The Addiction of Sports Photography: Introduction

If photography is a drug, then sports photography is the crack cocaine of photography.  The mixture of color, speed, emotion, choreography and the shear physical beauty of sports photography is intoxicating as well as addictive. 

The goal of this book is to get you addicted, to feed that addiction, help to maximize those highs, and minimize the withdrawals by sharing real world experiences. 

Story Telling

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Or so says the age-old marketing axiom.  I believe it is more accurate to say “a good picture is worth a thousand words.”   

Sports photography is story telling taken to the extreme.  I can distill a 48-minute basketball game, or a 60-minute football game, or a three-hour baseball game into less than 1/10th of a second.  At the most, that would be several dozen images taken at 1/1000th of a second each.  


Figure 1 Sports photography is story telling taken to the extreme, but not every image can tell the story. (ISO 1000, 420mm, f/11, 1/1000th sec).   

But not every image can tell the story.  From a technical perspective, the image must be properly exposed, freezing the action at the perfect moment.  Just the right portions of the image must be sharp as a tack (tack sharp), while the background may be blurred. 

When done properly, those photographs will convey the excitement and intensity of the game. 

For the photographer, there is an adrenaline rush that occurs when you capture the perfect action shot that is tack sharp.  And there is the utter disappointment of missing the perfect shot by not paying attention, not being in the right position, or not having the right camera settings. 

From a stylistic perspective, the photographer must provide something unique.  This is a perspective not seen by the fans in the stands or at home watching on television.  The image must be taken at the perfect moment in the play, capturing the action and the expressions of the players and bystanders.  Your timing must be perfect because the image will never again be repeated. 

A well taken photograph is enduring.  A photograph of that perfect moment takes only a few moments to view, but will live forever in the feelings it emotes.  


Figure 2 When done properly, those photographs will convey the excitement and intensity of the game.  (ISO 2000, 300mm, f/3.5, 1/1000th sec).

Sports Photography versus Other Genres

Sports photography demands on the highest level of preparation and performance excellence.  It’s not like event photography, or marketing photography, or portraiture photography, or landscape photography or any other photography where you control nearly all the variables.  And for the variables you don’t control, they occur so slowly that you have plenty of time to adjust. 

Admittedly, it may not be convenient to get up the next morning because you lost the light at sunrise, or ask your subjects to wait another minute while your get the camera setting correct.  But it can be done. 

In sports photography you control nothing, nothing except for what is in your hands and in your head.  It truly is the most demanding discipline of photography. 


Figure 3 Sports photography demands on the highest level of preparation and performance excellence; it truly is the most demanding discipline of photography.  (ISO 5000, 24mm, f/2.8, 1/1000th sec). 

Sport photography compliments videos.  Video is more abundant because of television, streaming and stadium jumbotrons.   All are necessary.  But it is with prejudice, however, that I write that photography can be better and yet more difficult. 

Video and photography share the same challenges in composition.  That is, being in the right place as the exactly right moment to capture the play.  But from a technical perspective video is more forgiving.  A video camera taking 30 to 60 frames per second doesn’t need an image to be tack-sharp. Being in focus is good enough. 

But what really makes photography more difficult is the story telling.  Story telling is easier with video because the camera doesn’t stop.  Photography, however, must tell a story that resonates with everyone in a single image. 

Approach to this Book 

The content presented here originated from a class by the same name.  In developing the content, I surveyed related courses and books.  Compared to those sources, I feel my approach is more comprehensive, and does a better job in explaining the options available to you.  


Figure 4 For the photographer, there is an adrenaline rush that occurs when you capture the perfect action shot that is tack sharp. (ISO 5000, 300mm, f/5.0, 1/1000th sec).  

The content is broader, deeper and modular, intended for beginner to advanced photographers.  The following topics with be covered: 

Light Management – The topic of light management is very basic, but it also lays the foundation.  Sports photography pushes light management to the limit.  You want a properly exposed, tack-sharp image of fast-moving subjects in an environment that is not ideally lit.  No small trick.   This can be done, if you know what variables can be manipulated and how. 

Capabilities of the Camera – All courses and books cover the basic camera settings, but none address the advance configuration options of your camera.  I think it’s important to do both.  In addition, many of the courses are black in white in their recommendations, which over simplifies the approach and create frustration when they don’t work.   There are many nuances in how you approach sports photography.  I’ll give you many options in how you go about setting up your camera. 

Limits of Lenses – Again, all courses and books cover the basics about lenses… focal length and aperture.  But none of them go into the interaction between the lens and the camera.   Because sports photography is so challenging, you have to understand how your camera and your lenses work together.    


Figure 5 In sports photography you control nothing, nothing except for what is in your hands and in your head. (ISO 6400, 420mm, f/4.0, 1/1000th sec). 

Setting up the Shot – Surprisingly, only a few of the courses and books go into composition.   A lot of effort is spent here discussing how to set up the shot, along with suggestions for the most common sports. 

Lessons from the Field – The sharing of tips and secrets is done in all the offerings we surveyed, but we have a few tricks up our sleeves that the others aren’t sharing. 

After the Whistle – Not much attention has been given to post production for sports.  Sports photography is very unique because of the massive number of photos taken, but also because of the short shelf life of those photos.  This has implications for software, hardware, file management, and backup and recovery. 

Getting Started Venues – I’ll share how to gain access to a variety of venues and get the credentials you need to attain the right experience and begin feeding the addiction. 

Building Credibility and Promoting Yourself - Promoting myself was one of the hardest things I had to do.  It’s not because I’m not good at what I do.  It’s because bravado and boast are not a part of my persona.  I’ll share some techniques that I used to build my brand.  


Figure 6 Because sports photography is so challenging, you have to understand how your camera and your lenses work together. (ISO 6400, 420mm, f/4.0, 1/1000th sec). 

Proceed at Your Own Risk

In addition to being addicting, sports photography can be hazardous to your health, your relationships, and your bank account. 

While taking photographs I’ve been mowed over by football players while standing 10 feet from the side lines, crashed into by basketball players while sitting at the baseline, hit by hockey pucks and ducked for cover numerous time dodging baseball line drives.  Be aware.  Be careful.  Be safe. 

In addition, most games are in the evening or on the weekends.  This can put a lot of stress on your relationships, unless you have a very understanding partner. 

And as you probably already know, the high-performance equipment needed for sports photography is not inexpensive.   We’ll offer alternatives on how to spend less money, but get ready to spend none-the-less. 

Now let’s get started! 

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, TTL Sports Media annually publishes nearly 200 articles and makes 1000’s of social media posts.  

Copyright 2020 Andy Nietupski and TTL Sports Media


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