Sports Photography Class: How do I Get Better at Showing Faces During a Game?

November 13, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

SHOWING FACES 

Sports Photography Class with Philip G. Pavely/Pavely Photography

 

HOW DO I GET GOOD PHOTOS OF FACES DURING ACTION?

When taking sports photos, nothing is better than seeing the face of an athlete in action. Being able to see the eyes and mouth clearly will help your photos tremendously.

ptr-steelers45-122214ptr-steelers45-122214The Steelers' Heath Miller is brought down by the Chiefs defense after gaining fourt yards on the opening drive at Heinz Field Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. The Steelers defeated the Chiefs 20-12 to clinch a playoff spot.

The Steelers' Heath Miller is brought down by the Chiefs defense after gaining four yards on the opening drive at Heinz Field Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. The Steelers defeated the Chiefs 20-12 to clinch a playoff spot.

Nikon D3; 400mm f 2.8; f/2.8; 1/1000 sec; f5; ISO 640


I love when I get good action AND a good face. But it's not always easy or even possible. You have to be prepared, quick, and sometimes just plain lucky. Sometimes you are on, but the player tuns the other direction at the last moment. In order to show faces you have to get closer to the action. Whether with your lens or physically moving, you need to get it right in the camera.

 

 

SHOOT TIGHT AND EXPOSE PROPERLY

"Tight is Right" is what we say when shooting a game. You want to be tight. If you shoot tight, you have a better chance of getting it right. Crop in the camera and you won't have to in post-production. Having the lens on your camera is the first step in doing so. But what lens?

 

Well, I primarily right now use a 70-200 mm and a 200-400mm. With these two lenses, I can get a lot of what I need. There is the wide angle lens for certain instances, but that is my least used lens when I shoot action. 

 

I want to be as tight as possible to show the players and play. Not every time is it necessary to have the whole body in the frame. And certainly, you do not need a bunch of out of focus players peppered throughout your image. It can be too distracting.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh SteelersNFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh SteelersNov 3, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) warms up before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports Nov 3, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) warms up before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Philip G. Pavely (USA TODAY Sports)
Nikon D750; 200-400mm f 4; f/5;  1/3200 sec; f5; ISO 400

 

 

The first trick I use regularly if there are no players near me and I want to get a test shot is to take a photograph of the grass. The shades of grass can very greatly like skin tones. However, if I have consistent green grass, I know it is going to be very close, or just a tad brighter than the skin tone of a Caucasian. If the person has darker skin, then you may want to open up your lens up to a stop from your test shot of grass to see how close you are. If it is at a baseball game, I may even use a combination of infield dirt and outfield grass to completely fill my frame for the test shot.

 

Next, is to hone in on my exposure. If you are shooting loose, your camera meter may be fooled. It may pick up a lot background elements (turf, sky…) That’s why I will do an exposure test on a player that is closer to me to get the correct readings. If I am at a game to photograph a certain player, that player may be positioned on the other side of the field from me. I cannot wait for them and the play to get closer. That is why I will take a test frame of a player close to me. I will get a tight shot of them in similar light so when the player I need gets closer…BAM!… I am ready.

STEELERS-GIANTS-06STEELERS-GIANTS-06An airborne Amani Toomer, of the New York Giants, is sandwiched between Steelers defenders Dewayne Washington (20) and Joey Porter in the first quarter Dec. 10, 2000. STEELERS-GIANTS-06

An airborne Amani Toomer, of the New York Giants, is sandwiched between Steelers defenders DeWayne Washington  and Joey Porter in the first quarter Dec. 10, 2000 at The Meadowlands. Philip G. Pavely (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

 

If it is soccer for instance, I generally shoot the players full body. If they are farther away I zoom in to get this. As the play moves closer to me, I will zoom out somewhat. However, if I see the ball is going to be a header, I will zoom in and focus on the player(s) I think who are going to head the ball. You will see the facial expressions and moisture flying through the air. This goes for boxing too.

PGP-SPADAFORA3-10PGP-SPADAFORA3-10Sweat flies from the head of Paul Spadafora as he fights Rodney Jones during a Lightweight bout Sept. 9, 2000 at West Virginia'a Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort. Spadafora won by a decision to improve his record to 31-0. PGP-SPADAFORA3-10 Sweat flies from the head of Paul Spadafora as he fights Rodney Jones during a Lightweight bout Sept. 9, 2000 at West Virginia'a Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort. Spadafora won by decision to improve his record to 31-0. Philip G. Pavely (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

 

If you are shooting regularly at an indoor arena or rink, the light will remain relatively constant assuming the time of day is the same and they didn’t change a bunch of lights. If you are inside, write down your numbers for future reference. That goes for outside too. Write down the conditions you are shooting in and log the numbers or remember them somehow for future use.

