some of the best opportunities for great images may present themselves in the first week of the season, so be prepared. Here are a few basic tips that will help you get better sports photos of your youth league or high school athlete.

Be Prepared: Hey, it’s not just a slogan for Boy Scouts. If you are photographing youth league or high school sports, make sure you have permission from event organizers and know your restrictions in terms of photo positions. That way you will avoid any game time confrontations.  You want to document the event, not be part of the event.

The Importance of Positioning: Be smart and considerate in choosing where you shoot. When walking into a sporting event, the first thing I do is check the lighting conditions.  Generally, I want to work with the sun, not against it. I prefer nice side or frontal light, and I make sure I have clean, dark backgrounds. Try to avoid signs, trees, parking lots, garbage cans, etc. Darker backgrounds make the athletes’ images pop. It is important that you try to find shooting positions where you will not get blocked by officials and umpires. At the same time, be polite and make sure you do not block the view of spectators.

The Wider, the Better: Always try to shoot “wide open.” That means setting and shooting with your aperture set at F/2.8, F/4 or F5.6 depending on your lens.  I usually shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority Mode at the widest setting possible. The bigger the aperture opening, the less depth of field you will have, isolating your subject from the background. The wide open aperture will also let more light into your camera, creating a faster shutter speed.  You usually need to have your shutter speed at least at 1/1000 of a second to stop the action. It is recommended to shoot at 1/2000 or faster to stop super fast action, such as a pitcher’s throwing motion or a swinging bat. Adjust your ISO in your camera to accomplish the correct shutter speed.  For the best quality of images, you want to keep your ISO as low as possible. Take a couple of test exposures to double-check this, because the dark background or bright white uniforms can trick your meter and over or under expose your main subject. Know how your camera works and set it accordingly. I also use the Continuous Focus setting and one center focus point in my camera. That way your camera focusing system is not jumping around, and you have more control of what you want in focus.

Know the Game You’re Shooting: Be knowledgeable about all the sports you plan on photographing. Pay attention to the game and anticipate what play may happen next.  Is the runner on first going to steal second? Is there a chance for a double play? Will there be a play at the plate?  Could this be the game winning hit? I have seen photographers miss photos because they were chatting with the person next to them. Anticipate! Once a play happens, you better be ready because it will not happen again. You can’t go tell the players to do it over.

The best part about track is that the events are all scheduled, and you know exactly where the athletes are going to be running or jumping. This allows you to plan ahead for some creative angles. The worst part about track is that a lot of events are happening at the same time, and you obviously can’t be in two places at once. So get yourself a schedule and plan what events you will be photographing. Look at different shooting positions. Can you get some interesting angles from the stands?  Can you get inside the track? I took this low angle silhouette photo by focusing on the first hurdle and then setting my camera on the ground and composing the image. I employed manual exposure to expose for the sky and used a 17mm lens at F/14 at 1/1000 to stop the action.

Try to capture the intensity and emotion of sports as well as peak action.

Don’t worry if you can’t get on the field. I also like to shoot from different positions from the stands with a 400mm lens. I find that from this position I can get cleaner backgrounds and more artistic sports images.

A Fan of the Pan: Another artistic way to capture amazing sports action is by panning. When photographing a moving athlete, the panning technique is achieved by keeping your main subject in the frame for the entire time of the exposure. The slower your shutter speed, the more unusual and interesting the effect. Pre-focus on the runner’s lane and start following your subject before you press the shutter release button. I generally tuck my elbows into my chest and turn at my waist, following my main subject as I press the shutter release button.  Follow the runner all the way through and do not jerk or stop your camera as you are shooting. Don’t be afraid to use your motor drive if you have one. Generally, the faster your subject, the faster your shutter speed. This technique will take some practice and some experimenting with different shutter speeds to get your desired image.

One More Thing: Practice like an athlete. Be dedicated and determined in your efforts to get great photographs.


All photographs are copyrighted by David Liam Kyle.

To view more of David Liam Kyle’s work visit his website or Facebook.

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