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Sports photography masterclass: How to take the perfect picture

By Kristin Cuff, CNN
updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
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Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
Capturing World Cup magic moments
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • When taking a sports photo, look for an original point of view
  • An iconic image will capture important moments that matter historically
  • A good photographer will know their sport and anticipate what's going to happen
  • Allowing subject to fill frame will provide more impact and drama

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(CNN) -- As director of photography for CNN digital, Simon Barnett's eyes will take in some 10,000 World Cup images -- a day -- during the Brazil 2014 tournament.

Briskly looking at about three frames a second, he does not give each picture much time to impress.

So what makes the cut?

"Today's technology is truly staggering," says Barnett. "They're all going to be perfectly exposed, they're all going to be sharp. What we're looking for is an original point of view.

"There are a lot of amazing soccer pictures being taken every day.

"If you can take an amazing soccer picture of an important moment that matters, and the light is perfect and it's sharp and the instant matters historically, then that's what takes you over the finish line."

Barnett has a few pointers for amateur photographers seeking a good action image:

• If it's a Saturday morning and you're watching your child playing soccer, look around.

• Check out the field. If there's a parking lot visible on one side and beautiful trees on another, position yourself to take pictures into the greenery. Those parked cars won't move, and a natural background will make for a better photograph.

• Know the game you're shooting. When you understand the sport, you can anticipate what's going to happen.

"A lot of sports photography is about knowing where the ball is going to be next, as opposed to following it around. Because then you're going to be too late," says Barnett.

• Shoot tight. Allow the subject to fill the frame.

"Quite often amateur photos tend to have a little bit of action in the middle and all this business around it," he says.

"Successful photos are ones that eliminate all the stuff you don't want in them and can just focus on the subject matter. So let the action come to you."

• Generally speaking with sports photography, use the longest lens you can and set the aperture wide open. That will blur your background and isolate the action in the foreground.

"You want to focus on that athletic peak moment in front of you," says Barnett.

And when you're following the action, at what point do you pull the trigger, ideally? Just before the ball is struck? As the ball is struck?

"It's about anticipation," adds Barnett. "It's about the ball coming in and the two guys are coming together and just feeling it at that same moment. If you've seen it, you've probably missed it."

Barnett says sometimes the challenge is to simplify things when technology can get complicated.

"If you are starting out as a sports photographer, you probably just want to keep that sensor in the center. Because then you know what's going to be in focus."

To what extent can you be lucky with where you have placed yourself around the goal? Do you just have to accept that there's a very good chance when you pitch your tent that the action might happen on the other side?

"You've got to shoot and move on and leave it in the past," advises Barnett.

"If you're thinking too much about what you've missed, you miss the present. I think that's a skill of great photographers -- the ability just to let it go.

"Because something else might be happening at that moment in front of your camera."

Fancy yourself as a photographer? Send us your best football pics

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