 

 

FOCUS ON THE FACE

When the play is farther away and you are shooting loose, your focus will not change that much. Especially if the action is going left to right. However, if the play is coming to you, get ready to be quick with your focus. Sometimes it is the reaction after a particular play.

PGP-PIRATES16-1PGP-PIRATES16-1Colorado Rockies pitcher Joe Kennedy, right, gets help from catcher J.D. Closser in bringing Pirates batter Jason Kendall to the ground during a fourth-inning altercation at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA Aug. 15, 2004. Kendall, who was hit by a pitch, charged the mound causing both benches to empty before he and Kennedy were ejected from the game. The Pirates held on to win the game 3-0.
PGP-PIRATES16-1
PHILIP G. PAVELY PHOTO
Colorado Rockies pitcher Joe Kennedy, right, gets help from catcher J.D. Closser in bringing Pirates batter Jason Kendall to the ground during a fourth-inning altercation at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA Aug. 15, 2004. Kendall, who was hit by a pitch, charged the mound causing both benches to empty before he and Kennedy were ejected from the game. Philip G. Pavely (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
 

 

Most people (including myself) use auto-focus predominantly. You may have to move the focus sensor to the left or right as the play gets closer. If you leave it center focused and the players get closer, you may be focussing on the space between both players. This will result in an out of focus image. So, move that sensor left, right, up, or down as needed to maintain focus on the player.


Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller runs for a first down during a game at Heinz Field September 2007. Philip G. Pavely (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Nikon D2H; 400mm f 2.8;  1/1250 sec; f 2.8; ISO 200
 

 

In baseball, if you are taking a picture of the pitcher and are far away, just focusing on the player in general will usually give you a good image. But, if you are shooting tight, make sure you focus on the face. People will generally focus on the jersey as a starting point because the letters or numbers on the front appear to give you an in-focus image and the contrast in the color of a jersey will help your auto-focus. However, as you get closer to the action, things may change. The face may be several inches behind the jersey. And that will give you an out-of focus image and will become more evident as you enlarge the image.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Pittsburgh PiratesMLB: Colorado Rockies at Pittsburgh PiratesMay 22, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Michael Feliz (45) delivers a pitch against the Colorado at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports May 22, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Michael Feliz (45) delivers a pitch against the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park. Philip G. Pavely (USA TODAY Sports)
Nikon D3S; 300mm f 2.8;  1/0000 sec; f 4; ISO 5000

 

 

That is why I will generally start out center-focused but why I continually move the tracking horizontally or vertically. It is quite common for my camera to be locked in on something that is not direct center.
 

 

LOOK FOR A CLEAN BACKGROUND

Another advantage of shooting tight is you get a clean background. Eliminating a busy background will help your images greatly. If you can manage to find a clean background, your image will be even cleaner as you zoom in on the subject for action or a portrait. A lot of great faces may happen just after a play as the emotion plays out.

Michael Jordan enjoys a cigar and his shot at the Mario Lemieux Celebrity Invitational.
 

 

3 TAKE-AWAYS FOR GETTING BETTER FACES IN YOUR ACTION PHOTOS

 

1. Shoot tight

2. Focus on the face 

3. Have a clean background

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Philip G. Pavely/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers defensman Joey Porter celebrates his first quarter sack against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field Sept. 7, 2006.

The Pittsburgh Steelers  Joey Porter celebrates his first quarter sack against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field Sept. 7, 2006. Philip G. Pavely (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Nikon D2H; 300mm f 2.8;  1/500 sec; f 2.8; ISO 640

 

 

If you do these, you WILL get better at showing faces in your action sports photography pictures. Making great images is fun. Having faces in those pictures is even more fun!

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady reacts as he takes the field to play the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field December 17, 2017. (Philip G. Pavely (USA Today Sports Images)

Nikon D750; 300mm f 2.8;  1/1250 sec; f 4; ISO 6400
 

So, grab your camera, go outside, and make some pictures.

 

If you have any idea, question or topic you would like me to discuss, please leave a comment on Pavely Photography social media, email me at [email protected], or leave a comment in the blog post at www.PavelyPhotography.com

 

Thanks, and happy shooting!

 

-Phil

 

 


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