Sports Shooting: Football, Baseball, Basketball and More

Ah – baseball games are reaching their apex and football games are getting off the ground – if you're a sports fan, you gotta love the Fall season! Did you catch the amazing high-speed camera shots at the National League Championship Series between the Giants and Cardinals? Slo-mo footage shows batter Hunter Pence's bat hit the ball three times from the same swing. The footage was shot at 3000fps using Vision Research's Phantom v1610 camera, which the Vision Research site says is able to shoot Up to 647,000 fps standard or 1,000,000 fps with the fast option at reduced resolutions. Cool stuff.

Amazing technology nowadays, but if you're shooting sports on a less-than-the-majors level, there are some tricks you can learn from the pros for your own stellar sports video shooting that doesn't involve a 3000fps high-priced camera. Shooting sports video is fun and rewarding, and sometimes, your footage can make the "Highlight of the Night."

Whether it's for American football or British rugby, there's a right way and wrong way to shooting sports videography. As a shooter for local television stations for more than 20 years, I learned a thing or two about shooting nearly every kind of sport out there. (And I made the "Highlight of the Night" reel for three stations and the network when I got tackled in a football game – not my most favorite "15 minutes of fame"!) Here are a few tips for anyone venturing into the exciting field of shooting sports video.

1. Play Your Position: Know the best angles and where to set up for the best highlights (see Shooting Sports Setup Suggestions list below)
2. Use Both Eyes: One eye to shoot, the other to help follow the action (which is what I didn't do when I got tackled that one cold foggy night!)
3. When in Doubt, Get Wide: If you lose the play in the eyepiece, zoom out to a wide-angle until you find the play, then zoom back in, don't wave the camera around trying to find the play – you'll lose time and that video will be unusable. (and don't think you can rely on the LCD screen!)
4. Size Matters: Use your zoom to keep players the same size throughout the video.
5. Remember the 180 rule: Crossing the line of action in sports will confuse your audience. If the green team is shooting into the goal on the left, and the blue team is shooting into the goal on the right, make sure you don't reverse and have the blue team appear to make a goal [shooting left] for the green team!
6. Experiment: Take chances, make mistakes and move all around the court or playing field to get different shots. (never forgetting that 180-degree rule!)
7. Practice: This is probably the most important tip. The athletes practice, as do the professional videographers and so should you. The more you shoot, the better you’ll become.
8. Watch a Lot of Games! I know many of you will like this tip! Watch how the pros follow the action and where they place the cameras when they're shooting sports. They might have the advantage of bigger cameras, longer lenses, remotes and access to the field, but you can still learn from them in how they set up their gear and crew.

Shooting Sports Setup Suggestions
Ok – so now you have the basics – let's break out some tips for shooting a few specific sports:

FootballThis is one game you can't fake, if you don't know football games, the movement of play can suddenly turn on you. The good news is there are breaks going all the time that allow you to retreat, refocus, and reframe.

  • Focus on the center of the field – from the center the play goes left or right, depending on who has control of the football, and if you are shooting solo, here is where you can follow the action.
  • Stay ahead of the ball – If you're shooting on the football games sideline, every time there's a play and the ball is down, take that moment to move up the field. The idea is to have the ball and the play always coming towards you.
  • Shoot from behind the defense looking into the quarterback’s eyes.
  • Stay wide on kicks – unless you have a super zoom and are shooting with a tripod, there's no way you're going to be able to zoom into that ball as it's kicked, then zoom out and follow it through the goal posts.
  • If you're shooting from the field, when the play gets near your goal, move ahead into the area just outside the end zone.
  • Stay Alert!!!!! The game changes directions often.
  • Don't forget the atmosphere – fans, cheerleaders, mascot and the scoreboard, these are always good for cutaways and enhancing the excitement of the game.

Basketball – this is a very fast sport, and there are chances for lots of points from both teams. Keep an eye on the running time.

  • Solo shooters – The floor is your best bet, to the left or right of the basket your team will be shooting into.
  • Multiple cameras – High in center bleachers, on the floor center, and floor right or left.
  • Shoot every basket and every follow through.
  • Give the player with the ball plenty of walk/run space, what we call look room or lead room, the player shouldn't run out of or into the frame.
  • Know the game and be aware of potential plays.
  • Don’t forget your atmosphere shots – cheering crowd, coach pacing the court, etc.

