Sports Photography: Video vs. Still Photography
Video has become so dominant in sports photography that it caused me to ask, “is there a need for still photography?” Not surprisingly, the answer is yes!
Photography is the process of capturing images, either on film or a digital sensor. Video captures a moving object in a series of images while still photography freezes a moving object into a single image. Nearly anyone with a camera, or a phone, today can capture both still and video images with the same device.
Both still photography and video require a well-practiced technique, an understanding of the sport to anticipate the action, and the instinct of knowing what makes a good shot. But don’t be confused. There are distinct differences in how the images are captured, how those images are used, the composition of those images, and the resources needed to produce images,
The primary difference in how the image is captured is shutter speed. Shutter speed is the amount of time light is allowed to hit the camera’s film or digital sensor. A high shutter speed freezes the motion while a low shutter speed blurs the motion.
The goal of still photography is usually to produce a sharp image. A still image freezes the image and captures the intensity in the expression of the players or the implied motion. In sports this usually required a shutter speed of about 1/1000th of a second. Such a very short shutter speed requires equipment that is extremely sensitive to short bursts of light. (See the article on Light Management for additional insight).
The goal of video is to produce a series of image frames that depicts a smooth and even appearance of motion. To the human eye, anything sequence of images greater that 10 to 12 frames per second (fps) will appear as motion. This is called the frame rate. Frame rates of 24 to 60 fps are used in video. Normally, the shutter speed of a video is twice that of the frame rate (i.e., a frame rate of 30 fps would be shot at a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second).
When compared to still photography, the shutter speed of video is significantly slower. A single frame of a video cannot be substituted for still photography because the image would appear blurred. But the succession of blurred video frames produces a smooth transition when examined as a sequence of images. Video shot with a high shutter speed appears disjointed or staccato.
Light sensitivity is less of an issue for video cameras because of the longer shutter speed, but overheating is because of the duration of the filming. Today’s cameras have more powerful processors, bigger sensors, and multiple pixel-dense screens that generate more heat.
There is also a stark difference in how still and video images are used.
Still imagery is used for social media updates during the game, either on the score or significant game moments. After the game, still images are to used compliment articles written about the game. Most commonly, still images are used as eye candy in marketing to retain existing fans and acquire new ones.
Video imagery is used as live feed for close circuit feeds in arenas and stadiums (e.g., jumbotrons) or for subscription-based streaming services. This is common for all levels of professional sports, most college sports, and the more popular high school sports like football.
Game highlights are pushed various media services and to the team’s website and social media accounts. Game highlights are also pushed to local television or cable channels to make it easier for them to report on the game. Indeed, live video has become such an important element of the game that it is frequently used in on-field play reviews by the officials in most professional sports.
Still photography and video share the same rules of composition (see Composition Techniques for Sports Photography ). But composition in sports video is challenging because of the difficultly properly framing the image while tracking abrupt changes in direction. As a result, sports video takes a wider view, capturing all the players surrounding the action.
Still photography is most interesting is sports when it zooms in on individual players. This maximizes the intensity and emotion of the action. Sports video does not work well with close ups on players, except in replays. The frequent switching of between players using closeups in the live stream could leave the viewer feeling seasick. Sports videos usually don’t go tight on individual players, but capture all the surrounding players for perspective.
Live streaming of video is resource intensive, requiring multiple camera locations, a control room to direct the switching of camera feeds, and at least one commentator to add play-by-play narratives. All of this is linked together with seems likes miles of cables and lots of planning.
A still photographer can easily work on their own, snapping images during the game, while editing and uploading images during timeout and between periods.
Video has the advantage that a well-produced video is memorable, has higher rate of social media shares, and conveys lots of information in a short amount of time. This however, comes at the cost of higher end-to-end processing time, the large number of people involved, sophisticated equipment is required, and large file size.
Still photography has the advantage of being readily available, with the ability to produce stunning images with a fast turnaround.
About the Author
Andy Nietupski founded TTL Sport Media in 2015 after a corporate career of business start-ups and turn-arounds. TTL Sports Media helps sports organizations optimize their business results using the latest digital sales and marketing techniques. TTL Sports Media publishes thousands of pieces of content annually and curates a catalog of more than 100,000 items on behalf of its client interests.
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