The best sports photos are emotional reactions to a big play, not the action itself.
Billerica forward celebrates after scoring on a shootout during a Ma. high school field hockey tournament win (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).
The sun was setting and the women’s field hockey playoff game was about to be decided in a dramatic overtime shootout, with each team getting five shots at the opponent’s goalie to determine the winner. There wasn’t enough sunlight left to photograph the motion, and the action was too far away to shoot with a flash, but this important game was about to produce some dramatic moments and great photo potential. My only option was to use what little sunlight remained, which meant I would be unable to capture typical fast sports movement. To be as close as possible, I positioned myself directly behind the shooter at the center of the field, facing the goaltender.
I selected the longest lens (105MM, f 2.8) that would simultaneously let me shoot from a distance, let in as much light as possible, and not be so heavy that it would cause camera motion and blur the photo. To get the right amount of light, I set the shutter speed at a very risky 1/60, which is never recommended to freeze action. This left me able to photograph only moments when players were not moving very much, so I tried repeatedly to time a photo at the instant the players were barely moving. When one girl scored and jumped high in the air to celebrate, I waited to shoot until she reached the highest point of her leap when her motion was minimal. The resulting image was an emotional photo of the scorer and beaten goalie that captured the jubilation of the winners, and the disappointment of the losers.
1) Always look for emotional player reactions because they are almost certainly stronger photos than any sports action.
2) When the light is low, try shooting with whatever light is available because you can’t usually get close enough to use a flash.
3) If you need to use a slower shutter speed, time your shots for moments when the players are not moving very much.