Baseball – Other than golf, the most difficult sports to shoot are baseball games, especially if you are a solo shooter, because there's a lot of stuff going on all over the field of play.

  • Watch the entire field – and like the players, you'll have to make that split-moment decision to "follow the ball" or chase the runner. Usually, if a ball is hit, you follow it enough to see it caught – then widen out to keep that action in the screen, if you can, while zeroing in on other plays as quickly as you can – such as a runner stealing a base or a runner making it home. There's a lot going on at baseball games all at the same time. Having a quick manual zoom dexterity will pay off over relying on the slower motor zoom.
  • Multiple cameras – If using several cameras, your usual placement will be the backstop, first base dugout and third base dugout. (If you can't get into the dugouts, then shoot behind 1st and 3rd base.)
  • Solo shooters -The backstop view – making sure you have the pitcher, catcher, hitter and umpire in the shot.
  • Shoot every pitch! You never know when that one pitch will be the deciding play.
  • Know the game and be aware of potential plays, if the hitter has 2 strikes and 3 balls against him, the next pitch will decide his fate – pay attention!

Soccer/Rugby – These sports are similar to basketball in how you'd shoot them. Stay on your team's side of the field, closer to the goal they are kicking to, then swap sides at halftime, if you can.

  • Single shooters – Shoot near the opponent's goal.
  • Multiple cameras – cover the field.
  • Make sure you always see the ball – this is important because it can move very fast.
  • Give the shot run and kick space! A good kick of a soccer ball can clear the length of the field, then you're suddenly behind the action when you were moments ago ahead of it. Stay wide enough to see the players scrimmaging for the ball, it's more important than trying to get a closeup of the ball.
  • Know the game and be aware of any possible shots. You can shoot an entire game up to the last 30 seconds without a single goal then, bam! GO-O-O-O-AL!

Hockey – Similar to basketball in placement, unique in its plays that provoke fist fights at a moment's notice!

  • Your best position is behind the glass between the net and the center line. If you're shooting solo, higher in the stands is often the best shot to get the entire action.
  • Hockey is a very fast game – keep with it!
  • Watch out for Flying Pucks!!!!
  • The fights are a part of the action – don't turn off the camera if a fight breaks out, this could be the "highlight of the night"!
  • Watch the time keeper and don’t forget the atmosphere!

Wrestling/Karate/Boxing/Fencing/Hand-to-hand face offs – Usually these sports involve 2 opponents at a time, and they work in a circle, so no side is better or worse than the other.

  • One Camera setup – shoot wide – follow the action.
  • Multiple camera setups – one on the ground at 'fight' level, one in the stands covering the entire play.
  • Composition – It's easy to lose sense of composition in hand-to-hand sports, extreme closeups are great here, but don't lose the action.
  • Shoot the scoreboard to keep track of points.
  • Know your sport and don’t forget the atmosphere!

Track Sports – Running/Marathons/Swimming/Horse, Auto and Bike racing – How you'd shoot track sports varies depending on if the race is on a circular field, a time trial with a single racer or a long distance race going from point A to point B.

  • One Camera setup – shoot wide – follow the action.
  • Try to set yourself up at the beginning of the race with the participants racing towards you, not away from your camera.
  • Stay wide after the start, to catch all racers, unless one falls very far behind.
  • If it's a circular race on a short circuit, don't follow 'round and 'round and 'round, that will make your audience dizzy. Simply stay somewhat wide, zoom in slightly when they are farther from you and pull out when they get closer, always giving the lead racer some lead room.
  • Multiple camera setups give you more options: set one camera at the starting point, another in the stands covering the entire race and a third at the finish line.

More More More! There are so many more sports like tennis and swimming and there's just not enough room for them all, but the general gist of these or any sport is to know the sport well. If you are shooting for a particular team stay on their side of the play, field, or court, to get the action coming towards you (however, if it's tennis, you would shoot from opposite your players, so you aren't shooting their backs and with swimming you want to be at the point where they finish, regardless of where they start.)

OK, so you might not have that super cool high-speed camera, but with these tips, hopefully, your video will make the "Highlight of the Night," and not because you were tackled by a 300-pound linebacker!

– Jennifer O'Rourke, Videomaker's managing editor

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Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O'Rourke
Jennifer O’Rourke is an Emmy award-winning videographer & editor.

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