The inclination when you shoot a sports event is to grab a lens with some length and zoom in on the action. A perfectly good strategy. Fill the frame with a telephoto. For football, soccer, and baseball, 400-600mm; for basketball and volleyball, 70-200mm. Each of these lenses has the capacity to yield great shots. But, is that the only strategy for sports shots? Negative. What about the other end of the lens spectrum – wide angle? Is there a place for a wide angle lens in sports photography? Absolutely.
Wide angle is typically anything less than 50mm. For sports, a little cheating is fine so I would redefine wide angle as anything less than 70mm. The typical lenses: 24-70mm; 14-24mm; and a fisheye – usually 15mm or 16mm and funky as all get out.
In landscape photography, wide angle is a go-to tool to exaggerate depth and relative size. Not only is it used to capture all of a subject – the lens version of taking a step way back – but it is also used to get close to the subject and take advantage of the sweeping wide angle of view. Here is an example of “getting close” with a wide angle lens in landscape photography, and this can get you thinking about how you might use the same technique in a sports shot.
Nikon D4 | ISO 200 | 14-24mm lens at 14mm | f / 22 | 1/80 second
When should you consider a wide angle in your sports shots? Consider it often; the images created by a wide angle lens are . . . well . . . different. They give a refreshing and creative perspective of the game and the action.
Here are some suggested uses: if there is a sports arena involved, like on this month’s cover shot, or if there is a field:
Nikon D800 | ISO 320 | 16mm lens | f / 11 | 1/250 second
But what about action? The wide angle lens in a sports action shot can give a real sense of presence – such as how high the skater is above the half pipe:
Nikon D800 | ISO 320 | 14-24mm lens at 20mm | f / 13 | 1/1500 second
Or a freestyle skier against a milky Montana sky (multiple images brought together in a series of layers with a little Photoshop magic in post):
Nikon D4 | ISO 1250 | 14-24mm lens at 14mm | f / 5.0 | 1/640 second
Or to depict how big the arena is as the player, all alone at the foul line, fights off his nerves to stroke a free throw:
Nikon D4 | ISO 4000 | 24-70mm lens at 32mm | f / 2.8 | 1/1000 second
Or scoot closer and give a sense that the athlete is really leaping up towards the arena rafters:
Nikon D4 | ISO 4000 | 24-70mm lens at 48mm | f / 2.8 | 1/1000 second
Or capture that Jalen Rose moment in a mid major Division one game:
Nikon D4 | ISO 3200 | 24-70mm lnes at 60mm | f / 2.8 | 1/800 second
Or even capture a behind-the-action perspective to give a sense of how far away the hoop is from the corner, a shot that would not be available with a more robust telephoto lens:
Nikon D4 | ISO 4000 | 24-70mmlens at 45mm | f / 2.8 | 1/1000 second
And how about ultra wide with a fisheye? Is there a place for the artsy, curvy distortion of a fisheye in sports photography? Why not? Track shots are surprisingly conducive to a fisheye, which imparts a curve to the hurdle race or accentuates the long distance runner as he leans into a curve on the track.
Nikon D4 | ISO 800 | 16mm lens | f / 18 | 1/1000 second
Nikon D4 | ISO 800 | 16mm lens | f / 16 | 1/800 second
Or go really funky and capture an entire volleyball sequence:
Nikon D4 | ISO 2500 | 16mm lens | f / 2.8 | 1/800 second
Someone once asked Dave Black what lens he prefers to use at a basketball game and he said his 24-70mm lens. At first blush, it may seem impossible to get a shot in which the athlete is anything other than dots in a large arena shot. But, after you play around with the wide end of the spectrum, it grows on you as you discover a different way to look at sports through a wide angle lens.
Next month, do :: or :: diso flies the friendly skies as it explores the world of sports from above.