How to capture great images during big sport events

I have been fortunate enough to photograph major sporting events including World Cups, Olympics, America’s Cups and Super Bowls. These events are often massive in terms of the number of photographers present and require commitment, perseverance and a lot of practice beforehand to ensure you capture the best possible photographs.

Each large sporting event comes with its own set of logistical challenges and takes preparation, stamina, dedication and knowledge of the particular sport being shot. This all needs to be combined with a willingness to constantly think out of the box to create images that are going to stand out from the crowd, especially when there are so many other great photographers from all over the world present, all vying to get memorable and eye-catching images.


Be prepared


Photographing a big sporting event can be quite daunting, even if you are experienced. My first advice would be to get there early. This will ensure that you can hopefully get a parking spot near the stadium ensuring you don’t have to walk too far (you’ll thank me for that advice after the game!)


Before getting too excited about snapping away, your gear will probably be searched and then you will be receive a credential usually in an accredited media center and sometimes issued with a photographers vest; this can be an experience in itself and can often take some time – another reason to arrive early!


Arriving early also means you can scout the venue out and sometimes have the whole place to yourself which can lend itself to interesting photos.

Many sporting events have rules regarding where photographers can and can’t shoot. It is important that you find these out – this is often for your own safety so you are not going to get trodden on by an athlete, get in the way of someone else’s shot (photographer’s etiquette!) and you don’t want to risk losing your credential.

This is yet another reason to arrive early so you can stake out a good, designated spot from which to shoot. Once you have figured out where you are meant to be, you can start think about what gear is going to ensure you get the best shot. You may need a monopod, long lenses and multiple bodies if you’re going to be down on the field and looking to capture some tight, action shots.

Alternatively, you may be asked to set up an ad hoc studio to photograph athletes behind the scenes. The key is be prepared for any scenario; major sporting events are usually pretty chaotic so it always pays off to do your homework and have the flexibility and willingness to think on your feet and adapt to different shooting situations. I really believe if you can shoot a major sporting event with its constantly changing situations, both in terms of lighting and subject, you can photograph anything!


At this World Cup football game, I knew in advance I was going to be on the side of the pitch so shot primarily with a long lens to capture action shots with a shallow depth of field. I did have another body on me with a wide angle to capture players if they got close and also to shoot more general shots of the stadium.

It also helps to be completely familiar with the photography equipment you will be using at the event. Be sure to also have it all well organized prior to arrival so you are familiar with where everything is. As mentioned, big sporting events are busy and chaotic with both fans and lots of behind the scene staff so it helps to have all your gear close to hand and know exactly how to access exactly what you need quickly and easily; this will ensure that you don’t miss that crucial shot! Also, don’t forget to charge batteries (and take spares!) and make sure that you have enough memory cards – when shooting sports you can fire through frames extremely quickly and you don’t want to run out of memory.


Know your sport


I cannot overemphasize the importance of this. Having knowledge of the sport you are shooting, no matter how good an eye you have or how great you are technically with your camera, will ensure that you get the best photographs. For example, you need to know where and when athletes will move in a particular sport so you can anticipate that ‘hero’ photo; everything happens very quickly and you can’t ask them to do it again if you miss it!


Knowing the intricacies of American Football meant I was able to anticipate this play and be in the perfect place for the touchdown catch.

I therefore always make sure I have a very good background knowledge of the sport and its athletes so I can then focus on creating out of the box shots from interesting perspectives that show both the action and all of the big day event to its fullest potential. Remember: always look around and don’t just focus on the action – the atmosphere of a major sporting event is comprised of so many ingredients and sometimes the facial expressions of fans, stadium shots and details can make really interesting images and help paint a fuller story of the sporting event as a whole.


Be friendly and polite


There are going to be a lot of photographers, videographers and security staff all working within close proximity whether your in a dug out, on the sidelines, around a swimming pool or on a basketball court. Occasionally, you will find the odd aggressive photographer who wants to barge everyone out the way to get their shot but thankfully these are rare. However, I would encourage you to be mindful and friendly of the other people around you. Ultimately, everyone is there to do the same job. Also, sometimes being polite with security staff will help you build a rapport with them which could be useful if they let you access a restricted spot you want to move to capture a specific shot – being nice to everyone can certainly pay off!


Many sporting Events can be busy and chaotic with many other photographers. Remember you are all ultimately trying to achieve the same goal so be courteous and respectful of one another.


Be prepared to Upload

This may not be a requirement for who you are working for but at most major sporting events clients require that images are almost instantaneously uploaded. Indeed, many cameras now allow Ethernet cords to be directly plugged into them to make this easier. However, for most people this will involve bringing their laptop on site to upload images. Photographs will have to be quickly culled, and edited both during the game (for example, at half time) as well as a fuller edit at the end of the event. All images need to be uploaded with appropriate keywords and metadata. At most major sporting events, there will be staff on hand to provide you with appropriate information on stats, player information and so forth.  Try to be ruthless and pick out images that best tell the story of the event. There will be plenty of time when you get home to get creative in post-production and go more thoroughly through your shots.


Hopefully, this article has provided you with a little taster of what it is like shoot behind the scenes at a major sporting event: the key is to have fun and be creative. The beauty of sport is you never know what is going to happen which often makes for some unexpected and even your best images!



Adam JacobsOther articles by author

Adam Jacobs is an exciting and innovative photographer whose eclectic portfolio has attracted considerable commercial attention. Adam has extensive experience working in both the editorial and commercial worlds and specializes in shooting dynamic panoramas, architecture, travel, interiors and sports. Adam has photographed collegiate and professional sporting events across the globe including the London 2012 Olympics and World Cup Finals. He is also adept at candid portraiturehaving captured well-known figures including Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama, Andy Murray and Mick Jagger on commissioned assignments.

Adam is represented worldwide by Getty Global Assignments and is also an ambassador for Manfrotto and Gitzo worldwide.

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