Background is incredibly important for a great sports photograph, perhaps more so than with any other genre of photography.
This is because the actions in any sport are pretty repetitive. It’s a batter at the plate; it’s a tennis player hitting a serve. These are actions that happen over and over and over again. You’ve likely seen them a thousand times.
So, what you want to do is isolate that action and consider the choice of the background. You often have three things that you can do with the background.
The first choice is to shoot wide and embrace the background because it is either beautiful or informative. You might make this choice because the fans are booing the player or jumping in the air. The background might include the scoreboard, or the lights that make it look grandiose.
Another option is to go the polar opposite and shoot extremely tight because the background is distracting and you need to blur it out. This was the case with the old Shea Stadium, where they had orange seats that made for a horrible background.
The third option is somewhere in between. It’s kind of a no man’s land, and harder to pull off. But, just as you would include or exclude anything in your framing of any subject, you can make choices for depth of field in shooting sports. The single most common approach is to go as tight as you can without risking cutting out part of the player’s body or part of any crucial element, such as a bat. The tighter you go, the harder it is to focus, the harder it is to find all action, and the harder it is to capture.
It’s very unpredictable. If you go too tight and something incredible happens, such as a bat breaking, the broken bat is out of the frame. But if it’s just a regular everyday swing in very bad light, it pays off to go super, super tight, because literally, things start to look different.
ISO 640 f/4 1/320 73mm
ISO 400 f/2.8 1/400 45mm