Shooting a swim meet
Updated: Jul 22
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.