Football, baseball, hockey, tennis. Swimming, cycling, running and lacrosse. Sports shooting is an art unto itself, and every sport has shooting hurdles to jump.
When my nephew made the football team, my sister's career as a videographer instantly went into high gear. Hollywood has never made a film as entertaining to 10-year-olds as watching themselves make that touchdown over and over and over. I, of course, realized it was politically dangerous to my career if my sister was making bad videos, so we launched a game plan. Huddle up, everyone.
As with any videotaping situation, there are certain things that doing ahead of time will make much better. Some things to look out for before taping your first sporting event:
- Access to electricity - can you plug your camera in? If not, be sure to pack enough batteries.
- Tripod space? - will you have room to set up your tripod? If not, you might want to consider a monopod. Some very clever monopods actually have small tripod legs at the very bottom, making them more stable.
- Sun in your eyes? - will you be shooting into the sun from where you're sitting? If so, you might want to consider moving, even if it puts you in the visitors' bleachers - just try not to cheer too loudly.
- Hey, down in front! - is there a space specifically for press? If not, get a seat where people won't be standing between you and the action. When Junior makes his touchdown, you don't want the back of some guy's head to be the only record you have of it.
Randy Hansen, chief photographer for WINK-TV, has been videotaping sports for years and recommends that at a minimum you should have a camera with a good quick zoom and extra batteries. That, however, isn't nearly as important as understanding the game. "That requires," says Hansen, "you know where to be when it's 3rd and 9 (down field about 10-12 yards). If you don't know, I wouldn't shoot the sport until you could learn more about it." Randy also says it's vital to grab a copy of the program with all the players' names and jersey numbers to reference later.
Where to Stand
On the stands? Or on the sidelines? There's certainly an advantage to being on the sidelines - you're close, everything's bigger - but the downside is there will be times that you can't see what happened because of people in your way. The other option is to be in the bleachers, way up, looking down. This way you see all the action - but Junior's not so large in the viewfinder and rowdy spectators may shake your platform. Serious videographers will consider doing both - shooting with two cameras, one with an overview, and another close up on the sidelines. If you're shooting professionally, you'll want to at least consider three cameras: one overview, and two cameras on the sidelines catching closeups of the action for editing together later.
Many cameras have a "sports" program mode that selects a high shutter speed to reduce blurring. Use this if you have it (and conditions allow - it's probably not going to work on a night game where things are much dimmer). If you don't have a program mode for sports, try setting your camera's shutter speed relatively high, 1/125 of a second or so depending on your light and the speed of the sport (ice hockey probably wants a faster shutter speed than something like curling).
- Anticipate the shot. In a baseball game, we know that the action goes from the pitcher, to the catcher, to the batter, and then possibly out into the field somewhere. But also keep an eye on that runner on first - is he going to try and steal? In situations before the action starts, a wide shot allows you to not miss the action and then zoom in quickly when the plays have been established.
- Give people room to move. Don't frame too tightly or you may be playing hide-and-seek with a player darting in and out of the frame. Too tight also confuses your audience. Back up a little and give the players a little room in the frame - don't forget your standard composition tools like "look room" - leaving space in front of a person in the direction of movement for them to "look" or run into.
- Don't shout too loudly if you're using an on-camera microphone - microphones pick up what's around them. Putting one on the sidelines aimed out into the field will give you the sounds of the field; using the on-camera mic will get you the sounds of what's going on around the camera. Make sure that isn't the sound of you yelling, "go Bobby, go!"
- Don't get cut short - leave some "handles" - a few seconds of footage before and after the action to give you something to edit with. Don't hit "stop" as soon as the play ends.
You're Not Done Yet!
Don't forget to interview the sports heroes after the game - their impressions, recap and analysis - as well as some of the fans, the coaches, and spectators. You can add voice overs to the action and have your sports hero explain what's happening and how it felt to be there.
Don't Get Stuck
No doubt half the parents who spy you with a video camera will suddenly become the targets of angry spouses, berating them for not thinking to videotape the game themselves. They'll try and cajole you into giving them copies of the tape. Which is fine - just don't get stuck spending your whole weekend duping tapes when you could be out tossing the ball with Junior or building that gazebo in the back yard. It would be useful to consider beforehand what you should charge for tape duplication and print that up on a card. There are plenty of weekend warriors out there who have turned their hobby into a small business that keeps them in the latest and greatest hardware and editing software.
What to do with all your tape? Why not turn it into a paying venture? Randy Hansen recommends handing out DVDs of your work at games, or planning a pizza party after the game and showing your work there. Then let everybody know that they can get a copy - for a fee, of course.
Contributing editor Kyle Cassidy is a visual artist who writes extensively about technology.