Two eyes and a ball

You’ve heard it before in sports photography- a good photo shows two eyes and a ball. Well, maybe you haven’t heard that yet, so here you go, now you have.

Sports photography is faster paced than studio or other still photography. It requires you to shoot quickly, make quick adjustments, be in the right position, shoot through the action to capture emotions, get good composition, and oh yeah, have a tack-sharp image.

Hmmmm. That sounds like a lot to do. Well, it is. But when you do it all, and get it right, it’s really rewarding. Unfortunately, a lot of times, it doesn’t all come together. Your photo keeper rate will be much lower for sports photography than just about any other genre. You might take 1,000 photos (or more) for an event and only come away with 25 5-star keepers (that’s only 2.5%). That sounds like a lot of work for a small payoff, but when you get those 25 5-star photos, it somehow makes it all worthwhile.

So what makes a good action sports photo?

Two eyes and a ball. It sounds simple, but remember all of those other things above that go into the shot?

Here’s a photo that if you showed a parent or maybe a casual observer, they might say, “wow, what a great photo”. BUT…

…while we have two eyes (actually, we have four), we’re missing the ball.

So let’s add the ball…

And again, the casual observer might say, “cool, you took a photo of a football catch”. But is it a good photo? Is it the one we’re looking for? Nope. We’re missing the eyes. We want to see the players’ faces. We want to see the emotion on their faces. We want to see their anticipation in catching the ball, or being hit hard by a tackle. We want the human element.

So let’s see the difference if we can put add it all together- two eyes and a ball.

Yep- two eyes and a ball. But is it a good action sports photo?

Not yet. It’s not very sharp. Actually, if you look closely, you’ll notice the ball is in focus, but not the players’ faces. This is my fault because I didn’t have the right lens for that distance.

This is starting to get pretty nit-picky, but the fact is, it takes a lot to make a good action sports photo. The kind of photo that when you see it, you just know it’s good.

Well, remember that keeper rate we talked about? Here’s one that pulls it all together. It has good composition, it has a tight crop of the action, it shows the player with two eyes and a ball, and it’s sharply in focus.

Check, check, check, and check. Cross this one off the list- it’s a 5-star keeper. But we had to work hard for that! Sports photography is a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding when your work pays off.

How do you get a photo like this? Shoot lots. Shoot often. Shoot anything. Be your own toughest critic. Ask for help. Find photographers who are better than you and learn from them. And when you get to the point where you’re able to do this consistently, give back to help others who are trying to get there, too.