Many Christmases ago my oldest brother gave our parents a couple of framed photos. They were of his two kids playing sports. In one, his firstborn daughter with blue mouthguard showing, making a defensive stop during a field hockey game on a typically dodgy elementary school field. In the other, his son alongside his defensive line teammates, in a three-point stance before the snap on a muddy gridiron, sporting a helmet and shoulder pads that look two sizes too big for his string bean body. The photographs remain hanging in my parent’s entryway, wrapped in a medium brown wood that still doesn’t match the decor.
Those two photographs are objectively terrible — blurry and flat — but that’s never mattered one bit to grandmom and grandpop.
What really matters
A photographer will tell you that the best camera for the job at hand is the camera you have on you — whether that’s a 3-year-old smartphone or a $3,500 mirrorless body with a 150mm lens attached. The imperfect photographs of my niece and nephew as little athletes were probably taken with a basic point and shoot, on film developed in an hour at a drug store, but the memories of those big moments captured are nothing short of perfect. They froze time and today, some 10-years later, they continue to keep childhood alive.
My most important piece of advice to parents hoping to photograph their kids playing sports is to not beat yourself up about not getting the action crystal clear or for failing to frame the big moment just right. What matters is 1) that you were there to watch, cheer, congratulate after a win or offer comfort after a tough defeat, and 2) that you put some moments of your child’s one and only childhood down on film — or, put them on a tiny memory card (or even throw ‘em up into the cloud).
Yes, of course, you want that money shot: the dramatic catch, golfing backswing, or outstretched save. But remember that the most important thing is that you experience all those things with nothing but swelling pride — and maybe a few annoying gnats between your eyes and your kid. In short, get a photo or ten, then put the camera down and watch.
Before retiring to simply watch with joy in your heart and a few tears in your eyes, here are some tips for taking better photos of your kids playing sports.
Immortalize the calm before the storm.
My favorite thing to shoot at any sporting event is the moment BEFORE the moment. The standing over a free-kick bound for the back of the net, waiting on the line to take what might be the game-winning free throw, or standing on the mound looking in for the sign before delivering a strike to seal victory. In a way, these kinds of photos tell a bigger story than the action shot. Because here we see the thought process emerge — your competitive child’s steely-eyed determination, or sometimes, the butterflies in their stomach become almost visible with the help of your phone or camera lens.
Zoom in on their colorful cleats with blades of green grass sprouting up all around, focus on the gymnast’s white powder dusting their sparkly leopard or legs or in the air after they clap their hands together before taking to the parallel bars, and on the soccer ball or basketball tucked up under their arm as they listen to coach give instructions during the pre-game warmup. These gallery-quality images of brief but evocative moments of inaction before, during and after the event will likely be easier to keep in focus and will look stunning on Fracture glass.
Initiate burst mode!
Sometimes you just gotta hold down the button and let ‘er rip! Use burst mode on your phone or continuous shooting option on your camera when your kid is at the plate to capture every inch of their home run swing.
Halftime orange slices add a pop of color.
Look for opportunities to introduce pops of color into your game day photographs and also, to capture the culture that surrounds youth sports: the huddle of parents on a wet, windy weekend morning, the players stretching before taking the field, the goal celebrations, and even your minivan trunk stuffed with hockey equipment bags or stacks of orange cones and yellow practice bibs. Yes, the game is the thing, but what makes sports and competitions truly special is the community and culture that surrounds it. Photograph some of that too, to paint the full picture of your child’s time as a little athlete.
The huddle, the high-fives & the smiles.
Remember that the score, the hits, the goals, they are great, but the spaces between them are teeming with life. Often those are the moments that your child and you will remember. So photograph them and make remembering them easier as you get older and more forgetful!
Your child doesn’t always need to be the focus.
Of course, you want them in as many photographs as possible but they don’t need to be the focus…or in focus. Employing a depth of field (commonly known as ‘bokeh’) technique (that many modern smartphones come standard with nowadays) to make something else the primary subject of the image, will add an artistic touch to your little athlete’s big moments. That’ll probably get you some oohs and aahs on Instagram too 🙂
Don’t forget to keep shooting after the final whistle!
Take pictures of the post-game celebration at the ice cream shop or pizza parlor too. Why? Because for little athletes sometimes the postgame treats with friends, family, and teammates are the very best part.
Big thank you to Jeff Bogle for sharing these great tips (and photos!) with us on the Fracture Blog! – Drew