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  • by Cece M. Scott

DAVE HOLLAND: Elite sports photography

Elite sports photography is an action-packed exemplification of energy, stamina, character, courage, and determination. Athletic performance at its highest level is recorded as a visual history, capturing results and defining both the pain and glory of an event.

As a genre, sports photography requires skill and a thorough understanding of how to capture speed and action in camera with tack-sharp proficiency. It also helps to know the basics of the sport you are shooting and what the performance expectations are around the athletes competing.

“I am naturally drawn to sports, particularly elite amateur sports,” says Dave Holland, photographer for the Canadian Sport Institute in Calgary. “The three key things I look for when I am assessing photo positions are where the best light is, where the best background is, and where the peak action will be. All three go hand in hand. If you have great action and a great background, but the action is terrible, it won’t work. Another key consideration for location is the finish line, if the finish is critical. Often there will be a group of photographers in a certain area. This will give you an idea of where some of the best shots will be, but you will also get the same shots as they do, so I usually go elsewhere.”

Holland, who is self-taught, started shooting sports for his high school yearbook, but then didn’t pick up a camera again until 2008, when he was on a five-month trip around the world. In 2009, Holland began shooting at the bobsleigh track in Calgary, eventually expanding to photograph other World Cup events.

“The first thing to shooting an event is knowing what kind of credentials or access you need,” Holland says. “For bigger events you will need a media or photographer’s credential to bring your camera in. Once you are in, introduce yourself to the media representative to see where you can and cannot go.” Being completely comfortable with the manual settings in your camera, along with an intuitive know-how of setting shutter speeds, inversions, exposure, and aperture, all within a second’s reaction time, are paramount to capturing winning images. “In most of the elite sports I shoot, faster is better,” Holland says. “A very fast shutter speed for me is 1/4000 to 1/8000 of a second. Speeds in this range will freeze motion. I prefer to shoot almost entirely in manual mode so I can control exposure settings. Some sports photographers shoot in shutterpriority modes (TV for Canon, S for Nikon). I prefer to control my aperture, which controls my depth of field. I usually shoot wide open, (f/2.0, f/2.8, or f/4.0), so that my background blurs the most. My process for setting exposure is to set my aperture (usually wide open) and my desired shutter speed (for indoor fast events, usually at 1/640 or higher). Then I increase my ISO until I get the desired exposure.”

While most of us wonder how photographers such as Holland consistently produce such exceptional work, Holland shares some secrets and tips of the trade: “I end up with lots of blurry images, but I never publish them. If 10 percent of the phot