Improve your sports photography

Professional tips
from Hugh Hastings

It's safe to say that Hugh Hastings knows sports photography. Having spent 10 years as the official photographer for Chelsea FC, he's chronicled some of the team's most candid moments on and off the pitch.

Speaking to a packed room of photography enthusiasts and football fans at a recent Peter Jones customer event, Hugh talked cameras, technique and how it's not all about rubbing shoulders with the stars.

We caught up with Hugh afterwards and asked him to share some advice with those who couldn't make it.

You mentioned that it's not all glamour all the time in sports photography. What should newcomers watch out for?
You need to be resilient and robust. The equipment is heavy, the working conditions for outdoor sports are often wet and cold, you are almost certainly on your own and the schedules are relentless. When you are younger you can get used to practically anything, give or take, but it's a bit like yomping through the Brecon Beacons to try and join a crack regiment – if you can't hack the physical side of the job, the rest will never fit into place.

What are the elements of the perfect action shot?
A top player always helps. A shot of Rafa Nadal will always sell more than one of an unknown tennis player, that's just the way it is. After that, it can be one of two things: the capturing of a beautiful action moment, especially something that's never revealed to the naked eye. Or a moment of pure honesty shining through in a person's face and body language, be it triumph or disaster.

Do you need to understand all the rules of a sport to cover it?
Well I guess not. Simply observing a sport entirely afresh would be an interesting exercise and might lead to taking some images that the more experienced pros would not even consider. 

If you had just one camera and lens combination to work with what would it be and why?
For action shots these days it is still a DSLR with a 400mm f2.8 lens because they are more hard-wearing in all weathers. For everything behind-the-scenes, then I love the mirrorless Panasonic cameras and their smaller lenses. Eventually we will all be using these smaller, cleverer cameras. 

What are your top tips for shooting sports?
First, pick a sport you love, it will help you through the hard times when your hands are freezing and the lens is covered in rain and you've got cramp in your arms and legs. Be respectful of all people, from the fans and the stewards to the players - everyone has their own agendas. Fit in and don't be a primadonna. Be small and quiet. Understand your sport and get to know how to be a tiny bit ahead of the action, then you will catch the moments that matter.

DSLR cameras

Quick tips

  1. 1) Avoid the predictable: keep an eye out for moments like players coming into contact or losing control
  2. 2) Ramp the ISO up: professionals shoot at 1/1000th of a second to keep things crisp
  3. 3) Use the right lens: a 400mm f2.8 or f4 lens is usually the best choice
  4. 4) Experiment with burst mode: this will give you more chances at capturing the moment
  5. 5) Turn the flash off: it distracts players and you're going to be too far away for it to work
  6. 6) Keep shots as tight as you can: cropping afterwards helps

For more photography advice, take a look at How to take stunning portraits and Capture the perfect sunset, or head over to the Digital cameras buying guide to learn more about camera technology.