Why you don't need a long lens for great sports photography.


We all want to get awesome pictures of our kids playing sports.  We find a seat in crowded bleachers, bust out the camera, hold it up to the action…and mutter something along the lines of:

This dang thing doesn’t zoom enough!

Oh well.  Snap…snap-snap…snap.

We look at the back of the camera (this is called “chimping” in pro photog circles, so use it next time to sound cool), and…

What the heck!?  They’re all blurry!

  1. Not enough zoom.
  2. Blurry pics.

These two have made many a parent give up right then and there.  But the brave ones…they pull out their wallets…and buy the almighty “telephoto lens.”  You know, the big lenses that “zoom way far in.”  A telephoto is vital for great sports photography.

But it’s not our only option.

Truth is: some of the greatest sports action photographs were shot with a wide angle lens.

Let that sink in.

Shooting with a wide angle lens gives you options that you don’t get with a long lens. For starters, it gives you a more unique look for a sports photograph. Most sports pics are shot with a telephoto lens, which helps isolate the subject and blur out the background. That’s great and all…

But a well done, wide angle sports photograph adds something that shooting with the telephoto lens can’t..


When we shoot with a wide lens, we have the ability to bring in what is called a “sense of place.”  The playing surface, the sidelines, the crowd, the entire environment.

These elements add layers to the photograph, which is vital to take your photography to a different level. When we’re in the beginning stages, we’re simply looking for a good action shot that isn’t blurry (for crying out loud!). But as we grow, we expect more.

Basketball and football are two sports where you can really take advantage of this. Basketball with a wide lens along the baseline helps you get dramatic images. Using the wide lens helps the person viewing your image feel closer to the subject. “I feel like I’m there” are comments you’ll start getting as you use the wide lens correctly. 

With football, it’s harder, but potentially more rewarding. With such a big field and fast moving players, using a 300, 400, or even 600 mm lens is vital to capture that peak moment.  So while 90% of published football images come from long lenses, my favorite football pictures are often shot with the wide lens.

Take this photograph of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown had just caught a touchdown pass and celebrated by ‘twerking’ in the end zone. I (Vincent) fired off a few frames with my 24-70mm (a wide-to-standard zoom range):

Photo Copyright Vincent Pugliese
Photo Copyright Vincent Pugliese


When your main subject is close enough, using a wide lens can produce a special image. It adds layers of depth, because not only do we get Brown doing his thing, but we get to see his teammate approaching for congratulations, his opponents behind him in defeat, and a sense of place from FedEx Field in Washington, D.C.

Here’s some more pics to inspire your wide angle eye!

(Note: All photos copyright Vincent Pugliese)

Depth. Layers. Space…

All possible because of the wide angle lens.

Take that telephoto.

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8 thoughts on “Why you don't need a long lens for great sports photography.”

  1. WOW – I will have to take my wide angle lens with me this coming up weekend as my grandson’s travel baseball team has a tournament in Reno. Will really like to see the different perspective through the wide angle lens. I always shoot with a telephoto lens. Thank you Kyle – this post was just in time 🙂

  2. I am sure like many thought the telephoto lens is the way to go, especially for shooting football pictures. When using a wide lens does one have to be situated in one place or can one still walk around and get great actions shots? If only could take one lens would the recommendation be to take the wide lens as oppose to the telephoto lens? Especially if didn’t have either and had to rent one. Thanks again Kyle for all that you do, greatly appreciate it!!

  3. What lense would you recommend for a Nikon D60 that’s affordable? I also have the same concern/question as Miriam Santiago above about moving around. My son plays Ice Hockey and I need to be all over the place. I was going to purchase a new telephoto lense for Mothers Day specifically for sports photos. Now I’m not so sure. Lol

    Thank you for all this info you provide. I can’t thank you enough.

    1. “Affordable” is a bit of a moving target, but the Sigma 150-600 Sport series lens will give you a ton of reach and versatility, especially without following the fast and erratic nature of hockey! Or if you can move north in price, the Sigma 120-300mm 2.8, though expensive, is a bargain compared to the Canon/Nikon 300mm 2.8’s (which cost twice as much).

  4. That is really interesting that wide lenses can produce a special image and add layers of depth. That sounds like something that I would like to have for a sports photograph. It would be good for us to have someone who can do some photography for a team.

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