Facial Expressions Create Better Sports Photos

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So, here you are. You finally made it to the sidelines of a major sporting event (or a pee-wee soccer game… we all have to start somewhere) and you’re ready to shoot some serious action. The event starts and you fill up two memory cards of photos!

At halftime you load all of your photos onto your computer to get a head start on the editing process, and you notice something. These photos don’t look like Sports Illustrated covers at all! First of all, don’t worry about that. Sports photography takes practice. Second of all, there is something you can do to create better sports photos in five minutes.

To create better sports photos, shoot so that facial expressions can be easily seen.

Knowing Where to Stand

Your position in sports photography matters just as much as it would in a game. If you’re the catcher on a baseball team and you’re standing next to the third baseman, you’re out of position. When the pitcher throws a strike, there’s no one to catch the pitch!

The same thing is true for sports photography. It’s not as easy sometimes as being assigned a specific position to play. Knowing where to stand for sports photography takes a few minutes of study and thought. Watch the game action for a little while and figure out what types of plays a team runs.

For example, when I was photographing college football and I recognized a team ran a jet sweep option offense I would position myself to capture that action the best. A jet sweep is an option play where a receiver runs in motion toward a sideline before the ball is snapped so the quarterback can either hand him the ball, fake the hand-off and run, fake the hand-off and give the ball to the running back, or pass. So, I would stand slightly behind the line of scrimmage on the sideline to capture all of the action.


You also have to know how to shoot for predictions (gear selection comes into play too). Let’s stay with the jet sweep play as an example. Since I was positioned correctly to capture the action, I had to predict how close I should zoom in to capture the player’s facial expressions for the photos.

To capture both the quarterback and wide receiver with the ball in the air, I’d zoom in on the quarterback allowing for some room in front of him before the ball is snapped. As the wide receiver approached the quarterback, I’d get ready to fire continuous shots their direction so I could freeze their movement, the ball’s movement, and their facial expressions.

Why Facial Expressions?

Facial expressions sell photos. A sports photographer is somewhat like a documentary photographer, they document the story of an athletic event. The most powerful story telling tool photographers can use in their images is a facial expression. It tells the viewer everything; joy, sadness, intensity, and disbelief.

Think back at how many sports covers you’ve seen lately. Almost all of them show facial expressions because it delivers the entire emotion of a game or story in one image.

Facial features create better sports photos.

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