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Swim Meet Photography



Obtain permission from the person in charge of the meet.

Clarify with this person where you can and can't go.

It's unlikely you'll be allowed on the deck.

If you're photographing young people, expect to be challenged as to why you're photographing.

Prepare a response before the meet.

Practice v. Meets

If you photograph a swim practice—or the warm up before the meet—you may be able to get closer.

Check with the person in charge at the venue.

Camera Warm Up

If the swim meet is indoors, your camera may have to warm up to adjust to the indoor temperature and high humidity.

Before entering the facility, place your camera gear in zip lock bags.

Unpack after the contents have acclimated.

Camera Settings – Beginners

Don't Use the Basic Auto Setting

The flash may pop up automatically.

You don't want to use flash for four reasons.


The pop-up flash isn't strong enough to reach a swimmer that's more than fifteen to twenty feet away.


The flash requires a shutter speed (often 1/200) that may not freeze motion.


Your flash may inadvertently start a race or stop a race.

Races are often started with a horn and a flash.

False starts are often communicated to the swimmers with a flashing light.


The flash may interfere with the race timing system.

Use a Sports Setting

Instead of using an auto setting, set you camera to one of the following:

• Sports icon (runner, swimmer) on the exposure mode dial

• A sports setting in scene modes (SCN)

Camera Settings – Advanced

A or Av

Do the following.

1) Set your exposure mode dial to A or Av.

2) Select the physically largest aperture, such as f/4.

Depth-of-field isn't a factor here, because you're so far from the swimmer.

3) Zoom the lens to a lane in the pool.

On most zooms (variable aperture), when you zoom from wide angle to telephoto, the aperture will shift.

If your zoom is set to f/4 at a wide-angle focal length, it will shift to f/5.6 as you zoom in all of the way.

4) Press the shutter release down slightly to turn on the light meter.

5) Check the shutter speed.

You want a fast shutter speed, 1/1,000 or faster.

You need a fast shutter speed to freeze the swimmer and to reduce camera shake.

If the shutter speed is below 1/1,000, increase the ISO.


How bright is the light?

If you're outdoors, use an ISO of:

• 100 in the sun

• 400 if it's overcast or in the shade.

If you're indoors, try 800 or higher.

White Balance

Set your camera's white balance to match the color of the light at the venue.

Try the Incandescent setting for sodium vapor lights, which are warm colored.

With mercury vapor lights, which are blue/green colored, try the Fluorescent setting.

Your camera may have a custom white balance procedure.


A telephoto zoom is required.

For a DSLR camera, indoors, an optimum zoom is a 70 to 200mm, f/2.8.

A lens hood reduces flare from the sun and indoor lights, as well as blocking water spray from the side.

You can quickly wipe water off of a clear filter on your lens with a towel.


See the discussion in the above beginner section.

Raw v. JPEG

You can shoot more frames per second if your camera's Quality is set to JPEG.

Raw files are large.

They fill up the buffer more quickly than JPEG files.

The buffer stores files temporarily as they're saved to the SD card.

If the buffer fills up, you can't take any more photographs.

Continuous/Burst Mode

You can set your camera to the continuous or burst mode.

Press and hold the shutter release down, to take many exposures quickly.

Servo Focus Mode

Set your camera to servo focus mode.

Your camera predicts the focus point of a subject moving across the frame.

Focus Point

Set the focus point to were the swimmer's face will be: center or upper middle.

Back Button Focus

Cameras may determine where to focus slowly, and may focus on a splash of water.

On some cameras, you can separate the focusing from the shutter release.

You focus with your thumb using a button on the back of your camera.

Then, trip the shutter with your forefinger, as you normally do.

Shutter Lag

Your camera doesn't open the shutter instantly when you press the shutter release.

There's a slight delay.

To get the photograph you want, press the shutter release a little early.

For example, press the shutter release as a swimmer's head is about to break the surface.


Your camera may allow you to save the above settings as a preset.

When you go to the next swim meet, simply select the preset.

Make changes for the light intensity and white balance, as needed.

Heat Sheet

Get a heat sheet before the meet so you can plan your photography, especially if photographing certain swimmers.

Camera Position for Strokes

Back stroke: From above

Butterfly and breast strokes: End of the lane, kneeling down

Freestyle: Side of the pool

If the freestyle swimmer only breathes to one side, be on that side of the pool.

Photograph the freestyle swimmer right after they have passed you, as they'll be looking backward when they breath.

Other Shots

• Photograph team interactions, coaches

• Photograph crowd reactions

• Photograph the heat board before each race.

• Race starts, from the side of the pool

• If the swimmer's names are on their caps, photograph their caps to identify them.

• Their reactions when they surface at the end of the race and look at the scoreboard.

• During longer races, swimmers may spread out more, allowing you to photograph a single swimmer in the frame.

• 50 meter races are not great for photography, as swimmer's faces may not be seen.

• Awards ceremony

• Posed photographs before and after the meet


Look at what other photographer's have done, such as these Getty stock photographs.