The Secret to Get Cover Worthy Sports Photographs

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Sports photography is an extremely competitive field. However, there are some tips known by the best of the best that will help your photos rise to the top. After spending some time on the sidelines of major sporting events, I have learned those tips the hard way. Now, I want to share one with you so you don’t make the same mistakes I made. Before I get into the simple secret to get cover worthy sports photographs, let’s look at some of the basic understanding of camera settings for sports so you can land a cover.

Settings Needed to Land a Cover


Your shutter speed is probably the most important setting in sports photography. Nothing else is going to determine whether or not you can effectively capture action in a clear and concise photo. Obviously, you will need a very fast shutter.

Nothing under 1/500 sec will work unless you are shooting athletes standing around. If it’s possible, you should probably use 1/1,000 of a second. You need to get the shutter fast enough to freeze the image from the rotation of the ball to the movement of the feet.

It’s not necessary to go over 1/1,000 sec either because it will not improve the sharpness of motion within the photo. Basically, once you achieve the sharpness you want with the shutter, don’t make it faster. If you do, all you will be doing is decreasing the amount of light in the photo without improving the amount of motion that is tack sharp.

Wide apertures make the athletes the focal point of the photo


Aperture is always next, and you need to think about your composition when determining your aperture. What I mean is, you have to showcase the athletes. If your background is distracting from the athlete and the action on the field, you need a wider aperture to blur out the background.

I prefer to go as wide as possible with my aperture if I’m shooting action. Like I said before, if the action gets lost or busy, you need to blur the background.

Balance your shutter and aperture using the ISO
Balance your shutter and aperture using the ISO


The ISO setting you use is just to balance the lighting in the photo. So, the ISO is going to constantly change based on the time of day, shadows, and weather!

For example, your ISO is probably going to be very different during a night game than it would be during a game at noon under a sunny sky. Constantly watch the lighting and weather to determine how you need to be using your ISO to balance the available light.

Continuous Shooting/AI Servo

When I got to my first major sporting event, I didn’t know I was supposed to use a continuous shooting setting. I was a fool, and should have been fired. Using continuous shooting ensures that you take photos at a quick frame rate to capture all of the action. It’s imperative to capture those split second events in sports that are rare.

You also want to use AI Servo (or continuous focusing) along with continuous shooting. Without AI Servo, your camera will continue to take multiple frames at the original focal distance. However, whenever you’re using AI Servo, you camera will track movement and continuously focus on the subject!

A Secret to Get a Cover Photo Faster

A tip to get great sports photographs on the covers of magazines and front pages of websites is to continue shooting after any play while the athletes are celebrating. Think about it. Whenever an article is written about the game, the writer wants a photograph to accompany the story of the game. Usually the article is about how one team won and the other team lost. The best way for the writer to portray the story of victory is to show a celebratory photo as the cover shot.

Quickly think back over the latest sports cover photos you’ve seen. Chances are, the majority of those covers have been of victory celebrations after a big play or game, defeat emotions, and a few big plays sprinkled in here or there.

My advice to you is to continue shooting so you can capture emotions and story lines after the play is over. Did one team just score? Keep shooting to capture their celebration! Did a team just win a championship? Run out into the confetti to shoot the victory party. Maybe a team just lost the game on a freak play. Shoot their emotions of disbelief.

Yes, photos of game action are essential and required, but emotion tells the story of the game. If I put two photos of in-game action side by side, you wouldn’t be able to tell who won the game and who lost. However, if I put two photos side by side of one team celebrating and one not celebrating, you would be able to assume that the celebrating team won.

Next time you’re shooting sports, don’t put your camera down after the play. Keep shooting to tell a story, and I’ll bet that you’ll start getting more cover attention!

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