|By Caroline Léna Becker (Self-photographed) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons|
Photographing professional sport, big matches that get reported in the newspapers, is extremely difficult for an amateur photographer because it is virtually impossible to get access to the pitch-side locations. Professional photographers are often present in large numbers - maybe 50 around the ground - and are allocated to all the prime spots. An amateur in the stands is much further away from the action, the view is likely to be obstructed at key moments by other spectators, and there is insufficient space and freedom to work with monopods and long telephoto lenses. All the best images are taken from the edges of the pitch by photographers who hold press passes. At lower-level, amateur and local matches it may prove much easier to gain access to a good pitch-side location, although this may still have to be arranged with the relevant authority.
A good location is a key requirement for photographing a rugby match. It is impossible to capture all the action from a single location, so settle in to a chosen spot and set up the necessary gear in good time. Preparation always pays dividends. If located at one end of the pitch it has to be accepted that grabbing action from the far end will not be practicable - it is just too far away to get good shots.
Lighting is likely to vary during the course of a match. Some matches begin in bright daylight but end under floodlit conditions. This not only changes the intensity of the light but also the white balance. Under floodlighting the colour temperature may be as low as 4,800K, and it may be necessary to increase the camera's ISO rating to 3,200 or 6,400. Plan how you intend to deal with this.You could opt for auto white balance or decide to change it manually at three or four points during the match.
A good telephoto lens is necessary for the best shots. Have a look at the equipment used by professional photographers seated around the edges of any professional rugby or soccer pitch. A 300mm f/2.8 lens is a good start, but equipment of this nature is expensive. A shorter telephoto lens may also be useful - an 80 - 200 mm f/2.8 might be a realistic choice. A wide-angle zoom can be useful under some circumstances. A large maximum aperture is very important in all cases because the lens is likely to be fully open almost all the time to reduce depth of field and make high shutter speeds possible. The best action shots need to be taken using a shutter speed of at least 1,000 sec.
Shoot in RAW mode if you want to maintain the maximum flexibility to adjust images at a later stage. However RAW images create large files, and if you want to shoot fast busts at 8 or 10 frames per second then the camera's buffer size may limit the sequence to about 6 - 15 shots. In JPEG mode the scope for post-capture adjustment is less, but the number of frames that can be captured in a single burst may be larger. It is important to understand the limitations of the camera being used.
When shooting sport it is vital to know the names of the subjects, and record the information for every image together with date, time, place, match details etc. Without information of this nature it is impossible to sell images. However, also note that press photographers file their images with their agencies during a match. By the time the match has finished, the image selections for the sports pages have probably already been done!