Sports photography: Good pictures happen at every focal length and location

Being a sports photographer might sound like a dream job for the sports enthusiast. A sports photographer captures the most exciting moments of a game, as well as some of the devastating ones. It’s a competitive field to break into, as it starts with hard work: quick reaction to the fleeting movements, the right connections with sports teams, and an attitude of professionalism at all times.

Sun Yong attends the award ceremony held in Antu County, Jilin Province on March 18th.

Sun Yong considers himself to be a sports photography enthusiast, not a professional sports photographer. It is not easy for him to always get an ideal shooting position as photographers jostle for positions on the sidelines of any major sporting event. However, Sun Yong has always believed that good pictures happen at every focal length and location. You just have to be ready to take them when they do. Just like this award-winning work "Sports Photography", in which he displays the passionate and energetic sports events to us. Below, he shares his tips for making those once-in-a-lifetime shots.

"Fight Together". Taken at the National Track Cycling Race © Sun Yong

"Closely-Fought Game". Taken at the National Table Tennis Championships © Sun Yong

"Tackling". Taken at the Chinese Super League ©Sun Yong

GP: When did you start sports photography?

Sun Yong: It was in 2005, when the 10th National Games was held in Nanjing. Nanjing began to set off a sports boom, and various kinds of photography competitions were carried out over the years. That’s when I started sports photography.

"Flying Ribbons" Taken at the 2nd Youth Olympic Games Rhythmic Gymnastics Competition © Sun Yong

GP: What shooting equipment do you use now?

Sun Yong: Sports photography requires photographic equipment to help you grab the best image possible. These go from burst images processing to fast card readers. However, the high-end photographic equipments are not necessary to all sports. Some sports can produce good photos even without the high-end equipments.

I am using a Nikon D4 camera with a Nikon 16mm fisheye, 24-70mm/F2.8, 70-200mm/F2.8 and 300mm/F2.8 prime lenses. I’d like to emphasize that it is not enough to have high-end equipment suitable for sports photography. The key is the proper use of equipment, especially according to different sports. There is nothing worse than getting to the field and fumbling with settings during the game.

"Setting Off". Taken at the track and field competition of the 2nd Youth Olympic Games © Sun Yong

GP: Please share some of your impressive shooting experiences.

Sun Yong: It was at the 2014 Nanjing Second World Youth Olympic Games. It was my first time to shoot a comprehensive sports event. The numerous competitions and the tight schedule presented many challenges to me. I was afraid that I would miss any shot during the day. So I had to study the rules of the game at night and review the photos taken early during the day for improvement. Fortunately, the final results are rewarding, and one-third of the award-winning photos are from this event.

"No mercy". Taken at the Kunlun National Sanda Competition © Sun Yong

GP: How to define a wonderful sports photography work?

Sun Yong: There are many factors that can make a good work, such as the sense of form of the composition of the picture, the gripping moments in the game, the expressions and close-ups of the athletes, the contrast of colors, etc. In addition, the use of the lens is also important. In my case, I used a full range of lenses with various focal lengths such as fisheye, wide-angle, medium focal length, and telephoto; and also a variety of shooting techniques, including slow shutter speed, follow-up, and multiple exposures. Appropriate use of the lens and shooting techniques can better demonstrate the power and beauty of sports photography and convey the fierceness of the game to the audience.

"Fight". Taken at the fencing competition of the 2nd Youth Olympic Games. © Sun Yong

GP: What are the biggest challenges in sports photography?

Sun Yong: The biggest challenge is shooting position. Of course, a good position can be decisive. However, good pictures happen at every focal length and location. In addition to the good positions, you must first understand the rules of the game and the characteristics of the athlete's movements, as well as predict the timing of wonderful moments. Practice makes perfect.

"Eagle Spreading the Wings". Taken at the Women's High Platform Diving Competition of the 2nd Youth Olympic Games. © Sun Yong

GP: What are the shooting plans for the future?

Sun Yong: I am now preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan and the 2022 China Winter Olympics sports event, hoping to take more and better photos.

"Leap" shot at the men's pole vault competition of the 2nd Youth Olympic Games. © Sun Yong

"Sprinting". Taken at the World Roller Skating Championships. ©Sun Yong


"Chasing". Taken at the National Motorcycle Races. © Sun Yong