Sports Photography Class: Why Should I Shoot in a Low Angle?

November 20, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

SHOOTING A GAME AT A LOW ANGLE 

Sports Photography Class with Philip G. Pavely/Pavely Photography

 

WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF SHOOTING LOW?

When you are watching a professional sporting event, do you ever notice that many of the photographers are kneeling or sitting as they are taking pictures? Why do you think this is? Well, from experience, I will tell you exactly why I do it.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh SteelersNFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh SteelersSep 15, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) is covered by Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jamar Taylor (24) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Smith-Schuster was ruled out of bounds on the play and not in for a touchdown. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports Sep 15, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) is covered by Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jamar Taylor (24) during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Smith-Schuster was ruled out of bounds on the play and not in for a touchdown. (Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports)
Nikon D750; 70-200mm f 4; 160mm; 1/2500 sec; f4; ISO 640
 

GET KNEEPADS

You will have less mobility when shooting on the ground. So you have to be careful. If you do not have the confidence that you can make a quick escape as the action comes to you, then remain standing or make sure you are farther from the play. 

 

If I choose to shoot on the ground, I prefer kneeling over sitting on the ground. It gives me more mobility as opposed to sitting because if I have to move quickly, I can move faster from my knees. That is why at some professional sporting events, it is prohibited to sit on the sidelines.

 

But kneeling can be hard on the knees and soil your clothes or skin depending on the surface. That is why I go with knee pads, as do many other professional sports photographers. There are many styles to choose from and it seems as though no two people have the same pair. I prefer a hard plastic shell with a cloth inside and velcro straps.

 

The plastic shell will give you an extra layer of protection for the knees and if it’s a wet surface, it will keep you dryer longer. The velcro straps will give you the option for a quick release in case you need to adjust them or simply take them off during a break in the action so the backs of your knees can get some fresh air.

 

Shooting from the knees will also give me the option to shoot from sitting up high as well as dropping lower to the ground. The difference in just a couple of feet can improve your photos big time! Sometimes I like to set my camera on the ground and get an extreme low angle. This is similar to shooting in a photo pit at some baseball games. 

Andrew McCutchen takes a practice swing as the Pittsburgh Pirates host Opening Day at PNC Park April 3, 2016 (Philip G. Pavely/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Camera Body: Nikon D750; Lens: 70-200mm f 4; Settings: 160mm; 1/2500 sec; f4; ISO 640

 

CLEAN BACKGROUND

When you are standing up, you will potentially have a lot of the playing surface as your background. Sometimes this is good, but when your frame is 75% bright green, fake grass, it can tend to be ugly. From the ground, you will eliminate a lot of this as your background and instead will have more of the environment you are shooting in. Even if you can swap out grass for blurred fans, I'll take that. Pay attention though to the bright objects in the background like signs, vehicles, or people in bright colored clothing.

 

Whether it is dark trees in the distance at a youth field, or blurred fans in the stands, your background can significantly improve by removing distractions. 

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh SteelersNFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh SteelersSep 16, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) picks up a first down in the second quarter as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller (23) makes the play at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports Sep 16, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) picks up a first down in the second quarter as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller (23) makes the play at Heinz Field. ( Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports)

Camera Body: Nikon D750; Lens: 70-200mm f 4; Settings: 70mm; 1/1250 sec; f4; ISO 250
 

I look to have a background that is separated from the subject by many feet. The separation of the background to the action will help make the non-action more blurred as long as you shoot wide open or nearly wide open at f 2.8 or f 4. Just remain focused on the subject.

 

FACES BECOME EASIER TO SEE

If you are kneeling and using a zoom or telephoto lens of at least 200mm you should have a clean background or be on your way to having one.  Instead of shooting shooting at eye level you can get lower and shoot up and this will show the face easier. If a player has a hat pulled down low, it will be harder to see their eyes from a standing position. This is especially true on bright, sunny days. And, if a lot of your subjects are kids, you may quite possibly be shooting down on them. But if you lower your shooting position then you may be able to look up into the face and under that hat or helmet.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh PiratesMLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh PiratesSep 25, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Keone Kela (35) throws the ball against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports Sep 25, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Keone Kela (35) delivers a pitch to the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. (Philip G. Pavely/USA TODAY Sports)
Camera Body: Nikon D3S; Lens: 200-400mm f 4; Settings: 290mm; 1/1000 sec; f4; ISO 6400
 

From the stands you will be shooting down on their hats or helmets unless the athlete happens to turn up towards the sky. That can make a great image, but generally, you will not be able to see the facial expressions as much. And as we’ve discussed before, faces are what can take an image to the next level.

 

FEWER DISTRACTIONS

When I kneel, I find myself more concentrated and in-tune to the game going on. Quite simply, there are fewer distractions. With a majority of people standing at an event, it is easier to get caught up in conversations and knocked off your game with talking. Sometimes it is valid as we discuss what just happened in a play, or what we anticipate may happen next. But the small talk, even for a split second, may be enough to miss a photo. Every second counts. 

 

3 TAKE-AWAYS FOR SHOOTING AT A LOW ANGLE

The three take-aways from getting low when taking sports photos are:

1. Clean background

2. See more faces

3. Less distracting

 

So next time you are out shooting a game, take a moment  (or sequence of plays) to get lower to the ground and look at the results. Compare them to what you got in a standing position. You very well likely will find that your images take on a new and fresh look and begin to resemble a more professional looking shot.

 

If you have any idea, question or topic that you would like discussed, please leave a comment below, email at [email protected], or leave a comment in the blog post at www.PavelyPhotography.com

 

Thanks, and happy shooting!

 

-Phil

 


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