Photo Tips

Kids Sports Photography Lighting: 5 Types by Beth Wendland

Elizabeth Wendland

There are five types of light to look for when considering kids sports photography lighting.  I know, with sports it’s a tough proposition.  Noon day sun, stadium lights, gymnasium lights… Yuck!   I need to tell you all something you might not want to hear.  But, if you’ve been shooting sports for very long, I have a feeling you will already know what I’m about to say…

Shooting sports is hard!  In fact, shooting sports is one of the most challenging types of photography out there, and we as parents feel we need to be great at it.  No pressure, huh?

Family portraits?  No big deal.  Newborns?  Hey, they sleep all the time.  Athletes?  They never hold still, play with fast moving objects, and do it all in the most atrocious lighting you can imagine!

Janice F. hit the nail on the head when she left me this message; “High School Football is what I attempt to photograph. So tough with lighting and they move so fast.”

Found the 5 types of light to look for when considering kids sports photography lighting on

1/400 ISO 400 f2.8 185mm

So first, a reality check.  If you aren’t shooting with a DSLR camera, you need to resign yourself right now to the fact you will most likely not get those heart-pumping action shots that so many of us love.  So most of the tips and tricks I share with you on how to photograph kids sports will be directed at the DSLR owners out there.  If you have a point and shoot or use your camera phone, don’t despair!  Many of these tips work regardless of the camera you are shooting, and the techniques are always important.  🙂

So previously I sent you off with a pithy, “go find the light!”.  Now let’s talk about five types of light to look for when considering kids sports photography lighting.


Photography.  The Greek translation of photo means ‘light’, and graph is “to write”.  So when we take photos, we are writing with light.  Is it any wonder then, that when the lighting is bad, so are our pictures?

When it comes to the horrid lighting that we parent photographers have to shoot our athletes in, there are only a few ways to improve the outcome.  Using a flash at sports events is a big no-no, so that trick is off the table.  And a reflector, are you kidding?  Even if it did any good, it’s way to big to have on the sidelines.  So that leaves us with technique and gear.


First let’s talk about natural light.  You would think this would be the easiest light to shoot in and the best for kids sports photography lighting, but it’s not quite that simple.  Generally, you have enough light when you shoot during the day, sometimes though, it still isn’t good light.  So let’s talk a little about natural light, and how to use it to your advantage.


This is the time when natural light will give you beautiful and striking images.  The ‘golden hour’ is actually about two hours in the morning, and again in the late afternoon.  It occurs about 1-2 hours after sunrise, and again about 1-2 hours before sunset.  At this time the light is low on the horizon with more atmosphere to travel through, so the light is softer, filtered…less intense.  This light is so desirable for photographers that there’s even an app to help predict it!

Found the 5 types of light to look for when considering kids sports photography lighting on

1/640 ISO 100 f4 200mm

The light that occurs during the ‘golden hour’ is, you guessed it, golden.  This gives an awesome contrast to a sharp and aggressive sports photo.  To get this type of shot you will need to place yourself so that the sun is behind the athlete.  Yes, this sometimes means heading into enemy territory…do you want to get the shot or not? 😉  You need to set your metering to expose for the athlete, not the sky.  This will result in images where the sky behind your subject is a little “blown out”, and the athlete has an almost surreal quality to them.


Honestly, this is the worst time of day to shoot.  Even though you have plenty of light, when the sun is straight up overhead, your pictures will bear the heavy shadow lines of a very strong sun.  This means your 5 year old soccer player will have “raccoon” eyes that make them look like they haven’t slept in a week, and your 10 year old will be sporting a lovely shadow beard! Literally a beard that must be shaved off by beard brushes.  There is no way to improve that lighting. No good pictures will come under the noon-day sun, so take this as the Universe’s way of telling you to just sit back and enjoy the game. Let’s detour the topic a little bit, they say that beard brush seems like another marketing gimmick that is the offspring of the innovative and shrewd brains behind the entire men’s grooming products boom that we have witnessed off late. However, beard brush is a vital tool in helping you tame that rogue hair on your face. It helps to give your beard a sense of direction, helps to scrape off dead cells that lie lurking in the form of flakes in your beard and also will dislodge any residue of yesterday’s dinner (eww) that you may be harboring in your beard.


Found the 5 types of light to look for when considering kids sports photography lighting on

1/250 ISO 250 f2.8 185mm

This is the best light for any photographer to shoot sports in!  The clouds act like a giant, natural diffuser.  This means the light is softer, and free from the heavy shadows caused by direct sun.  If you have a game, match or meet, on an overcast day, do the happy dance!  Let this be a day that you take few more pictures than normal.  The favorable lighting will make a world of difference.  It really is the best kids sports photography lighting you can hope for 🙂


While gym lighting is generally quite even, if you climb high in the stands at a stadium, you will often find areas that are significantly darker than others.  And while this difference may seem small to us, it’s enormous to our cameras.  This means that while we can set our cameras for the correct light exposure one time in the gym, we may need  to frequently change our exposure at a stadium.

The best course of action is to avoid the stadium lights as much as possible.  Most stadium games, including football and soccer start while there is still a decent amount of natural day light.  Use it!  Plan on shooting the first quarter or half of the game, then go sit with your family and enjoy the remainder of the game.

For more on kids sports photography lighting check out my post How To Shoot Sports Indoors With Artificial Light

In the mean time, stop by my blog, or follow me on Facebook.  Or head to Me Ra’s Facebook page to post questions or your kids sports photos for some feedback 🙂  Until next time,

Play hard, and have fun!



  1. Sara Arrigoni says:

    Great tips for all of us with athletes in our lives! Thank you!

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