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Same sport, different perspective: how to get creative with sports photography

Over his 40-year career, Dave Rogers (Getty photographer) has taken some of the most iconic shots in rugby history. He's stood pitchside at every Rugby World Cup since the first in 1987, and in Japan this year he'll be spending every day with the England team. Whatever your sport, here are Dave's top 10 tips and techniques for getting better sports photos.

Dave's interest in photography developed as a teenager in the early 1970s when watching English football team Wolverhampton Wanderers play. He remembers being interested not only in the game but equally in what was going on behind the scenes – especially the photographers on the sidelines.

Since getting his first break working on a local newspaper – through a mixture of skill, determination and a little bit of good fortune, he says – Dave has earned his place in sports photography's hall of fame. He captured New Zealand's Jonah Lomu barrelling England's Mike Catt in their 1995 Rugby World Cup clash; Nelson Mandela presenting the 1995 trophy to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, unifying South Africa after a long history of apartheid; Jonny Wilkinson's dramatic drop goal in extra time that won England the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and more.

1. Zoom in for quirky framing

"The biggest challenge is knowing the sport," says Dave. "Learn the rules of the game, so you know what players are trying to do." Without being able to anticipate a player's next move, you might struggle to keep up.

Every sport is different. Compared to rugby, "football is a quicker game to play, and to photograph," he says. But on the other hand, while rugby has more players and people who can block your line of sight and get in the way of a good shot, in football "there are fewer players on the pitch, so you have a clearer view."

2. Buy the best kit you can afford

When Dave started out, he had landed a spot on the British National Council for the Training of Journalists course despite not owning a camera. He had to buy what he could afford at the time: an old 35mm film camera. If you're starting out now, he recommends considering "ease of use, reliability and value for money" as the key factors. "Just buy the best you can get," he says, and be wary of false economy.

If a full DSLR kit is too daunting or out of reach, aim for a compact or bridge camera with features that are up to the demands of sports photography. The Canon PowerShot SX70 HS, the top of Canon's bridge range, has 65x optical zoom, can shoot at 10 frames per second, and has fast, accurate autofocus (AF) with a continuous AF option to help you capture the action.

To take full advantage of the great selection of Canon lenses, though, investing in a DSLR camera such as the Canon EOS 80D is a great choice for sports photography.

3. Get creative with motion blur

"The standard lens in sports photography is the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM [and the even lighter and newer version of this lens, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM], which is superb, and I use the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM a lot as well. They are reliable and take a lot of knocks. When you do sports, you're putting the cameras down at speed and running around – they have to be pretty robust to withstand that.

"If you're just starting out, the 70-200mm is more useful. Not many people use a 400mm lens until they become specialists."

To achieve similar results on a tighter budget, you might consider the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM or the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM. Both incorporate Canon's renowned Image Stabilizer (IS) technology that helps tackle the problem of blurred images from camera shake. If your hands shake at all, then an element inside the lens shakes too, to counteract it. This means that, even when shooting handheld rather than on a tripod, your photos should be beautifully sharp.

4. Shoot from unexpected places

The best conditions to shoot in are "cloudy-bright", according to Dave, because the light will be more even across the whole pitch so you won't have to readjust your exposure settings as frequently. But if you're shooting on a sunny day with a stark contrast between shaded areas and sunny areas, "choose to sit in the sunny side and work into the shaded side," he says. That way you'll be working backlit. "If you're sitting in the shade and working to the sun, it can be difficult. Quite often you just get a silhouette of a player against the bright background. So always sit in the sunny side. You'll get nicer colours that way too."

This is easiest to do at small local sports events where spectators are free to stand and walk around the park or area – there, you can look around until you find the perfect spot. At seated, ticketed events, you may be able to choose where in the venue you'd like to sit. Find out which way the venue is positioned, and what time of day the event is happening, to select a seat that will be in the sun at that time. You can even download a sun-tracking app for photographers to help.

5. Use your environment to add a fresh dimension

Once you've captured a good selection of core shots, it's time to get creative. Some novice sports photographers get obsessed with freezing the action, but Dave recommends embracing blur to emphasise speed. To do this, try setting your shutter speed to 1/15 sec. He points out, however, "you don't want so much blur that you can't tell what the sportspeople are doing. You still want their face as sharp as you can get."

Particularly in sports with predictable, linear movement such as horse racing, track athletics or motorsports, panning with the action (by moving your camera to follow a person or vehicle in motion) will help you to keep your subject relatively sharp and blur everything else, really conveying the impression of speed.

8. Get down low

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