October 28, 2023

The Art of Being a Sports Videographer: From planning to the film, A Basic Understanding



In a series I'm starting on sports videography, I wanted share some info nuggets with this first blog installment. An introduction if you will. I've had many DM me asking how I did this or that, so figured I'd write something up.

Capturing the essence of any sporting event is a challenge that draws many to the realm of sports videography. It's not just about pointing a camera and recording. It's about capturing those moments, that goals/touchdowns/3-pointers/homeruns/slam dunks, or that last-second victory in a double overtime. So, how do you do it? Let me steal you for a minute or two as we deep deep into the world of sports videography, from gearing up to setting up. This is just the beginning...

Have a plan

Is this going to be a documentary, a highlight film, an interview type, a music video, or a combination or none at all?

Before I cover a game, I brainstorm what or who I'm going to focus on, plan the shots around the venue, what's the weather going to be like, will I need ND filters, spare batteries, etc. Don't run a gig without a plan!

Choosing the Right Equipment

Your tools can make or break your videography game. The first consideration is the camera itself. A high frame rate is essential for sports. Buy why Mike? Well, It allows for smooth slow-motion playback, letting viewers savor every second of that game-changing moment. Cameras like the Canon EOS C300 Mark II, Sony FS6/7, Red anything, and the one I primarily use...the Fujifilm X-H2s are popular choices due to their impressive frame rates and 4K/6K capabilities. But it's not just about the camera body; the lens choice is equally crucial. A good zoom lens can bring the action close, even if you're stationed at a distance. But, primes are super important as well, especially those older ones with character (typically lens coatings, number/style of aperture blades can impact the look) and of course, anamorphic.

Many times, I rock an entire Football/Basketball game with a 70-200 & 24-70 set, but I've also run with some anamorphic primes for a look I'm working to achieve.

Remember, the unpredictability of sports means lighting can change in an instant, especially for outdoor events. Thus, a camera with good dynamic range and low-light capabilities is a must. You wouldn’t want to miss capturing a goal because a cloud suddenly covered the sun would you?

Audio is another factor often overlooked. The screaming fans, roaring crowds, the referee's whistle, and the shouts of players contribute significantly to the atmosphere. Investing in a good external microphone can make a world of difference. We'll get into that a little bit later.

Framerates, Codecs, and Bit Rates oh my!

When setting up for sports videography, you'll likely want a higher frame rate to capture the fast-paced action, such as 60fps. If you anticipate using slow-motion, capturing at even higher frame rates, like 120fps, would be beneficial. Higher frame rates will give you more options in post.

  • Common Frame Rates:
  • 24fps: The standard for most films. It provides a cinematic look. This happens to be my favorite
  • 30fps (or 29.97fps for NTSC): Standard for TV broadcasts and many online videos.
  • 60fps: Gives a smoother look, which is useful for sports and is often used for gaming videos or other scenarios where fast motion is involved.
  • 120fps or higher: Used for slow-motion footage. The higher frame rate allows the video to be slowed down in post-production without becoming choppy.

For bit rate, choose a higher setting if your storage allows, as this captures more detail. Just ensure that it aligns with your final export platform. What exactly is a bit rate though?

  • Bit rate refers to the amount of data processed per unit of time in the video. It's often measured in kilobits per second (Kbps) or megabits per second (Mbps). A higher bit rate generally results in higher video quality, but it also means larger file sizes.
  • Considerations: For sports videography, where rapid movements are frequent, a higher bit rate is beneficial as it captures more detail in each frame. However, remember that the bit rate should be appropriate for the intended playback medium. Streaming platforms, for instance, might have limitations or recommended bit rates to ensure smooth streaming for viewers.

Lastly, choose a codec that balances quality with file size, keeping in mind post-production needs and playback compatibility. This is extremely important otherwise wherever or whomever you send your files to, won't be able to play them.

  • A codec (compressor-decompressor) is a software or device that compresses video for storage or transmission and then decompresses it for playback. The codec determines how the video data is stored and can significantly impact both video quality and file size.
  • Common Codecs:
  • H.264: Widely used and compatible with most platforms. It offers good compression, maintaining decent video quality without excessively large file sizes.
  • H.265 (or HEVC): An evolution of H.264, it provides better compression, which means smaller file sizes at comparable quality. However, it's more computationally intensive and not as universally supported as H.264.
  • Apple ProRes: Used in professional video editing, especially on Apple's Final Cut Pro platform. It retains higher quality but comes with larger file sizes.
  • AVI, MPEG-2, VP9: Other codecs, each with its own strengths and ideal use scenarios.

