See sports photography differently through a wide-angle lens

L-series telephotos are the undisputed champions of professional sports photography, but a compact wide-angle lens will bring a new perspective to your portfolio. Action specialist Jakub Frey explains how he uses an ultra-wide view to add drama to his sports photos.
A person in an orange kayak paddling through fast-moving water.

The Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM is a creative wide-angle lens for sports photography, able to transport the viewer to the centre of the action when used close to the subject. Built for professional use, it met the demands for this compelling shot by action sports photographer Jakub Frey. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/1250 sec, f/3.2 and ISO100. © Jakub Frey

Wide-angle lenses have long had a place in the kit bags of professional sports photographers. Whether capturing epic shots of a winning athlete acknowledging a stadium crowd or clustered behind the goal at a football match, wide-angle zooms and primes are used daily to deliver dramatic images to picture desks.

But what else is a wide-angle lens good for in sports photography? What creative opportunities do wide-angle lenses unlock for sports pros? And how do you make the most of the sweeping view of ultra-wide lenses such as the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM or Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM?

Action sports photographer and Canon Ambassador Jakub Frey shares his tips on working with these wide lenses, with technical insight from Canon Europe Senior Product Specialist Mike Burnhill.

A person on a motorbike rides down a curved concrete road.

A fast-aperture wide-angle lens makes it easier to freeze motion, although Jakub pushed the ISO here for a smaller aperture and greater depth of field. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 30mm, 1/640 sec, f/4 and ISO800. © Jakub Frey

What is a wide-angle lens good for in sports photography?

If you can get close enough to the action, or at least have the ability to position the camera remotely, a wide-angle lens gives you a unique perspective that suits a broad range of sports – from five-a-side football to Formula 1.

"I specialise in winter sports such as snowboarding and Alpine skiing," Jakub says, "but I also spend the summer shooting mountain biking and motorsports, and I use wide-angle lenses for all of them. I like to be in the middle of the action while taking pictures and only a wide-angle lens allows me to do that."

The Canon RF lens range offers a selection of fast-focusing, fast-aperture professional wide lenses that make it easier to freeze the decisive moment in demanding situations. The Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM, for example, is a lightweight, weather-resistant option that's just as much at home capturing the cavernous interior of a basketball arena as it is shooting dynamic close-ups of skateboarders in the sun.

Then, of course, there's the workhorse Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM and its EF counterpart, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, which covers everything from wide establishing shots to player portraits to opening and closing ceremonies.

New RF wide-angle lenses that will appeal to sports photographers include the Canon RF 24mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM and the RF 15-30mm F4.5-6.3 IS STM. "With the RF 24mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM, you've got a compact lens that does so many things," says Mike. "It might not have weather sealing, but it's optically fantastic and comes with super-fast light transmission that is perfect for indoor sports."

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A close-up of cyclist attending to a bike wheel on a sunny day.

Jakub found the light weight and small size of the RF 16mm F2.8 STM a huge benefit when documenting a desert mountain bike race in Morocco. "You can simply carry it in your pocket," he says, "and the EF and RF wide-angle zoom lenses cannot compete with it in this regard. I also appreciated its high brightness while shooting reportage photos, and that is why I consider this lens to be a great helper on more challenging trips." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Jakub Frey

Jakub recently put the Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM to the test while documenting a gruelling mountain bike race in Morocco. "I was going to be taking pictures of the very fast week-long event, where mountain bike riders cover around 100km every day," he says. "I would then have nine challenging days of shoots after the race, with two of those spent climbing the highest mountain in North Africa, Mount Toubkal.

"I needed small and lightweight equipment, and the RF 16mm F2.8 STM combined with my EOS R5 was a perfect choice. It made it easier to blend in with the crowd while taking pictures of people in Morocco's narrow streets, not to mention the weight advantage it offered when spending two days climbing Toubkal."

A person riding a mountain bike in the foreground with desert stretching out behind them.

