The thing about sport is that the one thing you don’t really have is time to faff around, to perfectly capture the moment for posterity. Yet whether taken in the thick of it or from the sidelines, the very best sports action photos are the ones encapsulating the action in perfect sharp clarity. You can imagine the thousands of pounds’ worth of kit and hundreds of photos a professional sports photographer needs to cart around to get that oh-so-spontaneous on-the-money shot. The perfectly poised penalty kick, the dip for the line, the head bursting through the water in the pool …
But in an age of instant social media uploads, most of us are lucky enough to have small easy-to-use cameras within a mobile phone, or models small enough to strap to your head while you peddle at breakneck speed down a muddy ravine or jump out of a plane (rather you than me, I prefer to keep at least one foot on the ground in my sporting activities).
In my various exploits, from running across the Sahara to the Costa Rican rainforest, I have taken an awful lot of photos – so here are my hacks to get a better photo on the go:
Use easy quick methods, already available
You’re running along, and in your mind you look like an athlete, striding with perfect form. In my case – and I’m hardly alone – the reality is rather different; something a touch more lumbering and heel-striking. The burst feature on your phone-camera will enable you to take many shots one after another, super quickly. Experience tells me 75%of these will not be flattering, but some will. You can then select, crop and tweak brightness to make yourself look a little bit more like the athlete you are in your head. The video feature will also do the same thing in a different way: video yourself, then just screenshot the mid-stride perfect pose. Voila!
Adding to the a simple features that will be built into your phone, there are heaps of apps out there that can make things look a tiny bit more polished. Think of this as visual TUEs for your picture. Face not as illuminated as you like? Brighten it. Wearing a gurn of exertion you prefer not to highlight, dim it. These apps can also sharpen, warm, and blur parts of your photos simply. My favourite app is Snapseed, free to download on Apple and Android, really intuitive, and ad free. Enlight (£3.99) is a powerful app that does everything you can imagine, then some, including the ability to make some artistic photographic tweaks. Photo Editor is another good free app that is easy to use.
Talking of sharpening, a blurry photo is not really very good. A blurry photo with no real focus point in it is poor. Without going too much into the general rules of photography – I am totally unqualified to do so – a good action shot will have a focus point to it. Think about where you are taking it from and the angle. You can get more dynamism in your photo purely by changing the angle of the shot. If you’ve taken a photo with a lot of horizon in it, straighten it. Just for me, really – slightly wonky horizons drive me crackers.
There are various things you can buy quite cheaply, and small enough so they will fit into a tight pocket. Favourites of mine are fish-eye lenses. These handy little things clip on to your phone, giving your images a broader sporty look. Be warned, the cheaper it is, the less quality the lens will have. If you want a sharp picture spend upwards of £30. Want an underwater shot? You can get waterproof cases for your phone and cameras too. Again, a word of caution here: if it’s cheap as chips it might not be as waterproof as you hope. A mini tripod for your phone or camera can be cheap; these work so well to prop your phone up and take a steady picture. Some of these can wrap around objects too, giving you options on height for your snap.
Plan before you go
Where are you running? Is there something interesting you are passing? An interesting backdrop will give your photo that bit of depth. In an ideal world we would all be running up and down the Alps or on rugged coastlines, but this might not be available to you on your run commute. Take a bit of time to look around and you’ll be amazed at what you pass that could make a great backdrop. The graffiti on the wall, the old building or the tree line can all be utilised for your photo. Just make sure you remember to crop out the wheelie bins. This works for all sports by the way, not just running.
Personal photography service
There are alternatives to purchasing mini tripods and trying to balance your phone on a park bench to get a good angle; actual human beings. Invite your mates out with you and get them to take a photo. A tiny insight into what it’s like running with me – you will at some point be asked to take a photo or have your photo taken. I’m quite insufferable like that and you could be too. There have been instances where a random passerby has been roped into taking photos (having been judged from afar if they could potentially nick my phone and run away faster than me). Not as shameless as me? Then there’s the good old fashioned selfie. A fish eyes lens (point 4) will make these look more interesting, and raising your arm to take a photo from higher up helps. In fact, a combination of all of the above points help you capture that perfect action selfie.
Mid-action shots can be quite tricky to capture. Want to know a secret? You can do it at the end. Finish your sport then take time at the end of your activity to set up. It is less stressful and it will give you time to revisit if you do not like what you see. Work out the timer on the camera, and the best distance to stay in focus. If possible perform the activity slower to get a clear shot. Sound like too much? Then perhaps you can get the essence of the thing you are doing without all the faff of doing it while moving. Be all smiles in front of your muddied bike, arm-on-hips hero posing while looking over the beautiful vista you have climbed, or medal aloft looking jubilant just past the finish line. These make great photos.
If you enjoy all of this you might want to get tooled up and explore further. There is always a better camera to buy. There are so many options now; sports cameras, tiny cameras, video cameras with gimbals for the smooth footage you want on the move. Happy snapping!