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  • Writer's pictureDave Pidgeon

Shooting a swim meet

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

A swimmer competes in the pool during a high school swim meet.
Swimming is one of the most challenging and rewarding sports to photograph.

THE LOCATION: Manheim Township High School pool, Lancaster, Pa.

THE EQUIPMENT: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV | EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

THE STORY: Every sport presents a serious challenge for photographers.

Whether it has to do with distance (soccer) or obstructions (hockey) or horrendous unhindered afternoon sun (baseball/softball), there are a myriad of problems we have to confront to create great game action images.

And yet, it seems the more challenging the more rewarding.

Take a high school swim meet, for example.

First, let's think about what makes a great swim image.

Like anything, motion and emotion play high. The combination of motion and emotion dramatizes an image, draws a viewer's interest, tells a story.

Whenever a swimmer's face emerges on the surface to take a breath while she furiously tries to fly through water faster than anyone else in the pool, as a photographer you get both.

But there's more to it.

It's critical to fill the frame, to take us right into the swimmer's aquatic world, a split second to breathe, a split second between victory and almost-but-not-quite. Swimming is grueling and adrenaline pumping - just you against the clock and you against all others.

The water splashing and the color of the goggles reflected by the ceiling lights - mercy, can you make so many keepers at a swim meet.

I mentioned the challenges. Here they are:

  • Auto focus is a nightmare. With so much water splashing with each stroke, the camera easily gets confused and thinks you want to freeze water drops instead of the swimmer.

  • A swimmer only breaks the surface for a fast moment. Really fast. You have to be ready, anticipate, and fire quickly or the swimmer is past you.

  • There's a judge who walks the length of the pool, and it's guaranteed his or her legs will block your shot at some point. Frustrating, but it's necessary.

  • Did I mention there's water? A lot of it. And it spills out of the pool, past your lens hood, and onto the glass. Bring a few microfiber towels with you.

  • If the swimmer you want to photograph is in the lane farthest from you, you're gonna need at least 300mm of lens reach, and I hate to tell you, but that gets super expensive. The 70-200mm telephoto works fine for the half of the pool closest to you, though.

Work through those challenges, though. There's always a solution. There's always a great image to capture no matter the lens you have or any of the other challenges.

We photographers are puzzle solvers. You have the tools.

Dave Pidgeon is a seasoned writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. You can reach him at

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