Following are some brief tips for sports photography image composition. These are bite sized samples of the tips I demonstrate & cover in detail during the photography workshops I deliver.

Composition Tip #1 – FRAMING

In this shot taken in Singapore, the sky was featureless & lacking any clouds or colour to give some background definition for wide shots so I decided to use tighter composition lines & chose this rock formation in the park to frame Rachel Ng as she ran past.

Keep your eyes open & be tuned to your surroundings for these kind of options whether shooting events or other assignments. Having a Plan B with tighter composition lines to frame your subject such as rocks, vegetation etc can turn a Plan B into a ‘money shot.

For these kind of shots, you will need a camera with good autofocus, fast glass & a quick eye combined with fast reactions but you can capture something out of the box & turn a situation around to work for you. We nailed this shot at first attempt.

Shot on a Canon 5dmk3 with Sigma 35/1.4 glass.

Composition Tip #2 – NARRATIVE

Everybody wants to get that finishing shot as the runner crosses the line. Capturing the athletes joy or disappointment is the main focus for many a photographer fighting for the best angle in the scrum that usually surrounds finishing lines. Composition is about visually representing narratives & the predictable ‘face on’ shot of the athlete might not always offer the most provoking narrative.

As Jeremy Ritcey crossed the HK100 ultra finishing line in 2014, he was disappointed & in a split second I decided to leave the photographers scrum & run behind him to capture the scene as he was met by media & onlookers & allow the subtlety of this angle convey the narrative.

Think out of the box, don’t follow the image crowd & consider the best angle for the narrative you want to convey. Narrative is key in event photography. Try considering your camera the same way that a writer considers their pen.

Shot on a Canon 5dmk2 with Canon 50/1.4 glass.

Composition Tip #3 – SYMMETRY

Simply put, composition is your tool to guide a viewer’s eye towards your subject. We all have different ways to approach the manner in which we go about guiding through composition & it’s important to find your own ‘composition voice/style’.

Maybe it’s my English heritage but I usually prefer subtle, understated & non-prescriptive ways to achieve this. Symmetry within natural contour lines can provide striking compositions in outdoor sports environments particularly when there is water. For this shot, taken on a commercial assignment in China, I was lying in a boat to get low to the water & capture the symmetrical lines I wanted. I asked the runner to change from a red top that were originally wearing to a blue one as I felt that this composition would benefit from the balance in colours closer to those of the water & vegetation. Some photographers would opt for a brighter option of clothing but in this instance I opted for subtlety & balance. That’s my voice in the compositional choices that I make.

Shot on a Canon 5d mk3 with Sigma 35/1.4 glass.

Composition Tip #4 – ANGLE

This shot was captured by my daughter Anya. There are a number of ingredients that add to an effective composition here (symmetry, emotion, action, intensity, light etc) that she considered as she manually chose aperture, shutter speed & ISO but this composition tip is about angle or in other words, where to take the photo from.

Anya got in the cold water, up close with a 35mm prime hovering just above the water line & shot as the water splashed her. She could have taken a more comfortable option & used a longer lens while keeping dry from the edge of the rock pool but the image would have gone down a notch or two in intensity. Angle is key in sports photography & one of the biggest barriers to effective composition is personal comfort. My approach to capturing images starts with a simple question that I ask myself:

“what is the best composition to capture the narrative?”

Once that is decided then you position yourself accordingly. If you don’t want to get dirty, wet, manage risk, then you will miss out on some creative compositions that can take your images to the next level. Sometimes you can dramatically alter the image composition just by changing your perspective. When the subject is a person, different angles can have a strong influence on how they are perceived. Use your feet and move around the subject looking for an optimum angle. I mainly use primes. My legs are my zoom 🙂 Don’t be afraid to get down on your stomach in the dirt or snow or climb some rocks.

Remember: narrative through angle = first. Comfort = second.

Shot on a Canon 5d mk3 with Sigma 35/1.4 glass

Composition Tip #5 – LEADING LINES

This shot was taken in the mountains of Anhui in China for which I wanted to draw the viewers attention through the non descript & featureless snow to Sage Canaday as he strode out. By choosing a low angle where I was cheek in the snow, I wanted to use the stair border to lead the viewers attention to Sage.

I use this technique particularly where the environment lacks features & character. It’s a simple & effective composition tool to draw attention to your subject.

Shot on a Canon 5d mk3 with Sigma 24/1.4 glass

Hope you enjoyed these tips & found them helpful. If you are interested in attending any of the workshops I deliver where I cover these tips in far more detail among a whole range of others then click here.

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