How to tackle rugby photography

Rugby photo tips and techniques: whether you’re watching the World Cup live or shooting your local team, take winning shots every time with our expert advice.

Sports photography is a difficult art to master, a lot hangs on the right timing, quick reactions and a good selection of kit. There’s a fair share of luck involved, too, and sport photographers will take hundreds of shots of one event just to come out with a few stunning ones. By following these action photography tips, you’ll be on your way to mastering the art.

Becoming a proficient sports photographer is not something thats going to happen overnight. It takes patience, quick reactions and more than a fair share of luck to capture the action and the emotion from a sport.

Rugby is a great place to start to practice if youre new to action photography. It gives you the opportunity to get plenty of shots from the pitch as well as lots of interesting characters in the crowd. Its also slower than other ball games such as football and tennis, where the ball and the players are shooting past you at great speeds.

Rugby photo tips and techniques - best position

Find the best shooting position

When photographing sports such as rugby and football, Ive always found that if you can position yourself somewhere between the goalpost and the corner flag, then you’ll give yourself the best shooting opportunites. By setting up here you can photograph players running straight towards you and tackles coming in from both sides.

Although positioning counts for a lot, you dont have to be an official press photographer with a bib on to get great shots. A front row seat with a good viewfinder and a telephoto lens is ideal. Its best to get permission from the venue before you do this though. Make contact with a member of the press department.

By being behind one of the goals youll also perfectly positioned for celebrations and with a little luck, the scorer may run towards you and celebrate in front of you. (Hopefully not too close though, especially if you‘ve got a long lens on.) Keep your eye out for any activity on the bench too – the manager disagreeing with a referee’s decision can make for a great portrait.

The main drawback to placing yourself behind one of the goals is the possibility of a lot of the action happening away from you, at the other end of the pitch.

Rugby photo tips and techniques

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Rugby photo tips and techniques - camera settings

Action photography camera settings and technique

Rugby’s a much slower game than football, with periods of no action at all. This doesnt mean you can put your feet up and relax though. Use the pre-match warm-up to practice your technique. You’ll be able to check that your kit’s working and that you’ll be ready to fire off shots 
and capture some cracking photos when the game kicks off.

Switch your camera to Shutter Priority mode to give you complete control over shutter speed and allow your camera to work out the correct aperture. Then, simply increase the ISO to maintain a shutter speed of around 1/1000 (or better still, 1/2000 sec or above) to get sharp, well exposed action shots.

To track the action, set your camera’s focus mode to AI Servo/Continuous. The autofocus will automatically change as the focusing distance alters and is essential if you want your camera to keep up with the pace of rugby games. Make sure that you keep the camera’s AF sensors on the players as you track the action. If you’re confindent enough, select a single AF point if possible, as wide AF settings can lock onto detailed backgrounds, rather than the players. If you’re taking portraits of the bench or members of the crowd, switch the focus back to One Shot/Single Shot. But remember to reset it afterwards…

Use your camera’s fastest drive (burst) mode and fire off short rounds of frames when you see the action through the viewfinder. Start firing early and then keep shooting continuously through each play of the ball so that you capture the key moments.

With sports photography, it’s can be better to record JPEG files rather than shooting RAW. A DSLR’s buffer fills up faster when shooting RAW files continuously than when shooting JPEGs  – and you won’t be able to take any more shots until the buffer starts to clear. The result could mean you miss the peak of the action. The downside is that you don’t have as much latitude for processing a JPEG as you do a RAW file.

Rugby photo tips and techniques - best pictures

Take winning shots

Look out for interesting portraits of players. Be attentive to facial expressions as orders are shouted when gathering for a scrum or a line-out – even better if theyre covered with mud. The rougher the players appearance, the better.

Although they make for classic rugby photos, bear in mind that shots of scrums and line-outs don’t necessarily make for great action pictures. You’ll be trying to fit up to 16 players into the frame, and they’ll all end up looking insignificant in the final shot. It’s better to focus on small numbers of players, such as the front row. You’ll end up with a photograph with much more impact and emotion.

Take advantage of quiet moments during a match and use the time to take some candid photos. The starts and end of a match are great times to capture the emotions of teams before and after battle. Also, take the time to look over your shoulder for shots of interesting and colourful characters in the crowd.

Rugby photo tips and techniques - candid crowd shots

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Gritty portraits

Rugby photo tips and techniques - gritty portraits

Rugby can be a very intense and draining game, so close-ups of players often make for eye-catching portraits.

Freeze the action

Rugby photo tips and techniques - shutter speed

Fast shutter speeds between 1/500 – 1/2000 sec are ideal for freezing the motion and grabbing great action shots.

Catch the emotion

Rugby photo tips and techniques - celebration

Whether its celebration or despair, look out for moments between players. Winners and losers both show emotion!

Crop tight

Rugby photo tips and techniques - cropping tight

Rugby is a game of constant interaction between players, so cropping tight for maximum impact is a must.

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