action photography on your phone

Guide to Smartphone Sports Photography

Sports photography seems like a genre unfit for smartphones, right? Actually, the latest and greatest phones are more than capable of taking great sports photos. With the right tools and techniques, you’ll be doing professional-quality smartphone sports photography in no time.

How to Get High-Quality Sports Photos with Your Phone

Smartphone sports photography tips and tricks

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When it comes to sports photography, your style and technique will likely change according to the sport you’re shooting. For example, if you’re photographing a golfer, you’re going to need to adjust your setting differently than if you’re photographing an equestrian competition.

Phone Camera Settings

For sports photography, you’re probably going to need a bit more control over your settings. Depending on what type of phone you have, your camera app may or may not allow you to work in manual mode.

Most smartphone photographers recommend downloading a third-party camera app. The one that came on your phone isn’t necessarily bad, but it won’t give you the same level of control as third-party app, which are often created by photographers, rather than phone manufacturers. The best free option out there is undoubtedly Lightroom Mobile CC from Adobe. There’s a free version of the app that’ll give you manual control, RAW file capture (called DNG by Adobe), and basic photo editing capabilities.

The most important setting you need to adjust is your shutter speed. In the fast-moving world of sports, your shutter speed will be the difference between a sharp action shot and a blurry photo.

Faster shutter speeds are going to give you the sharpest images and you’ll essentially freeze the moment in time. However, this may not be the look you’re going for, depending on what sport you’re photographing.

A bit of blur isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a great way to show the fast movements of an athlete. You just need to make sure the blur is only where the action is, not throughout the entire shot.

Another challenge of photographing sports is making sure that you have enough light, especially if you’re shooting with a faster shutter speed. This is typically quite easy outdoors, as you can rely on the sun, but it can be a bit tricky with indoor sports. You can’t exactly ask the athletes to stand closer to your ring light.

To achieve the right balance of ISO and shutter speed, you may need to do some experimenting. Unfortunately, smartphones don’t have quite the same capabilities as DSLR cameras, but with the right settings you should still be able to get quality sports photos from your mobile phone.

One of the greatest features that your smartphone has to offer to aid you in sports photography is burst mode. In burst mode, instead of taking a single photo, your camera takes a series of photos in rapid succession. If you want to learn a little more about burst mode, then give our guide to photographing action a read.

This feature is invaluable to sports photographers because it ensures that you don’t miss the moment. You’ll never worry about pressing the shutter too early or too late when you can rely on burst mode.

Depending on the type of phone you have and the app you’re using, you may be able to either hold down the shutter button or just press it once as long as burst mode is activated. Obviously, it can be helpful to test out your camera app’s features and setting prior to the big game.

Necessary Smartphone Gear

For sports with a lot of movement, like rugby, for example, a tripod might be a bit of a hindrance. But for sports that don’t require so much movement, or where you can anticipate where the athletes are going to be, you might consider using a tripod.

Tripods can be especially helpful if you’re trying to add a bit of blur to your shot, but still want a crisp background. You’ll be able to slow your shutter speed down enough to get the look you’re going for, without sacrificing the quality of your entire photo.

If you’re using a tripod, you might also want to consider using a camera remote. A pocket-sized remote shutter will make sure you don’t accidentally shake your phone by pressing the shutter button. They’re inexpensive and connect to your phone via Bluetooth. If you don’t have one, then try attaching your headphones with volume buttons to your phone and allowing the volume control to control the shutter.

If you plan on shooting any sports videos, a gimbal might also be a good addition to your gear bag. You’ll be able to choose from two- or three-axis gimbals. Two-axis gimbals are typically lighter and more budget friendly, but you’ll get more stability out of a three-axis gimbal.

Composition

With sports photography, everything happens so quickly it can be difficult to focus on every aspect of your photo. You’ll need to make sure your settings are right, keep an eye on the action, and frame your photo correctly.

Improving composition is FREE! So many mobile photographers think gear is the answer and it’s not. Improve your mobile photography composition by watching this video.

Part of getting a great shot is anticipating the athletes’ movement. If you’re shooting a sport that you’re not familiar with, it can be helpful to do some research prior to the event so you know what to expect.

If you’re still having doubts about your composition, you can also turn on the grid feature in your camera app. Having a grid on your screen can help you make sure your photo is straight and the action is framed the way you want it.

Things to Avoid in Smartphone Sports Photography

mobile sports photography

Lens Matrics

As with other genres of smartphone photography, you want to avoid using the digital zoom feature of your camera app. Zooming only reduces the quality of your photo. Instead, you’ll need to either move closer to the action or invest in a telephoto lens for your phone.

Most smartphone sports photographers will tell you to take as many photos as possible. Sure, you’ll have more to sort through later, but your chances of getting a great shot are increased along with the number of images you capture. 

The more photos you take, the more experience you gain and the better photographer you’ll be, so don’t be afraid to take a ton of pictures. Just don’t forget to keep an eye on your phone’s storage!

Finally, a great sports photo can be made even better with a little editing. Don’t forget to use your favorite editing app to add those final touches to your images. Whether you’re shooting still images or videos, your social media following will thank you!

About the Author /

joe@photoswithphones.com

Joe takes some pretty impressive photos and videos on his phone. He has a plethora of experience writing for large websites on a variety of topics and is able to deliver relatable mobile content that you'll surely enjoy. Joe majored in History at Christopher Newport University in VA. He currently resides in Denver, CO with his fiancee, Kathryn, and their dog, Jasmine.

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