Stabilizing Your Shots

Any videographer will tell you – stability is pretty key. Shaky footage can disorient, distract, or even piss off your viewers. In all honesty, unless you're looking for that 'Blair Witch Project' look or rolling a documentary. For handheld shots, especially when following fast-moving action, a gimbal stabilizer can be invaluable. For static shots, nothing beats the reliability of a good old tripod and for those low shots, a hi-hat tripod.

Setting Up for the Perfect Shot

Remember that plan we talked about? Before the game starts, it's pivotal to scout the location. Understand the layout of the playing field, anticipate where the key actions might occur, and set up accordingly. Get to know the game’s rules, the teams, and even individual players. The more familiar you are with what's going to happen, the better your chances of being in the right spot at the right time. While you're there, get that establishing shot for b-roll. you'll thank me later.

Positioning is everything. While it might be tempting to set up in the midst of the action, sometimes, a vantage point from a height or from the side gives a more comprehensive view. Remember, your goal isn’t just to capture a player but to capture the essence of the game itself.

The Significance of B-roll

B-roll footage provides context and adds depth to your primary shots. It’s the supportive imagery that complements your A-roll or main footage. For sports, this could be the anxious face of a fan biting their nails, a coach shouting instructions, close-ups of equipment, or even the sunset beyond the stadium. B-roll not only enhances the narrative but also provides flexibility during editing. If there's a jump in the main action or a glitch, B-roll can seamlessly bridge that gap.

Engaging with the Action

This job requires more than technical expertise; it demands a certain kind of person for the game. Engage it, feel it, and anticipate it. When a player is about to make a significant move, ensure you're ready to capture it. It's this intuition and connection to the sport that often results in the most breathtaking footage. You absolutely need to be familiar with the sport.

Data Offload and Backup Strategy

The last thing any videographer wants is to discover that hours of irreplaceable footage are lost due to a technical glitch or oversight. Hence, a robust data offload and backup strategy is essential. Your footage is the culmination of meticulous planning, hard work, and irreplaceable moments. Protecting it with a solid data offload and backup strategy isn't just best practice; it's a necessity. By incorporating an organized directory structure and leveraging both working backups and NAS systems, you ensure that your project remains safe, portable, and ready for post-production.

Step 1: Organized Directory Hierarchy for Portability

Once you've wrapped up your game coverage, the first step is transferring your footage from your memory cards to a secure location. However, dumping all files into a folder isn't ideal (at least not for me anymore after learning the hard way). Organizing your files with a thought-out directory hierarchy ensures that your project remains portable, easily navigable, & ready for backup.

I create a folder on the initial backup drive with the following directory structure:


   > VIDEO

       > CameraA

       > CameraB

       > DroneFootage

       > B-Roll

   > AUDIO

       > LavMics

       > BoomMics

       > Music


   > VFX



This structure ensures that you can quickly locate specific files, making your editing process more efficient. It also ensures that if you need to transfer your project to another device or editor, everything they need is neatly packaged and easy to understand.

Step 2: Transferring to a Working Backup

Once your files are organized, copy this entire project directory to an external hard drive or SSD. This device serves as your 'working backup'. It's the drive you'll plug in when you start editing, ensuring that your original footage remains untouched. Using a working backup not only safeguards your primary data but also ensures that your edits won't be lost if your main computer faces issues.

Step 3: Storing on a NAS for Cold Storage

A Network Attached Storage (NAS) system is essentially a collection of hard drives accessible via a network. It's a robust solution for long-term storage and comes with the added benefit of being accessible from multiple devices.

Once your footage is on your working backup, duplicate the project directory to your NAS. This serves as your 'cold storage'. It's a long-term backup solution, ensuring that even if your memory cards and working backup were to fail, a pristine copy of your project remains safe.

Every now and then, it's a good idea to check the integrity of the files on your NAS, ensuring no data corruption has occurred (open up some of the RAW files and ensure that they play). Some NAS systems come with built-in redundancy, like RAID configurations, that offer additional data protection.

