Burnside35-0: ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/800
Sports photography has never really excited me. However, because I’m currently buried in the season of motherhood that is sports- soccer, cross country, basketball, track, baseball- I’ve had to learn to love photographing a genre that I’d normally pass on. Whatever sport is currently in season, that is where you’ll find my kids, and therefore, that is where and what my camera shoots.
I’m the type of person who craves creativity. So, when I first started taking photos of my kids playing sports, I found them incredibly uninspiring. They weren’t photos that I thought anyone would care about seeing, and definitely weren’t anything I found interesting enough to add to my home’s gallery wall. This is where Lensbaby has been a creative lifeline. They’ve helped me turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. I don’t need any fancy lighting set-ups or special effects added during post processing to make my images feel magical. Everything that makes my photos unique and different is achievable 100% entirely in-camera. I’d love to share how I’ve been able to keep the joy and spark in photography alive, despite shooting a genre I’m not traditionally drawn to.
FINDING FOCUS ON QUICK ACTION
First, let's talk about how I focus. Lensbaby lenses are completely manual. I know it can seem intimidating shooting fast moving subjects when you don’t have autofocus. But trust me when I say that if I can do it, you can too!My first recommendation is, if your camera has focus peaking, use it! What is focus peaking and how do I use it? Focus peaking is a feature where your camera highlights high contrast areas with a color overlay (my Canon R6 lets me choose yellow, red, or blue,) essentially telling the shooter when a specific area of an image is in focus. I choose what color to use based on my subject. For example, I would NOT choose blue if I’m shooting my kids in a swimming pool. I’d probably choose red because it would be easier to see against all the blue of the water. In this photo of my napping feline, you can see on the back of my camera the red highlighted area.
I used the Edge 35 for this image, which has a slice of focus that I can move around my frame vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. You can see the vertical line of focus going through my kitty’s head. This red line is an area of high contrast that will be the most in-focus part of my image. Focus peaking was a real game-changer for me. If your camera doesn’t have this feature, try shooting in live mode!
This leads me to my next tip. Shoot in high speed continuous mode. This helps to ensure a higher probability that at least one of your shots will be in focus, something that is especially important when your subject is constantly moving. Also, keep an open mind. You might be surprised to see that you prefer a different shot other than the one you had planned for- a missed area of focus can sometimes be a happy accident. The last tip for getting a fast moving subject in focus is anticipation. When I’m at the soccer field or the basketball court, I often do a quick scan of my subject’s surroundings. I look for a specific area where I like the light or find the composition especially interesting. I set my focus within that area, have my finger ready on the shutter button, and wait for my subject to pass through it. I anticipate where they will be so that my focus is set before they get there. Does this work 100% of the time? Absolutely not. But it works often enough that it's a reliable strategy. And again, sometimes I leave with happy surprises that I wasn’t planning for or expecting.
Sweet 50,ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/500
Finding Creativity in Sports Photography
If you're anything like me, I’m constantly looking for ways to make my photos look more interesting. This is even more true when I’m not feeling especially inspired by what I’m shooting (cough, cough, sports.) I think one thing that can be challenging when photographing sports is that you don't have the option of scheduling the photo session for the best kind of light. Do I love shooting into full sun, with no tree or cloud in sight? Well, it wouldn’t be my first choice. And that overcrowded, ugly gymnasium with the awful overhead fluorescent lights, well I don’t know anyone who would intentionally choose that location to capture memories. In the words of Tim Gunn, I “make it work,” because what other choice do I have? When I’m at my kids’ soccer games, this means that I have to position myself where the sun isn’t shining directly into my lens. I also look for a spot to shoot where I have spectators from other fields in my background rather than the cars and porta-potties in the parking lot. If I just can’t avoid certain details in my frame, I can usually hide them in the blurry areas that Lensbaby lenses create so they are less of a distraction. Another opportunity for shooting creatively when capturing sports is a unique perspective.
Sol 45 ,ISO 320, f/3.5, 1/2500
In this shot above, I laid on my stomach and sat my camera low in the grass to create an interesting point of view. I loved how the sun hit the blades of grass, the edges of the frame were blurred, and my eye goes directly to the action in the center of the frame. In the image of my son shooting free throws, it was quite easy for me to find my focal point because he was standing still.
Edge 35, ISO 2000, f/3.5, 1/500
He actually really gave me a great opportunity to shoot creatively because he just kept shooting free throw after free throw, not really requiring me to re-compose. I decided I wanted to include the height of the basketball hoop to show the scale and size of my son in comparison. I played around with where I wanted the slice of focus to fall, and was really happy with the final image.
Another way to make your sports photography more artistic is by using interesting framing. Besides using objects within your surroundings, you can use the blur of the lens to frame your subject. I used Lensbaby’s Edge 35 in the photo of my son playing soccer. One of the referees kept passing in front of where I was sitting, always following the action of the game. At first I was feeling frustrated because he was often blocking my shot. But during one moment, as the play on the field stalled in front of me and the ref stood still, I was able to focus on my son who was framed perfectly in the space between the ref’s arm and body.
Edge 35ISO 2000, Ff/3.5, 1/500
The line of focus created by the Edge 35 also meant that the parts of the shot that weren’t important to me were in the blurred areas of the frame.
Because I’m always looking for new and creative ways to capture my subject, sometimes I throw the “technical” rules out the window. One thing I love doing, really in almost any genre, including sports, is to intentionally shoot out of focus. It creates an impressionistic or painterly image. I can break the normal rules because I shoot for myself, not for a publication, team’s website, etc. In the photo of my kids shooting baskets in my driveway, I couldn’t find a great angle that would allow me to eliminate my neighbors house from the background, and I really wanted to include the sky because I loved the way the clouds looked. On a whim, I decided to turn my focus ring so my scene was blurry, while still leaving enough detail to tell the story of the action and allow the viewer to understand what they were looking at.
Edge 35, ISO 200, f3.5/, 1/500
Another example where this method worked really well was when I shot behind a fence at my son’s baseball game. I ncluded enough of a focus that you could still make out the scene with little effort, and I really loved the texture that the criss-cross lines of the fence added to the image.
Burnside 35, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/800
LOOK FOR THE QUIET MOMENTS, TOO
I think we sometimes automatically think of high action shots when we think of sports photography. But don’t forget about those quiet moments, too. They are equally important and also tell a story. In this shot before the start of my twins’ soccer game, I loved how both teams had gathered in the middle of the field to do the cleat and shin guard check.
I loved the mix of bright colors, the players all coming together, and the anticipation of the start of the game. I shot this with my Edge 35, choosing a horizontal line of focus across the center of my frame because that's where the story was. I also loved what the blur did to the foreground and the background. If you haven’t already noticed, Lensbaby’s Edge 35 is hands-down, my go-to lens. While you can’t go wrong with any of their lenses, the Edge 35 is my favorite. I really hope I’ve inspired you to shoot creatively the next time you’re at a sporting event!
Kate is a Lensbaby Ambassador from WI, where she lives with her four kids, husband, and two cats. She is a former elementary school teacher and a current stay-at-home mom. She likes to explore many different genres of photography, but is especially focused on capturing memories of her children. Kate loves rich colors, capturing real, authentic moments, and telling stories through her images. When not behind the lens, Kate spends her time exercising, crafting, reading, and gardening.