Photography is all about light and composition.
When is comes to sports photography, executing interesting composition usually comes well after the game has ended, during the editing process. Framing game action in the moment is difficult because there are so many moving parts. Cropping out unnecessary people or background distractions will greatly enhance the composition of your sports photos.
What can you control? The light.
Before shooting any sporting event, I try to match the best light source with the best background. Sometimes I might have a great light source, but the background is littered with distracting elements such as cars or buildings. There’s nothing worse than a good sports photo with cars in the background; so I avoid this situation at all costs.
When shooting sports, my first lighting choice is backlit. This means that the athletes are between the light source and me. For outdoor games, the light source is usually the sun. If you can combine shooting backlit with a clean, dark background, the results are beautiful.
The biggest benefit from shooting backlit is that it gets rid of harsh shadows and makes athletes’ faces easy to see, even when wearing helmets. The most difficult part of shooting like this is lens flare. This is when the sun hits the front of your lens causing the light to scatter around the lens producing a hazy and undesirable effect. To help avoid lens flare, use the hood that attaches to the front of the lens. The hood, usually included with the lens at purchase, will stop the sun from hitting the front of your lens, reducing the chance of flare.
If you do not have a lens hood or the one you are using is not long enough, you can make your own. Attach a piece of cardboard, paper or anything that will bend and secure it to the front of the lens with a rubber band or tape. The hood can be as long as needed, as long as you can not see it in you pictures.
Another important suggestion: wear a hat when shooting backlit, as the sun creates the same flare in your eyes as it does in your camera lens.