Want to take great rugby photographs? Then here are some great hints, tips, advice and camera settings to get you started in no time at all…

Whoever said Saturday mornings were for sleeping late was hallucinating. Any family with school going kids across this fine country of ours will tell you otherwise. It’s all about sport baby – and in the winter that sport is generally netball, hockey and another small pastime of ours called rugby. Popping down for a game of schoolboy rugby is never a quick in and out affair. It starts at around 7.00am and finishes at about 2.00pm or so. Long day of coffee, bacon & egg rolls, droe wors, Energade and the smell of Deep Heat. But it always good, it’s always competitive and it’s always fun. This year I decided to finally get my act together and take a few photos of the chaps tackling the living heck out of each other. It’s been pretty awesome to say the least and a very pleasant way to unwind after a week at the coalface. During the course of events, a lot of mom’s have come up and asked me for a few tips on how to take photos of their sons in action. Dads don’t ask for tips by the way – it’s a bit like asking for directions – way uncool. So here then, is the very basic, very easy-to-understand, no technical jargon ‘MOM’S GUIDE TO SHOOTING GODFREY MAKING THE TACKLE.’ Follow these steps and you’ll be fine out there…


So now the big thing here is that you really don’t want to be trying to figure out your settings as Godfrey is hurtling towards the try line come 9.30am. So mom, at 6.30am while your making breakfast, checking that Godfrey has all his kit ready and confirming that he’s not in fact wearing the same under rods as yesterday, do the following:

Stick your camera onto shutter speed mode (it’s the S on a Nikon and the Tv on a Canon) and leave it there.

Now change your shutter speed to at least 1/1000 sec. Probably a good idea to actually go nearer to 1/2000 sec.

Put your camera onto ISO Auto.

Put your white balance onto Automatic White Balance.

To track the action, set your camera’s focus mode to 3D Focus Tracking/Auto Tracking. The autofocus will automatically change as the focusing distance alters and is essential if you want your camera to keep up with the pace of the game.

Use your camera’s fastest drive (burst mode) to fire away.

There. Done.

Look, there are a whole lot of other things you could do, but I really want to make this as easy as possible, so start off this way and you can always experiment later. The idea is to simply get you up and running in the fastest way possible. Keep going, there’s more…


Say goodbye to Godfrey (don’t not kiss him goodbye – this is extremely naff. If you must tell him you love him, do it quietly and discreetly – in the car where none of his team mates can hear is an intensely good idea). Remind him not to break any bones, but to go huge anyway. Get yourself a cup of coffee. Say howzit to other parents, even though you can’t for the life of you remember their names. Now comes the important part. Walk around the field that he’s going to be playing on. Look at where the sun is going to be. Try and have the sun behind you if possible when the game starts. Look at what’s in the background – try to be in a position where the background looks nice (car parks don’t look so lekker in the background when a game is on). Try and get some of the crowd into the background because their reactions during the game will add some decent overall attitude to your photos. Let’s keep going…


Cheering is allowed, but ‘tackle, tackle, tackle, tackle’ followed by shrieks of disappointment can be a touch embarrassing. The coaches are making their names tortoise as it is, and although they need your help, keep it tidy. As a rule of thumb, look around to see if others are staring at you – if they are, you’re overdoing things. Now, here’s the more helpful stuff:

If you have a telephoto lens, you’re in luck because you won’t need to move around too much. If you don’t have one, don’t stress it, because you’ll still be more than capable of getting those awesome shots. Just move around a little more and follow the action to get closer to the game. By the way, the one drawback with a telephoto lens is that you often miss the tries simply because the guys are way too close to you. A good spot to position yourself is between the posts and the corner flag. By setting up here you can photograph players running straight towards you and tackles coming in from both sides. Nice. But don’t confine yourself. Move as often as you like to get the game from different perspectives. It does take a bit of practice and you’ll definitely get the hang of things after a game or two.

As you start taking photos, don’t be shy – go bananas. If it moves, shoot it! And keep shooting it! Try to also think about what is about to happen. Could there be a big tackle coming? Is the flyhalf more than likely going to kick the ball? Could there be a try in the making? Oh look, a bit of niggle – could there be some handbags about to be thrown? So get into the moment and just have fun.

With sports photography, it can be better to record JPEG files rather than shooting RAW. A DSLR’s buffer fills up faster when shooting RAW files continuously than when shooting JPEGs  – and you won’t be able to take any more shots until the buffer starts to clear. The result could mean you miss the action. I shoot RAW, but it’s probably better to shoot JPEG if you’re just starting out.

Now listen here, because this is good advice. The end result of your photos is in YOUR hands and yours alone. Be absolutely attentive to what’s happening on the field. Don’t just concentrate on Godfrey because if he has a quiet game you’re going to be very disappointed in the results. Look for interesting portraits of players. Focus on facial expressions at scrum time, during lineouts and as penalties are awarded. Photograph the ref as well – some of them become nice and agitated at times. The rougher the players look, the better – so get into those scrums and muddy spots.

Take advantage of quiet moments during a match to take candid shots of spectators. It’s also an excellent time to listen to a whole variety of parents telling other parents just how brilliant their kids are at rugby. It’s very amusing to discover just how many kids out there are not simply going to crack provincial colours, but are beyond any shadow of a doubt going to get a Bok call-up. Er, really? Oh okay. Chaps, no man, come on, we’re all proud of the lads at EVERY school, at EVERY age level, but let them play and enjoy the team ethic and camaraderie. It’s not life and death. Not yet anyway. Of course, it will be one day, but right now, they’re learning heaps of other stuff on that field. Having said that, don’t you just hate losing? Catch-22 I suppose. Back to taking photographs we go…

Now while the guys on the field need to play within the rules, you should break them. Forget about the Rule of Thirds and all that nonsense. Just bang away! Hide behind posts, behind spectators, lie on the ground – in fact, do anything to get a really memorable shot. You absolutely can crack it if you give it a try.

When you’re on the sidelines, there is a certain amount of etiquette that needs to be followed, chief amongst them is to remember that there are other spectators around. So PLEASE, don’t go and stand directly in front of them because you’ll really hack them off.

Lastly, keep practicing. Just keep at it. If you can get 10 good shots per game you’ve done marvelously. Okay moms – go do it. And if you see me at a game and you want some input – come on over, I’ll help wherever I can. Hope Godfrey survives by the way. And thank you to all the schools, players, parents, coaches, refs, medical aid staff and supporters who turn out every week to make schoolboy rugby the fantastic game that it is. Long may it live. Oh and Godfrey – go and shower, you stink.