Action sports is a tough genre of photography to learn. It takes a lot of practice, knowledge of the sport, and know-how to create great images. I can tell you all of these tips, but there is only one way for you to make them work. Experiment! Get out there and shoot as many action sports as you can, and try applying at least one of these tips to every image. You won't be a pro overnight but with practice and effort I believe that anyone can take great action sports images!
#1: Know the sport your shooting -- Simply heading out and shooting randomly can yield good images, but to truly create great images, you have to know what the athlete will be doing. I find that a big part of the reason that I've been successful shooting skiing, mountain biking, and skateboarding images is because I enjoy and spend time participating in these sports. Know-how can take you a long way while understanding why the athlete loves the sport and what the key moments are is necessary to get awesome and creative images.
#2: Guy-in-the-sky shots rarely ever work, or impress as much as you expect them too -- Sometimes it's fun to turn the camera up and just get a photo of a person in mid-air. It can be exciting and make you feel like a great photographer when you fill the frame with the subject and the sky. However, these images rarely impress the way you expect them too. I'm not saying don't ever shoot them, because they can be fun. But, your imagery should tell at least a bit of a story. Include at the very least the reason they are in the air, or where they will land. These key components add depth and understanding for the viewer of the image. Make it so that if anyone picks up the image (unless your going for abstract art) they know what's going on without evening knowing too much about the sport. Appeal to a wide audience!
#3: Include some environment in your image -- Action sports often take place in very cool places. Especially extreme sports. Your goal should be to WOW your audience with the images you take. If the location is cool show it off! Figure out where the athlete will be in the image, and build an image that includes the environment, with the athlete. Look around when you first get to a location and try taking in as many angles as possible. With digital, you can shoot every angle and then review them with the athlete to figure out what will work best.
#4: Take the athletes opinions into strong consideration, especially when working with a pro -- Athletes know the sport. They live and love the sport. Hear out their ideas and at least consider them. Often times my athletes will suggest an angle, or when shooting a sport I've never shot before, tell me that the action will look better from somewhere else. I take this advice to heart because I know they are as passionate about getting great images of themselves as I am of taking them.
#5: Go Wide -- I've mentioned this in a LOT of APB posts. I find that action shoots best wide. Sometimes a trick or move may not show it's intensity very well unless shot wide. It's not that the trick is not difficult, it's just that the wide-angle dramatizes the scene and gives the viewer angles that their eyes would never see. Also, if the athlete is going big, the wide angle will showcase the shear size of what they are doing and will include the elements in the image.
#6: Compose the image before capture -- Setup at the angle that you like best and figure out where the athlete will be in the image. It's tough to do sometimes but with a little practice it will become your sixth sense. The rule of thirds adds a lot to an action image (read about that here). Another thing to work on is to compose so that the subject is coming into the frame. Typically this looks better than having them exiting from the frame.
#7: Think outside the box -- What could make this image unique? What is something that I could do that no photographers ever done before? Chance are that someone has done it before, but that doesn't mean you won't do it better. I'm talking here about different approaches (i.e. from up on a ladder, across the valley, in a tree, below the athlete, camera mounted on athlete, anything different). These are the approaches that many photographers never think of. They go with the first angle that looks great, but is very accessible. Be different. Explore your options.
#8: Shoot during the golden hours (sunrise/sunset) -- Many extreme action sports take place during business hours. Downhill mountain biking and skiing generally occur when the lifts are running from 9-4PM. Though skiing does shoot well midday due to snow's reflectivity, it looks the best at sunrise or sunset. I know it can be tough to get out an shoot during dinner time, or to wake up so early, but it's worth it! Don't hit the snooze button anymore, get up early and shoot when most photographers are too lazy to get out.
#9: Incorporate flash into your images, off-camera flash works best -- For more information on this type of lighting, check out the Strobist website which is dedicated to teaching off-camera flash. I trigger my flashes wirelessly using PocketWizard radio triggers. Flash is an expensive investment but will take your work to a whole new level. It add's depth to the image and helps isolate the athlete from the background. I could go on-and-on all day about using flash in action sports, it really puts you ahead of most other photographers and gives you a million new opportunities for shooting.
#10: Don't miss out on all the little details and easy-to-shoot moments -- Keep using your photographer's eye and looking for any and all opportunities to shoot. Sometimes a foot resting on a bike pedal, an athlete talking with his friends, or dust flying off a bike tire are the best shots. Look for these small details to accentuate the sport and capture the excitement or tranquility. It's rare that you see a shot of the most extreme person sitting on a log fully relaxed. These moments are all too often overlooked by photographers.
That's the BUZZ for Today! Please check back soon for more.