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DCW Photo Q&A - Sports Photography with Peter Podlaha

This year's setting for the 2018 Commonwealth Games is our own beautiful Gold Coast so there’s a fair bit of excitement in the air. After all, sporting events never fail to draw a crowd. Among that crowd, you’ll always find photographers.

Athletes are fast-moving, unpredictable creatures full of emotion and ability. They’re great subject matter. But capturing them in a single sharp photo isn’t exactly a piece of cake. Luckily, we were able to chat with a seasoned pro: Peter Podlaha of Injected Ideas Photography.

Peter is a top-notch photographer and a top-notch athlete, so really, who better to ask? He’s given us a tonne of insight and valuable tips for budding sports photographers, including what gear to use and how to get started.

Check out the full Q&A below!

Check out that flex! Rapid fire action captured at just the right moment

Hi, I’m Peter Podlaha, a Sydney based photographer specialising in product photography and E-commerce with a fierce passion for high-intensity sports.

I’ve been clicking away on a full-time basis for 8 years; however, beyond that, the camera was never far from my hands. I work for a manufacturer of model trains and get to photograph models and collectables on a daily basis.

Aside from product photography, I love photographing sports, in particular, one that’s often forgotten about here in Australia; Ice Hockey.
It’s the raw emotion, struggle through physical pain and exhaustion mixed with a relentless, competitive drive to win that draws me in.

Following a fast-moving object like an ice hockey puck—sometimes travelling up to 160km/h— mixed with [the players’] blood, sweat, and tears gets my own adrenaline going. It allows me to give back to a sport and community that’s given so much to me my whole life.

Outside the studio and rink, you’ll often find me capturing the city and country around us. Landscapes and nature are where my creative juices start to flow. They allow me to express myself in a way that isn’t limited by a creative brief or four walls.

This is where the modern era of digital is put aside and a generation of tradition comes to life. For me, there is no greater way to do this than to emulsify it on film.

I can push, pull, and cross process in a way that’s been done for years. This freedom in camera and in the darkroom is where my limitations end and my creativity begins.

This is what drives me, this is what intrigues me, and this is what sets my heart on fire.

Sharp focus and a dramatic, blurred background shows off the need for speed

1.      Q. How did you get interested or started in sports photography?
          A. I got started in sports photography in 2011 with the help of one of my best mates. We’re both hockey players and we’d hang out before games photographing around Sydney, then go to hockey and I’d shoot the games. I would post the photos on social media for the players and quickly became well known in the community. In 2013, I became an official photographer for the Sydney Bears ice hockey team and was also approached by the AIHL (Australian Ice Hockey League) and have been an official photographer of the league to this day.

2.      Q. Favourite sport to shoot and why?
          A. My favourite sport to shoot is Ice Hockey. It’s my passion and having played since I was 8 years old helps a lot as you need to be able to anticipate the play due to the speed of the game. It also means I get to see the games for free! Perks of the job.

3.      Q. Is there a sport you hate shooting? Why?
          A. I wouldn’t say I hate shooting any sports. I’d photograph any sport and love the challenges each one presents.

4.      Q. Is there a sporting event you’d LOVE to shoot?
          A. A sporting event that I’d love to shoot is a game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final. Or the Olympics; that’d be awesome too. I’d shoot any event there, even table tennis or curling.

5.      Q. What’s your favourite lens to use? Do you ever use wide angles for sport?
          A. My favourite lens for sports has to be my Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L USM. It practically lives on my camera. I’ll sometimes use a wide angle for a bit of a different perspective, though I use telephoto lenses most of the time.

Hockey isn’t always blood and bone-shattering hits. Sometimes, there’s smiles and celebrations all round!

6.      Q. How do you feel about weather sealed lenses? 
          A. Weather sealed lenses are great! Especially with a weather sealed body. I don’t like getting my gear wet, but it’s nice to know I can keep shooting without needing to worry about the odd bit of rain.

7.      Q. If money were no object, what would be in your sports photography kit?
          A. I shoot on Canon cameras, currently an EOS 7D MkII with a 7D backup. If money were no object, I’d have two EOS 1Dx MkII bodies, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and maybe some nice wide angle and standard prime lenses. A 300mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/2.8 would be welcome additions too. 

8.      Q. How competitive is the sports photography industry? How do you go about gaining an advantage?
          A. This industry can be pretty competitive. At some games, there may be 2 or 3 photographers. To get an advantage, I try to stay ahead by having a plan of which shots to get, which players to look out for, and getting other interesting images of the crowd. I often find myself rushing home to get my images sent off to the league before other photographers. I also like to look through other photographers galleries to see what they’ve done differently and build on that for my next shoot.

9.      Q. In your opinion, what’s the best entry level lens for sports?
          A. I used the Canon 55-250mm f/4-5.6 kit lens for about 2 years before I decided I was getting more serious and had to upgrade. If you’re shooting outdoors, it can be a great entry level lens, though for indoor sports you’ll need to raise your ISO to compensate. If you’re on a budget, the best bang for buck would have to be a sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens.

10.  Q. What kind of advice can you give beginners looking to start?
          A. If you’re looking to start sports photography, just look at the people around you. Everyone has a family member or friend who plays sport. Next time they have a game, tag along. Local club sports are a great starting point. Just make sure to get permission from coaches and parents first. Study the sport you want to shoot and look at what other photographers are doing. If you see another photographer at the event, don’t be afraid to ask them for pointers. When starting out be prepared to volunteer your time too. 

11.  Q. BONUS QUESTION – Single shot or spray and pray?
          A. When shooting sports, my camera is always in high-speed continuous shooting mode. There are techniques like tracking (a subject) or panning with the camera and shooting a sequence of shots. It's more of a matter of knowing how and when to use them effectively. With fast-paced sports like hockey, I’ll shoot bursts of about 3 frames. If I want to get a shot of a hockey player’s stick bending as they shoot, I’ll let off a longer burst. When I need to shoot a single frame, it’s easy to do even with continuous mode on. 

Concentrating is hard work. Don't forget to check behind you there, mate!

All images in this blog post were provided by Peter Podlaha. See more of his work on his website
Also, if you’re in Sydney, try and catch him in action at AIHL games around the city!


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