Source: fujifilm‑x.com

Even as the COVID pan­dem­ic is chang­ing the rules of sports com­pe­ti­tion, which is no doubt reflect­ed in sports pho­tog­ra­phy, one truth remains indis­putable for this genre: access is every­thing. In this post, based on an arti­cle by acclaimed pho­tog­ra­ph­er John Har­ris, we’re going to look at a few tips for the aspir­ing sports pho­tog­ra­ph­er, both in terms of equip­ment and skills. So, back to our hard truth: if you’re not near the “action”, you just won’t have a pho­to.

Does this mean that you def­i­nite­ly need a pass to the curb? Not nec­es­sary. Of course, it’s nice to be able to shoot com­pe­ti­tions in close prox­im­i­ty, but you can get this “access” in many ways. A good sports pho­to can even be tak­en off the field, so not hav­ing a badge should­n’t scare you. How­ev­er, in order to get into the “major league” of pro­fes­sion­al sports pho­tog­ra­phers, you, of course, soon­er or lat­er will have to some­how get pass­es to events of inter­est.

Source: John Harris/bhphotovideo.com

As for “inter­est­ing events”. While you may one day pho­to­graph Wim­ble­don or the Paris-Dakar Ral­ly, the only way to hone your skills is to start by shoot­ing the sports and events you know and love. And it does­n’t have to be big spec­ta­tor sports. Moun­tain bik­ing com­pe­ti­tions, table ten­nis, sail­ing — they all include fast-paced action with beau­ti­ful back­grounds, that is, every­thing you need for great sports pho­tog­ra­phy. When par­tic­i­pat­ing in sport­ing events, take lots of pic­tures, edit care­ful­ly, and look for rel­e­vant pub­li­ca­tions to present your work.

If you’re pri­mar­i­ly inter­est­ed in the most pop­u­lar sports but can’t get into a sta­di­um, try hon­ing your skills at small­er venues and events. Ama­teur tour­na­ments, camps and pre-game prac­tice are all great oppor­tu­ni­ties to devel­op skills and build a port­fo­lio. Also, try to get access to region­al events and tour­na­ments that may not be cov­ered by the main­stream sports media.

Source: adorama.com

Also study the work of oth­er pho­tog­ra­phers and ana­lyze the dif­fer­ence between shots in dai­ly news releas­es, online pub­li­ca­tions and spe­cial­ized pub­li­ca­tions. Sports pho­tos in the dai­ly news should sim­ply illus­trate the events of the last game — they usu­al­ly don’t take too much time to pre­pare and are often not very artis­ti­cal­ly inter­est­ing, but they tell a sto­ry. On the oth­er hand, there are sports pub­li­ca­tions in which sports pho­tog­ra­phy is a real piece of art, such as the Vic­to­ry Jour­nal.

No mat­ter where or how you would like to post your shots, there is a stan­dard set of cam­eras and lens­es for sports pho­tog­ra­phers to get the job done.


Of course, almost any cam­era can be used for sports pho­tog­ra­phy, but it must be able to cap­ture fast action and with­stand harsh weath­er con­di­tions, so a pro­fes­sion­al DSLR or mir­ror­less is the best option. There is a suit­able range of lens­es for these cam­eras, in par­tic­u­lar fast zooms and long tele­pho­to lens­es.

Sony a9 II

Although mir­ror­less cam­eras such as the Sony a9 II and new full-frame mod­els from Canon and Nikon are becom­ing part of sports pho­tog­ra­phy, high-end DSLRs from Canon, Nikon and Pen­tax are still the pros’ pre­ferred choice. The Nikon D6 and Canon 1DX Mark III, for exam­ple, are flag­ship DSLRs capa­ble of high-speed shoot­ing with fast and tena­cious aut­o­fo­cus and excel­lent high ISO per­for­mance. They can shoot high-qual­i­ty video, and the robust body of these mod­els is reli­ably pro­tect­ed from adverse weath­er con­di­tions.

Pen­tax K‑1 Mark II

The Pen­tax K‑1 Mark II is also worth con­sid­er­ing. Although the Pen­tax mod­el is not as fast as Nikon and Canon flag­ships, it is sig­nif­i­cant­ly cheap­er. In addi­tion, it has one of the strongest bod­ies of any full-frame DSLR on the mar­ket.

