Football Photography Tips


Football Photography Tips

While football season is well underway, it’s never too late to brush up on your skills and get in the game!

Football is a great game to photograph as it is a 360 degree game.  Yes, the primary focus is on the players on the field, but the players on the sideline, the marching bands, and fans in the stands add a very colorful and unique dimension to every game.

Regardless if it’s a flag football game or the biggest championship of the year, the basics remain the same and here are a few tips to help:

1. Understand the game

This sounds pretty obvious and you are probably shooting a team and players you are already familiar with so you may know their tendencies in certain situations.  The key, especially for beginners is to anticipate the play to be in position to get the best shots.  There have been plenty of times that my lens was pointed in the wrong direction because I guessed wrong, but the most brilliant shots I have taken were because my lens was already there before the play.

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Moment of the reception with opposition in pursuit

2. Practice
Just like the team, practicing is an important part of improving your skills. If you can get to a teams practice session, it will give you an added advantage as you can make your biggest mistakes then and you know what to avoid when shooting the actual game. Try different shooting positions on the field and test your results. Trial and error will help you create your shooting style. Practice shooting from a standing and also a kneeling position. The kneeling position makes the players look larger in the frame due to the upward angle.

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Include things like blockers and officials to complete the picture

3. Awareness
Football or any sport is very dangerous. Be aware of what’s happening around you. Always remember that just because the play may be happening away from you there can be players in your area as well. Be prepared to get out of the way, not only for your safety but for the safety of the players too. Also, always understand the boundaries regarding where you can shoot. The best way to understand this is to reach out to the Athletic Director or Sports information Department for permission and facility specific rules. Understanding the rules will allow you to shoot more than once at a facility. Usually access is from the 20 yard line through the end zone and behind the dashed lines to avoid interaction with the playing surface. This seems constrictive but is actually where the best action happens.

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Catch the big hit on the sideline, acrobatics at its finest

4. Dress Appropriately

Pay close attention to the weather reports and dress in layers, as we all know the weather reports can be wrong from time to time so keeping extra clothing in the car can be a big benefit, including rain gear. Plan on it being a bit colder on the field as you are not shielded from the elements. Bring a pair of gloves even if you don’t think you need them as the cool fall evenings can get cold in a hurry. Again, maybe stating the obvious but wear clothing and shoes that allows you to move easily and quickly on the field. Remember, getting out of the way quickly can save you a trip to the hospital!
Last tip is wear dark colors. You don’t want to be a distraction to any of the participants on the field. Best to leave your bright colors at home and blend into the background.

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Weather can be a factor. Rain truly adds a different dimension to the image

5. Gear
Having the lightest assortment of gear on your person while shooting is important for mobility and safety. Most sideline photographers carry two bodies, some carry three. The advantage of a minimum of two is if one malfunctions you always have a backup, but also, you can have two lens configurations to alternate between them depending on your distance to the action.
I usually carry the following on the sideline:
2 Bodies (Sony A77 and Sony A99 both with battery grip attached)
Long Lens 300mm f2.8 with an optional 1.4x converter in my pocket (Konica Minolta/Sony)
Intermediate zoom 70-200mm f2.8 (Konica Minolta/Sony)
Monopod for support of the 300mm (Gitzo GM3551)
Rain covers just in case (Manfrotto Pro Light)
A pouch on my belt with a 24-70mm f2.8 (Sony/Zeiss) for wider shots and to get end of game celebrations and possibly team/group photos
To get my gear to and from the venue don’t forget a bag that provides maximum protection. (Manfrotto Pro Backpack 50)
Extra memory cards as you never know when a malfunction will happen. I like to swap cards at halftime just in case something goes wrong you only lose part of a game.
Extra batteries and lens cleaning cloths.

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Stay around for the celebration – Coaches 500th game celebration

6. Shooting Tips

a. Follow the ball as that is where the primary action is going to be.
b. With 22 players on the field try to concentrate on different positions during the game as each player is an integral part of the action. Capture the blockers and the offensive and defensive lines, as that can make for some great images of players who don’t touch the ball in most games.
c. Stay on players like the quarterback after he throws the ball to get some great emotional reactions as well as the receivers and running backs.
d. As stated above, the action is in 360 degrees so look to the stands for great crowd shots as well as the bands performances. This is a great opportunity to get examples of great school spirit!
e. Sideline, sideline, sideline. Capturing the reactions of the players and coaches on the sidelines can have strong emotion, as these interactions can really show great team spirit and intensity

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The team prepares to celebrate from the sideline

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Capture larger numbers of players in the action

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The emotional exchanges on the field show a different side of the game

7. Lighting – Day Game / Night Game
Lighting can be a major challenge both during the day and at night. I have found that no matter where you are shooting there will always be challenges with regard to light. Here is where getting to the location early and potentially visiting the location prior to the game day is important. Getting to the field for warmups to get some practice in the game conditions will help you be effective immediately from kickoff. This allows you to properly set up your cameras. Remember that for night games a higher ISO is OK with today’s cameras and most likely required to get the higher shutter speeds needed to stop the action. Shoot at 1/500th or faster to capture the action. 1/1000th would be ideal if light permits. Do not ever use a flash during the game! There is no better way to blind a receiver or defender. You might say that is obvious, but believe me I have seen it on many occasions especially at the High School level.

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The pursuit can be as interesting as the tackle

8. Post-Production
Post Production is up to the individual photographer and that person’s style. Use whatever post-production you need to get across the story you are trying to achieve. Captions are always helpful to set the scene but most strong images truly tell a story all by themselves. If you have the chance to add captions, that is great but if not, use images that do not need any explanation.

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The big catch in the end zone. Interesting to see the other players watching in the background

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Change your focus point. See the play from the receivers perspective

9. Tips for your own safety
a. Don’t Chimp or Gopher on the sidelines. Meaning, don’t constantly check your screen to see if you got the shot. While you are looking at the screen you may have missed a key play or the play may be coming your way and you will not be ready to get out of the way.
b. Keep alert and get out of the way. Getting the shot is not worth spending time in the hospital.
c. Put your camera down when there is an injury. As tempting as it is to capture the drama, please be respectful to the injured player.
d. If you child is on the field. Keep your emotions in check and keep your interaction to an absolute minimum. Professionalism will go a long way with coaches and officials.

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The quarterback at the bench at the same moment the kick is blocked.

10. Last Tip – Have fun! You have the best seat in the house

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Special thank you to the East Stroudsburg University Warriors for being such great subject matter! Go Warriors!

Paul Zakrzewski

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