Monday, June 20, 2011

Photographing a swim meet

If you have been reading my blog for many years, you know that I have photographed many swim meets (and swimming at the Olympics in Beijing). is swim season again, so it was time to break out the camera and head to the club for some shots at the first swim meet. I wanted to post this blog at the beginning of the swim season to give some tips to those other parents and future photographers.

My favorite swim stroke to photograph is the butterfly. You can get some great wide shots of the kids with their arms outstretched, but more importantly, you can see their faces when they come out of the water to take a breath. I usually photograph the kids from the far side of the pool, straight on. (Photographer tip: To get the best images, set your camera to continuous shooting mode, set your camera to shutter priority and select a shutter speed of at least 1/500 to freeze the action. You also want to set the focus mode of your camera to "servo focus" which will follow the swimmer and keep them focused as they come towards you.)
It is always fun to shoot images of the older kids, because their strokes are more pefected and they provide better action shots. But, don't forget about the little kids. They can provide a whole bunch of fun moments for you to capture. In the shot above, you can see that this little girl makes the mistake that almost every young swimmer makes, she spends a lot of time looking to see where the other swimmers are, as opposed to swimming faster and beating her best time. I love that in the younger kids!

Here is another picture of the young swimmer who is just taking off from the wall to swim backstroke across the pool. For this shot, I stood on the starting block, right above her, and shot this photo right as she pushed off. Notice the way that the water envelopes her, and looks really cool. (Photographer tip: Try to find new and interesting views of the swimmers. Most every other parent will stand at the side of the pool and shoot images from their height. Try moving to unique vantage points and try getting images both from a low and high position.) 

This is one of my favorite images from the day. Partly because I am a sucker for cute little kids, but also because it was this little 4 year-olds first time swimming in a meet and she gave everything she had to get across the pool (and she did). I got down to the water level and shot this image of her. This vantage point really brings the viewer right into this little girl's world.

The nice thing about the newer DSLR cameras is that they can take 3 or more pictures per second, thus making it easier to capture your subject at the height of the action. But, even with this advantage, it is still difficult to capture the exact moment that you might be looking for. I still find that the best way to get the peak of action is to hit the shutter at the exact point where you want the image. For this shot above, I purposely waited and shot this image to get the swimmer right before she came up for a breath. I like the fact that you can see her eyes (goggles) through the water.

Here is another favorite shot from the day. I shot this image of this boy doing the breast stroke  and grabbed a couple of shots where his face is masked with water. What makes this so cool, is that, most people would never see this during the meet. Because the camera can freeze the action in a fraction of a second, you can expose the unseen moments. I love that! (Photographer note: This was shot at1/2000 sec on an overcast day, which is ideal weather for shooting outdoor swim meets. Overcast skies help you avoid the deep shadows, while still giving you ample light for fast action shots.)

As I mentioned before, I normally photograph the breast stroke from the end of the pool, straight on to the swimmer, but since I practice what I preach, I went for a different angle this time, and really liked it. Not only does this show my daughter from a nice perspective, but it also shows that she is ahead of another swimmer in the race, helping to tell the story.

One more tip. Don't just photograph the swimmers. There is a lot action happening around the pool deck. Keep your head up and look for the unexpected moments. In this picture, taken during the final relay, you see this girl's teammates encouraging her to finish strong. This shows real emotion and shows the team spirit. I hope that these tips will help someone out there get better pictures of their kids and their friends. Happy shooting


Marea said...

I'm looking forward to shooting my first swim meet next week. You're tips will come in very handy! Thaks!

johnrad said...

Thanks for the tips, very helpful. Your photos are great!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I learned a lot and your shots are awesome!

Dona said...

Sitting at a swim lesson and planning on bringing my camera next week - thanks for the tips!

Shane Dwayne Albuquerque said...

awesome tips surely learnt alot, as i am shooting a swimming event at school

Sweeney Household said...

Thanks for the tips! I've been the "volunteer/novice" photographer for our local boys and girls club the last few seasons. It's not easy. Your post made me feel validated as I'm trying to learn how to photograph swimmers. Any tips on photographing at indoor meets? Boys and girls clubs tend to have terrible lighting!! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi I have Sony a350 with a N50 lense that is suppose to be used for sports event. Any tips on shooting indoor swim events? I get nothing but splash and focus is always off. Indoor swim meets do not allow you to use a flash so I'm wondering if that is the problem. Any help would be appreciated!

Christian Vindel said...

Your shots seem pretty noise free. I've been shooting my kid's meets in shutter priority in at least 1/500 as you recommend. However this bumps the ISO above 6400 at indoor meets. Any tips since flash is usually not allowed before the start of the heat?

Anonymous said...

If it is a USA Swimming sanctioned club meet, make sure you have permission from the meet director, the meet referee or the deck referee along with valid USA Swimming Non-Athlete credentials.