Jakub often shoots wide-angle close-ups of mountain bikers on mountain paths. "I almost always end up covered in dust, mud, sand or snow," he says. "But the most important thing is that I do not touch the athlete. They are often cycling close to the edge and definitely do not need someone or something turning their handlebars." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/5 and ISO125. © Jakub Frey

Tip 1: Move closer

Getting close to the subject with a wide-angle lens can place the viewer at the heart of the action. "I want the audience to be at the centre of things, among the swirling dust and snow and rolling stones," says Jakub. "I also want viewers to be able to see the athlete's facial expression and the drops of sweat and scratches that they've gained during the race.

"If I am so close to an athlete that we could potentially bump into each other, I take pictures without looking through the viewfinder and just keep an eye on the actual distance. Yes, it's a bit of a blind shoot, but with a little practice, luck and well-chosen autofocus, most photos turn out pretty well."

A sprawling desert landscape with cyclists captured in the far distance.

Even though the RF 16mm F2.8 STM isn't weather-sealed, Jakub didn't have any problems while shooting in the desert, even on particularly windy days in the sand dunes. "The lens not only survived, but also managed to take more than 1,000 pictures every day at temperatures around 45°C," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/7.1 and ISO200. © Jakub Frey

Tip 2: Carry cleaning equipment

When you're in the middle of the action with a wide-angle lens, you need to be prepared for it to become thick with dirt, dust and sweat, so it's essential to carry cloths and brushes to clean your kit.

Jakub says, "I do not worry about splashes and mud on the equipment. I get as close as possible to capture the best moment."

Canon's L-series lenses are built to deliver when the going gets tough. "Take, for example, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM," says Mike. "It features four o-rings and a fluorine coating on the front element, so it's easy to clean and will keep going in all kinds of situations."

A skier dressed in turquoise on the edge of a steep slope, with snow-covered mountains in the background.

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Six cyclists ride in the centre of the shot surrounded by desert landscape.

The compact combination of the Canon EOS R5 and RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens enabled Jakub to get high-speed shots of the mountain bike competitors, as well as the epic landscape they were racing across, by leaning out of the window of the off-road car he was travelling in. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Jakub Frey

Tip 3: Capture a sense of place

Getting close to the action is one thing, but taking a more scenic approach with a wide-angle lens can bring a breath of fresh air to your sports photographs. The ability to show a tiny athlete lost in the middle of vast landscape is something that appeals to Jakub.

"I really like pictures where you can see how powerful and endless nature is compared to the human figure," he explains. "You cannot see the facial expression or emotion of the athlete in those types of photos, but the pictures stir your emotions while you're looking at them because you can easily imagine yourself in such a situation."

A view from below as a cyclist jumps on a bike with treetops soaring above.

Jakub recommends taking advantage of the full-screen autofocus capabilities of a mirrorless camera such as the EOS R5. "I find this technology to be one of the most important, especially in combination with wide-angle lenses," he says. "It can be difficult to find the right composition when shooting fast sports with a wide lens, but when the camera starts tracking the subject from the moment it enters the viewfinder, there is a high probability that the picture will be perfect. Thanks to full-screen autofocus, you have the time and space to focus on the composition." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/250 sec, f/6.3 and ISO100. © Jakub Frey

Tip 4: Change your viewpoint

Shooting from a low or high position with a wide-angle lens can have a dramatic effect on the image, particularly if the camera is close to the subject, which will appear much larger in comparison to the background. Shooting from low down can exaggerate the height of an athlete, for example, or the elevation of a jump.

"A vari-angle screen is a godsend in these circumstances, because you can try to get the right angles without having to lie down," says Mike. "You can work out where you're going to see dramatic things and are able to hold the camera comfortably."

Two cyclists are framed in motion by the branches of a tree

When you're unable to get too close to the subject, look for foreground details through which you can frame the scene. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/4 and ISO125. © Jakub Frey

Tip 5: Find a frame

Wide-angle lenses capture so much of the scene that it's easy for distractions to creep into the frame and for the subject to appear lost in a picture. But taking advantage of a natural frame when composing a sports shot can help to draw a viewer's attention to the right place.

