Over his 40-year career, sports photographer Dave Rogers has taken some of the most iconic shots in rugby history. He's stood pitchside at every Rugby World Cup since the first in 1987, and in Japan this year he'll be spending every day with the England team. Whatever your sport, here are Dave's top 10 tips and techniques for getting better sports photos.
Dave's interest in photography developed as a teenager in the early 1970s when watching English football team Wolverhampton Wanderers play. He remembers being interested not only in the game but equally in what was going on behind the scenes – especially the photographers on the sidelines.
Since getting his first break working on a local newspaper – through a mixture of skill, determination and a little bit of good fortune, he says – Dave has earned his place in sports photography's hall of fame. He captured New Zealand's Jonah Lomu barrelling England's Mike Catt in their 1995 Rugby World Cup clash; Nelson Mandela presenting the 1995 trophy to Springboks captain Francois Pienaar, unifying South Africa after a long history of apartheid; Jonny Wilkinson's dramatic drop goal in extra time that won England the 2003 Rugby World Cup, and more.
Dave's most memorable image came from the 2003 Rugby World Cup. In it, then England captain Martin Johnson towers above the photographer, mightily holding the trophy aloft moments after the team's tournament victory. You can almost hear him roar with delight as his teammates behind him and fans in the stadium celebrate their win. In the rugby player's enormous hands, the trophy looks almost toylike, and glints delightfully in the floodlights that beam down on the scene.
When we caught up with Dave, he was beginning to prepare for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, where he will be based with the England team. To prepare, he was organising his itinerary and photographic kit, getting licenses to be able to use remote camera triggers at the stadiums. As well as three professional camera bodies, lenses, tripods and monopods, he told us he would be packing plenty of wet weather gear to cope with the wet season.
In addition, he was already thinking about the shots he hopes to capture. Among the thousands of photos he predicts he'll take over the course of the tournament, he's hoping for one in particular: "My dream shot would be England lifting the Webb Ellis trophy again; the World Cup!"
Here he shares his expert advice for improving your sports photography, whatever the sport you're shooting.
"The biggest challenge is knowing the sport," says Dave. "Learn the rules of the game, so you know what players are trying to do." Without being able to anticipate a player's next move, you might struggle to keep up.
Every sport is different. Compared to rugby, "football is a quicker game to play, and to photograph," he says. But on the other hand, while rugby has more players and people who can block your line of sight and get in the way of a good shot, in football "there are fewer players on the pitch, so you have a clearer view."
When Dave started out, he had landed a spot on the British National Council for the Training of Journalists course despite not owning a camera. He had to buy what he could afford at the time: an old 35mm film camera. If you're starting out now, he recommends considering "ease of use, reliability and value for money" as the key factors. "Just buy the best you can get," he says, and be wary of false economy.
If a full DSLR kit is too daunting or out of reach, aim for a compact or bridge camera with features that are up to the demands of sports photography. The Canon PowerShot SX70 HS, the top of Canon's bridge range, has 65x optical zoom, can shoot at 10 frames per second, and has fast, accurate autofocus (AF) with a continuous AF option to help you capture the action.
To take full advantage of the great selection of Canon lenses, though, investing in a DSLR camera such as the Canon EOS 80D is a great choice for sports photography.
"The standard lens in sports photography is the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM [and the even lighter and newer version of this lens, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM], which is superb, and I use the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM a lot as well. They are reliable and take a lot of knocks. When you do sports, you're putting the cameras down at speed and running around – they have to be pretty robust to withstand that.
"If you're just starting out, the 70-200mm is more useful. Not many people use a 400mm lens until they become specialists."
To achieve similar results on a tighter budget, you might consider the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM or the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM. Both incorporate Canon's renowned Image Stabilizer (IS) technology that helps tackle the problem of blurred images from camera shake. If your hands shake at all, then an element inside the lens shakes too, to counteract it. This means that, even when shooting handheld rather than on a tripod, your photos should be beautifully sharp.