When I stepped into the arena, I was already a few minutes late for the game. The crowd roared as the sound of the puck snapping back and forth over the ice between players reverberated in the air. I'd never shot hockey before, I'd barely even watched the sport outside of the antics of Gordon Bombay and his gang of scrappy rascals. and as the little black puck whipped over the ice I felt momentarily overwhelmed.
It was a familiar feeling. I'd experienced it three years ago as I stepped out of my car into a misty New England afternoon to meet my first bride and take her pictures. I clutched the rented camera tightly in my hand. In my whole life, I'd only been to a few weddings in my life and for a second I felt overwhelmed, after all, this was supposed to be the most important day in this couple's life and their memories were in my hands.
Shooting sports and shooting weddings have a lot more in common than a first glance would tell you. Both are fast paced and high pressure shoots, where you need to be on your toes or the important moments will pass right by you. Each has their own flow and rhythm that a seasoned professional can anticipate to get great shots. Of course, with all photography there are fundamental skills that will help you make great photos.
At the arena, music poured out of tinny loudspeakers and I looked around for someone that knew what they were doing. At least at a hockey game there were other professionals to follow, who had some idea where to stand and point their cameras. So I spotted the long lenses and took up a perch on the opposite end of the rink, the sense of dread rapidly falling away as I got into the action.
Fortunately, the past few weeks have given me plenty of chances to adapt to sports photography as Plymouth South's hockey team drove deep into the playoffs.
Along the way, I've received a few tips that will make sports photography easier for everyone, not just professionals.
Abandon the flash: While a flash is a powerful burst of light, when you're up in the stands it's not powerful enough to change lighting conditions on the field. If you're on the sidelines, the flash can prove distracting for players (or, as in the case of hockey, it's just going to bounce back at you).
Take a good zoom: The reason why watching sports on TV is agreat is that you can get up close to the action, and you should take the same approach with your pictures. Wide shots that show the whole field don't really show the action and can be a little boring.
Anticipate the action: Consumer cameras often have a short delay between when you press the shutter button and when it takes the picture. This can make the difference between getting a picture of that score and missing it, so anticipate what is going to happen and start pressing the shutter just before the action.
Try sports mode: Many cameras have a specific sports mode that takes several shots in quick succession to try and ensure at least one captures the action.
Shoot reactions: Like in a wedding, the story isn't always about what's in the spotlight. The emotional responses from teh audience can make for powerful images. The players on the field an the sidelines are also reacting to what's happening and those shots can help to tell teh story of what the plyaers on teh field are experiencing as much as the shots of running and jumping.
Enjoy yourself: Pictures aren't simply a way to prove that you were there, they're about helping stir memories and feelings. Make sure you're not just experiencing the game through the lens.
Of course for every sport there are different hints about where you should shoot and what's going to happen, but thanks to digital photography there's little cost to experimenting and trying something new every time until you get it right.