"A popular technique is to take a photo with a camera basically fixed to the ground, so that the area closest to the lens is out of focus," says Jakub. "You can, of course, get the same result by fixing the camera to the ceiling, wall or any other object. I make use of various objects out of focus in the foreground, such as branches, flowers or objects that form a gap to view the scene through, which helps people to feel the space."

A cyclist jumps high into the sunlight, surrounded by woodland.

"Don't be afraid of shooting into the sun with a wide-angle lens," suggests Jakub. "You can also 'create' a sun using a remote Speedlite, but beware – it's an addictive technique!" Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 1/250 sec, f/5 and ISO160. © Jakub Frey

Tip 6: Look for the small details

It's the small details in images taken with wide-angle lenses that can have a big impact. "When I'm shooting in winter, I like the luminous effects that you can get by having falling snowflakes right next to the lens," says Jakub. "I also look for reflections when I'm shooting near water, and even a small splash can be perfect to create an unexpected new point of view.

"I also like to play with motion blur, a technique that I often use while taking motorsport pictures of any kind. It helps to accentuate the great speed of the subject and draws attention to the sharp point in the picture. You can also have a lot of fun with multiple exposures, where you combine shots taken on telephoto lenses and wide-angle lenses."

As Jakub's work shows, in the telephoto-saturated world of sports photography, carrying a wide-angle lens in your kitbag opens up a range of different shooting opportunities that help you create wide-view images filled with dynamism, drama and impact.

Marcus Hawkins

Jakub Frey's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

A black and white image of Jakub Frey sitting on the edge of a cliff face, looking back towards the camera.


Canon EOS R5

Whatever you shoot, however you shoot it, the EOS R5 will let you be creative in ways you simply couldn’t before. "This camera was able to change my established approach to photography,” says Jakub. “It fits me perfectly and gives me exactly what I need from a camera: speed, accuracy, reliability, simplicity. And thanks to the EOS R5, I started to enjoy making videos again."

Canon EOS R6

The radical EOS R6 features technology that will have you falling in love with photography all over again. See and shoot subjects in completely new ways and add a new dimension to your visual storytelling.


Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM

Put yourself in the picture with this fast, affordable, ultra-wide RF lens. At 16mm, this full-frame prime is great for vlogging, landscapes, architecture, astrophotography and more.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

This new version of the classic wide zoom offers stunning sharpness throughout the focal range. Jakub says: "I have had this wide-angle lens so long that I have an emotional connection to it. I bought it while I was in Alaska, and I became a Canon Ambassador thanks to the pictures I took with it. I use it when I really want to be in the middle of the action. I have fallen off a bicycle with it several times, the same on skis and a motorbike. Countless times it has been full of mud, water, snow and dust, but it still works."

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This L-series lens is a professional-quality standard zoom that offers superb optics and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. "This is the latest EF lens to be added to my equipment, but I have no idea how I could have lived for so long without it. I use this lens very often," says Jakub. "I like that it is still quite wide, but at the same time only gives a minimum distortion of reality. It is the perfect universal lens."

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its incredible f/1.2 maximum aperture, the super-fast EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is a consummate low-light performer. "I bought this lens for fun, but it's addictive," says Jakub. "I often must persuade myself to take it off the camera and take pictures with other lenses too. Sometimes, when I want to travel light, such as going for a motorcycle trip with friends, I only take a camera and this lens. I enjoy taking pictures in more challenging light conditions, so the f/1.2 aperture is very useful."


Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT

"The Speedlite EL-1 in combination with this transmitter has greatly simplified and improved my work," says Jakub. "I have tried almost all possible combinations of external flashes and wireless transmitters during my career, and it almost always ended up having a very negative effect on the shoot. Shooting with external flashes is my new joy now."

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