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Feature Image by: Alisha Lovrich

Professional Sports Photographer, Alisha Lovrich talks about her journey in Athletics photography

How I got into Athletics Photography

I have been competing in Athletics since I was 8 years old and in high school, I specialized in 400m and moved up to 400/800 when I left school. I had no interest in photography growing up and in high school, however alongside my passion for sports, I have also been passionate about visual arts throughout my life. During my school days I did painting, design and art history which has led me to wanting to pursue a career in Graphic Design and Illustration.

In the first year of my design degree, a core component was Photography, so I was forced to start learning photography. I bought a Canon EOS 600D with the twin lens kit (EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM and EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM) it was on sale at the time, so I thought it was a great buy! I instantly fell in love with the craft, everything I learnt with visual arts: composition, balance, leading lines, colour theory, emotion, and mood was completely transferable to photography. I could play with all these principles using this tool (my new camera) and instantly see the results, thanks to digital.

I was injured before the Auckland Championships one year, so instead of competing, I decided to take my camera to the tracks and took photos of my friends instead, and that’s how my obsession with sports photography came into fruition. Athletics is a beautiful sport to photograph, there are so many horizontals and verticals to play with, along with the curves and lines of the track! Plus, there are a large variety of events, so you’ll never get bored!

Gear I use for Athletics Photography

Athletics photography is flexible with what gear you can use, When I first started, I was using my Canon EOS 600D and mainly my EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM. I then saved up for a Canon EOS 5D Mark III and an EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM. I wanted to go full frame because of night-time athletics photography, as the lights around the tracks at night-time are not so great. The domestic athletics with accreditation allowed me to get closer to the action for all my events to shoot different angles. To this day, for domestic athletics the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM is my primary lens.

My ideal kit combination for domestic athletics is:

EOS 1D X Mark II with EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM as the primary body

EOS 5D Mark IV with EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM with optional 1.4x III Converter for long throws etc.

• EOS 5D Mark III with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Quite often it is nice to have more of a telephoto as an option as well because a wide angle could be useful for close artistic wide-angle shots, which is popular for sports photography.

General settings I use for athletics photography

The age-old question is, what camera settings do I use for athletics photography? Personally, I would say you want something that can freeze the action… so you would want to be 1/1000 and above. Athletics doesn’t have the rapid accelerating and changing direction like other sports do so that is a pretty safe bet. I like having a shallow depth of field, all my lenses are 2.8 so mostly shooting at that aperture, apart from my EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. If there is good lighting, I often shoot at f4-5.6 as the wide is often just sitting at my hip so I can just whip it out if I need to fast or often for a wide angle I am lying down in an awkward position and the action is going past me super-fast. Plus, often for wide shots you do want a bit of the background as context. My ISO fits whatever the light is doing and of course, for panning shots I take my shutter speed often right down to 1/20 for some extra movement.

My Canon cameras also allows me to adjust the autofocus sensitivity on servo mode. It’s located in the purple menu for autofocus, there are a bunch of ‘cases’ you can choose from. I generally use case 4, allowing rapid acceleration/change of movement without jumping off subject. From time to time I would use case 2 for some pole vault shots and angles where the pole might cross over the athlete. Case 2 is not as sensitive as some of the other cases so it will continue to lock on the subject.

For white balance, you just need to pay attention to the track. Tracks are generally red or blue. Blue tracks often get casting from harsh sunlight, so turn your white balance up (add more yellow) to counter that if you are finding your athletes are looking blue!