It is impor­tant to re-empha­size that while high-end cam­eras, when used to their full poten­tial, can increase your poten­tial and improve your work, there is no need to start with them. In addi­tion, this is far from the only choice of pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers. Incred­i­ble sports pho­tos are cre­at­ed using a vari­ety of devices — from smart­phones to medi­um for­mat cam­eras. How­ev­er, there are manda­to­ry cri­te­ria for a sports cam­era: it must be a mod­el with fast focus­ing, fast con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing and sup­port for var­i­ous lens­es.

The Olym­pus OM‑D E‑M1X is just such a cam­era, in MFT for­mat (Micro Four Thirds, Micro 4:3). Despite hav­ing a small­er sen­sor, it retains fea­tures on par with the best DSLRs, includ­ing a pow­er­ful proces­sor and a built-in ver­ti­cal grip with dual bat­ter­ies. In addi­tion, the crop fac­tor of the small­er sen­sor cre­ates a longer equiv­a­lent focal length, which can be advan­ta­geous when shoot­ing from the side­lines of the play­ing field, espe­cial­ly giv­en the cost of pre­mi­um tele­pho­to lens­es.

Canon and Nikon’s line­up of DSLRs also has many offer­ings that strike a bal­ance between per­for­mance and bud­get. If you’re buy­ing your first cam­era, con­sid­er the Nikon D500, D7500, or Canon EOS 80D. These are cam­eras with a small­er sen­sor com­pared to full-frame mod­els, but they are suit­able for the needs of sports pho­tog­ra­phy and are com­pat­i­ble with the best lens­es of their brands. This is impor­tant because if you con­tin­ue with sports pho­tog­ra­phy and even­tu­al­ly decide to switch to a high-end cam­era, you will be able to use the lens­es you buy now.

Nikon D7500

If you already have an entry-lev­el DSLR, you can of course start shoot­ing with it, but if you’re buy­ing a new one, we would­n’t rec­om­mend “begin­ner” DSLRs. Often they are not strong enough in terms of build and do not pro­vide the speed and options that you will even­tu­al­ly need. Also, do not pay atten­tion to bridge cam­eras with inte­grat­ed tele­pho­to zoom lens­es. While these are afford­able and mul­ti-task­ing devices that can cap­ture crisp images at long range (under ide­al con­di­tions), these cam­eras lack speed (focus and burst speed), lens aper­ture, and rugged­ness for pro­fes­sion­al sports pho­tog­ra­phy.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Then there are cam­eras like the D850, a high-res­o­lu­tion Nikon DSLR that does­n’t pri­or­i­tize con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing like the Nikon D6, but its focus­ing sys­tem, detail, and very com­pact size make it a desir­able mod­el for many sports pho­tog­ra­phers. The same applies to Canon 5D series cam­eras. We can also rec­om­mend the Nikon D750, which, despite its ven­er­a­ble age, can still be found new — this is Nikon’s most afford­able full-frame mod­el.


Cam­eras come and go, but your best lens­es are here to stay. There­fore, you can often find tips on the net that sug­gest sav­ing on the first cam­era and invest­ing in a qual­i­ty lens. When it comes to sports pho­tog­ra­phy, don’t lim­it your­self to a bad cam­era, how­ev­er, by and large, this tip also works. First, you need to find a cou­ple of qual­i­ty zooms and, per­haps, a tele­pho­to lens with a fixed focal length (the so-called “fix”).

Canon EF 70–200 F2.8L IS III USM

A tele­pho­to prime is often a real finan­cial hur­dle for an aspir­ing sports pho­tog­ra­ph­er, but it’s always worth keep­ing in mind the pos­si­bil­i­ty of rent­ing tele­pho­to lens­es for spe­cif­ic events, as well as the pos­si­bil­i­ty of using tele­con­vert­ers. In addi­tion, you do not have to try to cap­ture the facial expres­sions of an ath­lete from 50 meters, at least at first.