If you're a hands on person and run MacOS, you can use MD5 to verify file integrity, especially after transfers or during long-term storage. When you generate a checksum for a file, it provides a unique "fingerprint" of that file. If even a single byte in the file changes, the checksum will change as well, alerting you to potential corruption or tampering.

Here's how you can run it on a MacBook...

Using MD5:

Open the Terminal application (you can find it in the Applications > Utilities folder or search for it using Spotlight).

Navigate to the directory where your file is located using the cd command.

For example:

cd /path/to/your/file/

Run the following command:

md5 yourfilename.extension

The Terminal will then display the MD5 checksum for that file.

Comparing Checksums:

If you're transferring files and want to ensure their integrity, perform the following steps:

- Generate checksums for the original files (see above)

- Transfer the files

- Generate checksums for the transferred files

- Compare the checksums from the original and transferred files. If they match, the transfer was successful without any data corruption.

It's worth noting that while MD5 checksums are excellent for detecting accidental corruption, they aren't foolproof against intentional tampering by malicious actors, especially in the case of MD5. If security is a top concern, consider using SHA-256 instead.

Post-Processing: Where the Magic Happens

Once the game is over and the footage is in the bag, post-processing begins. This is where you transform raw footage into a compelling story.

Craft the Narrative: Your timeline or sequence is essentially the story's backbone. Start with a compelling opener — a moment of suspense or a crucial play. Intermix your A-roll and B-roll to craft a flow that maintains viewer interest. And don't forget the climax! Highlight the turning point of the game, leading to the conclusion.

Color Grading: Even with the best cameras, the raw footage may not always capture the vibrancy and mood of the live event. Color grading adjusts the visual tone, ensuring the footage accurately evokes the emotion of the moment. This is, for me at least, a deal maker/breaker when I watch a film, but I judge pretty harsh. Consider learning about color theory and complimentary colors. Check out this site for starters.

Sound Editing: Natural sound captured during the game is pretty important. However, it might require cleaning up. Removing unwanted noise, enhancing essential sounds, and balancing audio levels are all part of sound editing. You have plenty of options at your disposal. I lean on Audacity and Adobe Audition when I need to edit/clean up sound files.

Choosing the Right Music and Sound Effects: Background music can set the tempo and mood. For an action-packed game, a fast-paced track might be apt, while a more strategic & tense game might benefit from a suspenseful score. When choosing music, it’s essential to consider copyright restrictions, especially if you're publishing your video for a broad audience. I personally use Epidemic sound for my tracks, but there are plenty of others out there.

Sound effects, when used sparingly, can accentuate crucial moments — the swoosh of a basketball net or the thud of a tackle. There are plenty of folks selling sound packs out there, but you can also Google find many that may be free to use. However, they should enhance, not overshadow, the natural sounds of the game.

Exporting: Tailoring for Your Audience

Where is your video going to be shown? If it's for television, you'll need different specifications than if it's for YouTube or Instagram. Aspect ratio, resolution, and bitrate all come into play.

For online platforms, consider compression without compromising quality. Websites like YouTube, 'X' (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, & Vimeo have specific recommendations for video uploads, ensuring optimum playback for viewers. Familiarizing yourself with these can avoid unnecessary re-exports and uploads.

Sports videography is kinda like a dance...a balance between preparation & then BAM, spontaneity. While the right gear can elevate the quality of your footage, it's the passion, foresight, and engagement with the game that brings the essence of the sport to life on screen. Whether you're a budding videographer or a seasoned professional, never forget the heart and soul of the game. After all, that's what you're there to capture.


Mike Quintero is the owner of Texas Sport Shots, where he has been capturing the passion and excitement of sports for almost a decade. He is a photographer, graphic designer, and videographer who has published work in Dave Campbell's Texas Football Magazine, MaxPreps, Rivals' UTSA BirdsUp and in the 'Devine News' Newspaper. With a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the dynamics of various sports, Mike has excelled in saving athletes' achievements and emotions on and off the field. When he's not behind the camera, Mike enjoys sharing his knowledge and experiences with fellow photographers, aspiring to inspire and shape the next generation of sports photographers.