Youth Sports Photography – 5 Need to Knows


The Julie Whelan Photography team recently photographed a youth sports team called the Bubble Guppies. If you’re a parent of small children, you’ll know that the Bubble Guppies is a popular TV show amongst toddlers. They were the youngest sport team we have ever photographed and probably the most fun we’ve ever had. Photographing action sports and events is hard enough when the players are adults. When you throw two and three year olds into the mix, it can be downright overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips we learned along the way:

Get Low – For Images of Individual

While photographing individual players, getting low is the most flattering for toddlers. Crouching down or kneeling on the field may be uncomfortable for you as the photographer, but it’s eye level for two to five year olds. Being at eye level to your subject allows you to focus properly on their face and compose a more dynamic image. It also adds strength and importance to the subject, especially when in action. Standing up straight and shooting down at a child can be an unflattering angle because it makes them seem small. Get down on the ground and don’t be afraid to get some grass stains. Have fun with it and try new things with youth sports. It’s when I find I get the most popular images.

Get High – For Team Photos

Unlike shooting portraits, team photos at a higher angle can be more interesting. While photographing the Guppies, trying to get all ten kids to sit still and look at the camera for any length of time was close to impossible. I had to hurry and take as many shots as I could before they took off again. I wish I would have brought a ladder and got up high. I would have got the Guppies attention by standing on a ladder. I also would have been able to compose the shot so that I couldn’t see all the distractions and bright white sky behind the kids. It is important to remember to breathe when photographing toddler’s youth sports! A few times, like this one, I found myself rushing to capture the image instead of taking a breath and considering my composition, exposure, and focus.

Take Your Camera off Auto

There are certain camera settings that work best when capturing action in sports. These settings apply to youth sports as well. First, lets look at your aperture or f-stop. For youth sports photographing the background is often not very important. Set your aperture to the highest f-stop (lowest number) it can go. In my case, that’s either f2.8 or f4, depending on which lens I’m using. This will keep your subject in focus and blur the background because of a shorter depth of field (distance in focus from the nearest and farthest objects in your view finder). Second, keep your shutter speed high. Toddlers move fast, and you want to freeze that movement in your photographs. A fast shutter speed will be easier to achieve outdoors. When photographing the Guppies in the late evening of a partially cloudy day, I had my Canon 5D Mark III set at f4 @ 1/1000. Third, consider your ISO. Because of the fast shutter speed, it’s possible your images may come out a little dark. To get a properly exposed image, I set the ISO to anywhere from 800-1250. Periodically, I changed my ISO setting because of lost light from the setting sun, clouds rolling over the sun, and part of the field being in shadow from trees. I like to keep my aperture and shutter speed the same and only change the ISO in order to keep the images looking consistent. In a perfect scenario, I could stand in the same place facing the same direction and get a beautiful action image of each child on the team. If you have ever tried to photograph youth sports, you know that’s almost never the case.

Engage (Bribe) with Snacks

There is a lot to discover for two and three year olds! That means a lot of distractions. This is probably one of the biggest challenges in photographing youth sports: being quick enough to capture the action as it happens. I was finding I would just line up a shot, press the shutter, and look at the display only to find my subject turned their head or fell over. Simply calling a child’s name and telling them to kick the ball doesn’t always work with little ones. One thing we did notice that works? Snacks. The whole hour long soccer game was chaos but as soon as ‘SNACK TIME’ was called, all ten kids came running to huddle around the watermelon. So Gerald, my partner in crime, came up with a plan. He would hold up a granola bar and call a Guppie’s name while I was kneeling beside him ready with camera. As soon as the little Guppie started running towards us for their snack, I captured a few frames and ‘Voila!’ action photography. If there was a ball around, even better. Not only did we get the images of the child running, but we would also get some of them playing with the ball.

Youth Sports = Silliness and Play

For toddlers, sports aren’t so much about running plays and scoring goals. Sports are about having fun. Keep that in mind when you have your camera out and you’ll be able to create some adorable, sellable images. Children are very perceptive. If you’re happy and silly, they will probably want to join in on the fun. Interact with your subject by suggesting silly things like looking through the net or jumping in the air. Their faces will light up and make your job a little easier. You also get the nod of approval from parents who in this case are also your client. Pleasing your client is the most important thing you can do when attempting to sell your work. Showing the parents how much fun their child is having creates a good memory in their mind. This will result in higher sales and more referrals to keep your business going.


About Julie Whelan

Julie Whelan, professional photographer of over fifteen years, has had the opportunity to shoot all over the globe--from capturing portraits in Vanuatu to shooting off rooftops in Maui to photographing products in Calgary. She now finds herself in Ontario photographing outdoor adventures and the active lifestyles of athletic individuals and athletes in competition & training. Julie has also worked with professional athletes such as Don Cherry, Darryl Sittler, and Roberto Alomar. When not behind the lens, Julie likes to unwind with a good book or spending time in the garden.

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