Create Your Light: Shooting Urban Sportsphotography with candid moments with Little Shao



The streets and the urban environments are an infinite playground. You are always able to play around with the shape, the lines, and the landscapes. Exploring and capturing a subject in these environments makes everything more interesting and unique. One of the most important things is to make things look right – here are some of my tips…

For this topic, I challenged myself to produce all the images with the Nikon Z 50 as I usually work only with full-frame camera bodies. The reason being Urban Sport Photography is becoming more and more popular, and even these athletes have a desire to create their own content. Unfortunately, their budget is usually not enough to get these professional full frame cameras, so I always try to redirect them on APS-C cameras, which are more accessible budget-wise.

1. Finding the right subject

One thing that could make the whole picture awkward is to have a subject that doesn’t make sense to have in the environment you’re shooting in…

For example : A volleyball player doing a smash in the middle of buildings without a net or opponents. Why would you have a volleyball player playing by himself in the street?

My example here is to explain that you can be as creative as you want, but you have to establish a context…

Here are couple of the topics and subjects I usually deal with as they are really relevant being in the streets :

  • Freestyle Football
  • Parkour and Free Running
  • Dancers

For the test of the Z50 I’ve choose that day to shoot a Freestyle Football Player @loganfreestyle and a Free Runner @johantonnoir

2. The Location help for the scenery and the composition of your picture

Finding an amazing location is one of the keys to an amazing picture. Try to have a location that could already look amazing even if you don’t have any subject in your picture. Adding action to this photo can only be a bonus and a strength for your picture.

The background of a photo – even if you are focused on the subject could enforce the beauty and the dynamics of your photography. Your background can give you even more lines thanks to the golden photography rule of thirds, or the lines of force. You can see on some of my pictures that I was trying to frame as much as possible with the golden photography rules using the rule of thirds. Lines from the floor, buildings, and stairs can also join the corners of your frame (lines of force).

Image of #FreestlyeFootball Player @loganfreestyle by @LittleShao using the #NikonZ50 + 70-200mm F2.8 NIKKOR Z @ ISO 100, 1/1250s, f/2.8

On this picture you can see very clearly that the composition of this photo has the subject positioned at 1/3 on the left of this picture and the line made by the stairs join the right bottom corner. I’m really using the lines from the urban environment to add more geometry. On this one the goal was also to have a kind of minimalism having only stairs and sky.

3. Getting the right gear

When you are shooting in an urban environment you are facing a lots of random situations. What you really want is to avoid having very heavy gears and you would like to have a large diversity of frames. The Weight and also the compacity and the portability of your equipment is something you really want to optimize to avoid carrying a big bag or having your back hurt at the end of the day.

For this topic, I used the Nikon Z50 which is really compact. It has a dual card slot which is a bonus in order to maximize your storage on the go without the need to change it on the location. When I had to climb to get on the roof on top of Paris, that was a real advantage especially with the range of lenses that I had with me. The tilted touch screen for picture is perfect for low angle shots especially for urban action shots. Sometimes the floor is dirty and the angle could be so low that you won’t even be able to look through your viewfinder. What I usually do is to frame, use the tilted touch screen to do the focus or/and trigger on the subject.

Nikon Z50 kit with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 + Profoto connect

I would highly recommend these types of lenses :

  • One wide angle lens (I used      for this session the NIKKOR Z 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 from the Z 50 kit, the NIKKOR      Z 14-30mm f/4 and the NIKKOR AF 16mm f/2.8 D fisheye lens with the FTZ      adaptor)
  • Long focal lenses (I used      the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S and the NIKKOR 105mm F1.4 prime lens)

The wide-angle lens will help create distortion and strong dynamics. In a city where you have buildings and many details in the environment such as concrete, this will help you to add texture and buildings into the frame.

The long focal lens will allow you to have a subject from a very long distance which will make you feel that a scene is happening as if you are looking at a painting. If you are staying far away from your subject zooming as much as you can you will be able to have everything in the background visible as the photo below.

Image of #Freestyle Runner @johantonnoir shot by @LittleShao with #NikonZ50 + #NIKKORZ20mmf18 @ ISO 100, 1/3200sec, f/2.8

If you want to create a dramatic action shot, having a wide-angle lens will really help if you are shooting acrobatic moves – shooting with the wide lens, combined with a low angle shot will make the subject even more stunning.

Shot on wide angle lens: NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 @ ISO 100, 1/1600sec, f/4

4. Using the right Camera Settings

a) Freeze the Action with a high shutter speed

Shooting action requires you to have a pretty high shutter speed if you want to freeze the action. While shooting Urban Sport Photography, I love to have the subject sharp in focus, without motion blur. The intention and your frame will tell the story and will bring the movement in your image but what I love is to have a clean and sharp image.

