My Experience at Sports Photography

I might spend my workday at the Raynor Memorial Libraries, but when I’m not here, I’m frequently found watching soccer games or taking photos. And sometimes, both! As an avid women’s soccer fan and an amateur photographer, I’ve been editing and contributing to a soccer website, Backline Soccer, for a little over a year now. And this past summer, I checked out the Digital Scholarship Lab’s brand new DSLR camera to take photos for BS at two Chicago Red Stars games.

First of all, if you don’t know that Chicago has a professional women’s soccer team, you should. The Red Stars have been in the National Women’s Soccer League since its start in 2013, and the team features several players from the US Women’s National Team, including forward Christen Press, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, and two members of the defensive line, Julie (Johnson) Ertz and Casey Short. This year, they’ve been sitting in the top four of the league’s table, and are pretty much guaranteed to make the post-season this fall.

From Backline Soccer, the website where I contribute.

I’ve gone to games before with my camera, a Pentax K-x kit in an eye-catching red color that’s about six years old now, but the pictures I took using the DSL’s Canon EOS 80D put all my previous attempts at taking sports photos to shame. The 80D is fast and, unlike my old clunker of a camera, almost silent. It features a whopping 24.2MP and a 22.5 x 15mm sensor to bring a near professional look to your photos and videos, all supported by an advanced auto focus technology that really comes in handy when shooting moving subjects.

When I use my own kit, I take along a standard 18–55mm lens from Pentax and a 70–300mm lens with macro/telephoto capabilities that I bought on Ebay. And so, initially, I was a little hesitant about the single lens the DSL includes in their camera kit, a Canon EFS 18–135mm model. But I was amazed at the quality of pictures I got using the 80D and the 18–125mm lens. The images were super clear — even in the ones where I’d zoomed in as much as I could.

I was only trying to get used to the camera, and knew I’d be taking pictures of players fast in motion, so for the most part I stuck to the automatic settings, though I did end up shooting in RAW format so I’d have more flexibility when editing later. One of the drawbacks users have identified about the 80D is its color-cast, or its ability to accurately reflect the colors of a scene. Shooting in JPEG will affect these results more than shooting in RAW, so my pictures didn’t have an issue (and I always adjust the white-balance and color in post-processing anyway) but I can see in my pictures the way the camera tends to blow out some colors. But, considering I was taking pictures in full-sunlight on a gorgeous afternoon, that kind of worked in my favor anyway.

What is really spectacular about the DSL’s Canon 80D, though, is its auto focus technology. The camera has 45 AF points! You can select a particular point to use when composing your shot, different AF zones, or allow the AI to deduct what you want in focus in the shot. And, of course, you can always choose to switch to manual focus and hone in on exactly what you want the focal point of your photo to be. When using certain settings (the AI Servo AF) the camera will continue to focus on your subject even if they’re moving and the focusing distance changes. This was great for taking pictures at a soccer game.

Once the pictures have been taken, the work isn’t over, however. I spent about two days looking through the ones I’d taken, selecting the best or most interesting, and then processing them with a combination of Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Google’s open-source Nik collection. Again, I’m an amateur, and mostly use the auto settings here, too, but even a little editing can help to boost the quality of your photos. The DSL offers Adobe Creative Cloud on its desktop iMacs and PCs, as well as a number of Macbook Pros, so putting that final touch on your photos is pretty easy thanks to the Lab.

The Canon EOS 80D will be available for 3-day checkout from the DSL collection later this fall. First-time users will need to make an appointment with a member of the DSL staff for a short, basic introduction on how to use the camera, and trust me, if you’ve got a photographic project in mind, it will be worth it.