Major brands have their own ver­sions of the 24–70mm f/2.8 and 70–200mm f/2.8 lens­es, which are good lens­es to start with. You can also con­sid­er buy­ing a 24–105mm f/4 and a 400mm lens. When choos­ing a 400mm lens, you can quick­ly notice the dif­fer­ence in price between mod­els, and this is usu­al­ly relat­ed to the max­i­mum aper­ture, or “aper­ture” of the lens. In addi­tion to advanced optics and addi­tion­al fea­tures, more expen­sive lens­es have a max­i­mum aper­ture of f/2.8, which allows more light to pass through the lens and, in sports, use faster shut­ter speeds to freeze motion. In day­light con­di­tions, such “bright” lens­es may not be as nec­es­sary thanks to improve­ments in opti­cal sta­bi­liza­tion sys­tems, so weigh your needs well before invest­ing heav­i­ly in an f/2.8 ultra-tele­pho­to prime.

Nikon 24–70mm f/2.8G ED AF‑S Nikkor

The com­bi­na­tion of the afore­men­tioned zoom lens­es and the zoom tele­con­vert­er will pre­pare you for almost any sit­u­a­tion. At the same time, do not for­get that the tele­con­vert­er caus­es a slight decrease in aper­ture ratio. Oth­er more afford­able options include using ultra-tele­pho­to zoom lens­es such as the Nikon AF‑S NIKKOR 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR, with its ver­sa­tile zoom range, or even the Sig­ma 150–600mm f/5.6–6.3, which offers wide range of focal lengths, but requires con­stant mon­i­tor­ing when work­ing in less-than-ide­al light­ing.

Mod­ern tele­zooms have advanced sig­nif­i­cant­ly in image qual­i­ty. Two note­wor­thy mod­els are the Nikon AF‑S NIKKOR 180–400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR and the Canon EF 200–400mm f/4L IS USM Exten­der 1.4x. Both offer a ver­sa­tile zoom range, con­stant aper­ture, and a built-in tele­con­vert­er for zoom­ing up to 560mm at f/5.6. For the MFT sys­tem, Olym­pus has the M.Zuiko Dig­i­tal ED 150–400mm f/4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO, which is equipped with a 1.25x tele­con­vert­er. Add a tele­con­vert­er to the crop sen­sor EGF and you have an extreme­ly effi­cient 1000mm EGF lens.

Many sports pho­tog­ra­phers pre­fer tele­pho­to primes for their speed and sharp­ness, and the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS is one good exam­ple of these incred­i­ble lens­es, but their size and cost are under­stand­ably prob­lem­at­ic for begin­ners.

Nikon AF‑S NIKKOR 14–24mm f/2.8G ED

Tele­pho­to lens­es are essen­tial for sports pho­tog­ra­phy, but nor­mal and wide angle lens­es are just as impor­tant. The 24–70mm f/2.8 has already been men­tioned ear­li­er as an essen­tial item for your lens kit, but you will also find 85mm primes and wide-angle zooms in the back­packs of many sports pho­tog­ra­phers, like the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L III USM and the Nikon AF‑S NIKKOR 14–24mm f/2.8G ED.


Apart from cam­eras and lens­es, there are sev­er­al acces­sories that are espe­cial­ly impor­tant for sports pho­tog­ra­phy. Sup­port for heavy lens­es and main­tain­ing sta­bil­i­ty dur­ing extend­ed gam­ing is crit­i­cal. While tripods are pre­ferred by some pho­tog­ra­phers, the porta­bil­i­ty offered by monopods makes them the pre­ferred choice.

Mono­pod Man­frot­to MVMXPROA4

You may not always want or be able to use an on-cam­era flash, but for indoor events you should have a flash, ide­al­ly as pow­er­ful as you can afford. Since you will be work­ing a lot in burst mode, mem­o­ry cards with high read and write speeds are essen­tial. Addi­tion­al bat­ter­ies are also required.

Work­ing in the rain and in oth­er adverse con­di­tions is not uncom­mon for a sports pho­tog­ra­ph­er, so you should use addi­tion­al pro­tec­tion for the cam­era and lens­es.

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Whether you have seri­ous expe­ri­ence in pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phy or are just start­ing your career, we will be glad to hear your com­ments and sug­ges­tions regard­ing sports pho­tog­ra­phy equip­ment in the com­ments.

* when prepar­ing the arti­cle, mate­ri­als from the resources bhphotovideo.com (John Har­ris) and onfoto.ru were used.