When shooting movement for a human in action I usually make sure that my shutter speed is higher that 1/1000sec. The higher the shutter speed, there is less risk of having motion blur.

Image of #Freestyle Runner @johantonnoir shot by @LittleShao with #NikonZ50 + #NIKKORZ20mmf18 @ ISO 100, 1/4000 sec, f/1.8

b) Choose your aperture

This will depend on what you want to do… If you want to have a blurry background with a nice bokeh, you can have your lens wide open, which means that the number of the aperture needs to be as low as possible. This can be an advantage for you If you don’t really like the background. It will give you a nice creative render on the background.

#FreestlyeFootball Player @loganfreestyle shot on the #NikonZ50 + #NIKKOR105mm f/1.4 prime lens & FTZ adaptor @ ISO 100, 1/3200 s, f/1.4

However, if you want to have more details on both the subject and the background, you just need to increase the aperture, and you will see more sharpness and details.

#FreestyleRunner@johantonnoir shot on the #Nikon#Z50 + #NIKKOR16mm f/2.8 Fisheye & FTZ adaptor @ ISO 125, 1/1600 s, f/5.6

5. The AF

I have 3 different ways of using autofocus on my subjects when they are in action:

a) AF-S (Single)

When the subject is not moving back and forth but staying at the same distance between him and myself. I could be using the Auto Focus Single (AF-S) which requires me to have a half pressure on the subject to lock the AF, making sure I have the right framing, and keep this half pressure while I’m framing and trigger when the action happens.

Image of of #FreestlyeRunner@johantonnoir shot by @LittleShao with #NikonZ50 + #NIKKORZ70200mmf28VRS @ ISO 100, 1/2500 s, f/2.8

In this picture, the jump was vertical so I know that as soon as I set my AF where he’s standing, during his action the distance between me and him won’t change so he will still be sharp in focus.

Same for this one below, where I asked him to put his hand where he will make the move in order to maintain the auto focus.

b) AF-C (continuous)

In this type of Auto Focus, by keeping the half pressure with your finger on the trigger you will always have a constant auto focus, as soon as the AF pinpoint in your viewfinder is on your subject.

For example in this photo I was following his whole path while he was running towards me.

Image of of #FreestlyeRunner@johantonnoir shot by @LittleShao with #NikonZ50 + #NIKKORZ70200mmf28VRS @ @ ISO 100, 1/2500 sec, f/2.8

c) AF-S or AF-C with an Automatic auto focus selection with Face/Eye detection

With this one it’s a really easy way to avoid to focus on any obstacle, and you will just rely on this feature of your camera. For this photo the ball was a real obstacle so I wanted to use this feature to make sure the focus was on his face/eye because he was juggling randomly and being very unpredictable. To make sure I was really in focus on the Face/Eye I tried to shoot this one with the prime lens 105mm f/1.4.

Just a small mistake with autofocus would be visible, and bring his face out of focus. I used the burst mode here to see the reaction of the camera and it was very successful.

Image of #FreestlyeFootball Player @loganfreestyle by @LittleShao using the #NikonZ50 + #NIKKOR105mmf14 prime lense & FTZ adaptaor @ ISO 100, 1/2000 sec, f/1.4

7. External Flash Light

I also like to create dramatic moods in my shots, and for this I’m using a flashlight (Profoto B10) with a trigger (profoto connect here) that you plug on the flash shoe of your camera. You will be then able to control the flashlight from a distance.

Here is the set up I used for creating this image where the details in the sky are more visible.

Shot with the NIKKOR Z 16-30mm f/3.5-5.6 + Profoto B10

To create this kind of image, you need a flash – the more powerful the flash the more dramatic the picture can be, by increasing the power of the flash and by increasing the value of your aperture.

One of the reasons I started using flashlights is because I love clouds and I love to see details in the sky, which is not always possible, especially because the subject is under exposed, compared to the sky…

I usually start finding my settings being focused on the sky and as you can see here, on the photo without the flash the subject is totally dark:

Once I found my set up that allows me to see the details in the sky, I add my light and adjust the power of the light till I have what I want as a render.

The Profoto B10 flash was moved over to the side in order to avoid a light coming from the front. This will help to bring shadows and more dramatic visuals.

Ready to push your photography skill further? Use Little Shao’s tips and try to capture urban sports or dynamic action you spot in your neighbourhood and share your images with us by using the hashtags #CreateYourLight and #UrbanSportsPhotography, and tagging any of our channels:

Nikon Europe: Twitter, Instagram

Nikon UK: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Nikon France: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Nikon Germany: Facebook, Instagram

… or any other Nikon social media channel of your preference.


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