Whoever said “timing is everything” in sports photography left out the other important part: lighting. This post will be of little interest to most people, but for students of photography or those looking to learn more about sports photography, I hope you find it of interest.
One aim of sports photography is to isolate your subject. Typically that is done through depth-of-field, namely a shallow one. You keep your subject in focus, but objects 2 to 3 feet in front of the athlete are out focus. Depth of field (DOF) is determined by three main things:
- The focal length of the lens used. All things being equal, longer focal lengths leads to a more shallow DOF.
- Distance to the camera to the subject. The closer the subject is to the camera, all things being equal, the more shallow the DOF.
- The aperture or f/stop. All things being equal, as the lens is “opened up” (moves towards f/1) the DOF becomes more shallow.
But light can also be used in to isolate a subject. In this case, a sports photographer has to be lucky but also has to be able to spot the chances where the perfect lighting can be had.
Below is a photo from Carter-Finley Stadium, home of the North Carolina State Wolfpack Football team. There is about an 8 minute window on the field when the sun is low enough that Vaughn Towers cast a shadow over the field and stands, but there is a sliver of light that cuts through the openings where the exits are. It lets in just a tad of light over a very small part of the field, but if you can get a picture of a play in this light, it’s just perfect:
Notice how only the player(s) are in the light, but the stands and even foreground are in the shade. These moments don’t come often, but keep your eyes out for when it comes.
—- Update October 8, 2007 —-
Below I thought I would add an example of a flat photo where the subject blends in with the background. This is typically what you get as again, the sun has to be in the perfect position to get the lighting like you saw above.