“You have to be ready and anticipate the shot”

Whenever he is not busy shooting fantastic landscape photos, Rick Berk spends a lot of time writing about photography. The tutorials that can be found on „Digital Photography School“ cover a variety of topics, such as „Getting Great Portraits At Sunset“ and „Get a Kick: Photograph Soccer!“.



You started your career as a sports photographer, went from there to landscape and portrait photography. Which type of photography is harder to master? 

I think each type is a completely different mindset with their own learning curve. Sports photography is about being ready, and then reacting to the action as it unfolds. You have to know the sport, and even the players on the field and their tendencies. Then you have to decide where you think the action will happen and stand in the proper spot. And even then, you still might not get the shot if the action doesn’t go your way. But when it does, you have to be ready and anticipate the shot and react to the action in front of you. Landscape photography can be much more proactive, in that you can find out where the light will be, what the weather will be, and then plan your shot based on the elements in your scene. In my mind, the act of composing the shot is much more involved, from choosing filters for working with the light, to choosing your focal length to decide what will be included in the scene, to choosing your shutter speed and depth of field to determine how movement within the scene, from water or clouds, will be recorded.

Sports photography in Germany is almost equatable to photographing soccer. That should not be the case for your home country?

Soccer is not as popular on the professional sports level in the USA as in Europe, but when it is a very popular participation sport at the high school and college level. When I was freelancing for newspapers, I often covered high school and college soccer. I also photographed some pro soccer for a few years. When I began photographing professional sports for a sports card company, I photographed only baseball, American football, and ice hockey.

The highest challenge when covering a sports event is shooting the action. Which equipment is most important?

The glass. Regardless of which camera you have, if you don’t have the right lens to fill the frame with your subject, you won’t be able to get good shots. There are shots to be had with all focal lengths, but eventually, you’ll want to get some frame-filling action, and for that you need telephoto lenses, 300mm and longer.

You say that one of the most challenging sports to photograph is soccer? Why is that?

I once had a friend describe shooting soccer as “trying to photograph a moving tree in a moving forest”. Essentially, you focus on one player, who is moving, while other players between you and the player you’ve focused on are also moving, crossing between you and your subject, throwing your autofocus off, or just obscuring the action. It can be incredibly frustrating at times. In addition, each team plays the game a little differently, so you have to always be watching for each team’s tendencies, which at times don’t always make for great photos.


Let’s get practical. Imagine I am an amateur (which I am) and plan to use my mid-range DSLR for covering a soccer game of a high-school team. Where should I stand?

I tend to favor the end lines (if you’re allowed there).  From the end lines, the action is mostly coming straight at you, which can be very dramatic, and you have a good vantage point for watching the play unfold. You also have a good angle on the goal. The downside to standing here is that when play is at the other end, you’ll have to wait for it to come back to your end. If you stand towards the middle, you can get a little bit of each end, but the play is more parallel to you, and not as in-your-face.

Can I use the automatic mode?

I don’t recommend it.  To capture sports, you need a fast shutter speed. When you’re in Automatic, the camera doesn’t know you’re trying to capture action, so you need to tell it. If your camera has a Sports mode, that should work fine. Otherwise, I recommend using Manual, and setting a shutter speed of at least 1/500, or Shutter Priority and doing the same.

What come first: Aperture or shutter speed?

For sports, it’s always shutter speed. You need to ensure that the action is frozen. Some motion blur might be okay, but if a face is blurred, that will ruin the shot.  Aperture is a close second, because there are often distracting elements in the background. You’ll want to use a wide aperture to achieve a shallow depth of field and blur the background.

You have travelled a lot, capturing nature’s beauty with your lens. Most people, even if they stood right next to you, would still not have the same outcome. What is your trick? Photoshop?

It’s all about understanding the complete photographic process. Pushing the shutter button is only half of the process.  Even back in the days of film, had an average person been standing next to Ansel Adams, they still would not achieve the same result unless they understood both in-camera and darkroom techniques of the day. Adams understood the complete process, including the darkroom. Today’s darkroom is digital, which makes it more accessible, but no less important to today’s photographer.  In the field, I use everything from a polarizing filter to Neutral Density and Graduated Neutral Density filters to control light and contrast. I shoot RAW to ensure I capture the most information possible. I then use Adobe Camera RAW to process the file before I bring it into Photoshop for the final touches. Generally speaking this involves color balance, saturation adjustments, and contrast adjustments.

Now my favorite question for professional photographers: Which mobile phone do you own and do use it for your work?

I use an iPhone 4s right now. I use it as a tool. I have several apps I use to find out when the sun and moon rise and set, to find out where they will be in the sky, and even just to see what the weather will be.  I use The Photographer’s Ephemeris, Sunseeker, and Golden Hour, as well as various weather apps just to see what the conditions will be. I don’t typically shoot with my phone. I do transfer some images to my phone so I can show them off to people when they ask to see what I do.


Read also:

Get a Kick: Photograph Soccer!


More from Rick Berk:

Homepage http://rickberk.com/

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Fotos: Rick Berk