Beginner’s Guide to Football Photography

 

We’ve all seen the press sitting behind the goal at Premier league, Champions league and international  games with their big white lenses and top of the range cameras but do you really need that level of equipment to take good quality images of your team down at the local playing fields?

Unless you’re competing with other photographers to get on the back page of the daily tabloids then the answer is NO! This article will provide you with a few basic tips that will help you capture some images you’re proud of – that do your team justice and help promote your team.

Whether it’s to use on facebook, team websites, and whether you’re looking to capture action, team or individual shots, then enjoy!

 

 

 

The Basics!

1.  Get Down Low!

The single biggest difference you can make to your football images is to get down low.  Don’t stand, sit on a small stool, or even on the grass.  This gives much more impact to your images by helping the players fill the frame and putting the viewer of the images at the same level as the players – putting them in the thick of the action.  This is something that anyone taking football photographs can do, whatever camera they are using.  This will make your images stand out from the normal images you’ll see.

 

2.  Use a fast shutter speed 

Which camera you’re using will determine how much control you have over your camera’s shutter speed.  If your camera’s shutter speed is too low, you’ll have blurred images.  To correctly expose your images, your camera takes into account a number of factors, the main one is how much light there is – light is your friend. The more light there is, the less time the shutter needs to be open in order to capture enough light to correctly expose your image.  If the shutter has to be open a long time to capture enough light, the greater motion blur you’ll get in your image.

Most cameras now have a sport mode – try starting with this.  This will tell the camera to adjust all its settings in order to get the fastest shutter speed possible.  The camera will increase the sensor’s sensitivity to light (known as ISO) and open up the camera’s aperture in order to let as much light in as possible.  There are trade off’s with these – a high ISO image will appear more grainy (known as Noise) and a wide open aperture will restrict the area of the image that is in focus (known as Depth of Field).  With SLR cameras you have more control on how the camera adjusts its settings to get the fastest shutter speed, allowing you to balance the Shutter Speed,  Noise and Depth of Field  to achieve the effect you want.

 

3.  Pick your location wisely

Before you even take your first photo, you’ll need to decide where to locate yourself.  The biggest mistake you can make here is to move around, trying to chase the game.  Pick a spot and stick with it, otherwise you’ll spend more time moving around than taking photos – it’ll also be more tiring that you would have thought!

The first consideration is the sun – you should be looking to shoot with the sun behind you or, at least, not facing directly into it.  Also, try to get clean backgrounds – images will look much better with hedges and trees in the background rather than different coloured cars in the car park!

There are three locations you should consider; 1) the half way line, 2) on the touch line level with the 18 yard box (avoid the side with the referee’s assistant running in front of you!), and 3) on the goal line – about 10 yards in from the corner flag.  I find a get a higher number of good shots at position 1) or 2) but the best shots from position 3).

 

4.  Anticipate the action

If you see the action you want to capture through your camera, you’ve probably missed the opportunity to capture it!

Even on ‘top of the range’ cameras there’s a gap between the time when you press the shutter button and when the image is captured (shutter lag) but the further down you go in the range, the longer this gap will be.

When you’re capturing an image of someone running towards you with the ball this isn’t so much of an issue but when you want to get that image of the ball compression as someone heads or kicks the ball then you’re going to need to get to know your camera’s shutter lag and anticipate the action early enough.

One way I do this is to look at the body language of the players through the viewfinder to judge when they are about to head or kick the ball.  It’s going to take a lot of practice and a little bit of luck but persevere to get that shot.

Some cameras also have a burst mode, this can help a little, capturing several shots as you press the shutter release or keep your finger on it – some of the top range cameras will capture over 10 images per second like this but you’d be surprised at how you can still miss that vital moment!

 

5.  Fill the frame

There’s a reason why the professional photographers turn up to games with long lenses costing thousands of pounds – you need these to fill the frame when capturing action all around the pitch.  If you don’t fill the frame, as in the image below, it has no impact or interest.

We can’t all afford or justify expensive long lenses so think about the images you are taking.  If you’re using a camera with no, or very little, zoom then hold fire until the action is close in front of you and avoid the temptation to take photos when the action is the other side or end of the field.  Be patient, the action will come to you.

The other option you have is to Crop the photos when you get them back to your computer.  If you’re using a camera with a high pixel count and if you’re not intending to print large images then then you can crop without loosing too much.  Most photo editing software packages have the function to crop photos.

Cropping – the method of removing part of the image, so that you are left with just that part of the image you want. You could remove a section to the left, right, top or bottom of the image or a combination of these.  Often you will crop an image so that you are just left with the centre of the image.

 

6.  Faces

One big difference between looking at someone’s photos who’s not used to taking football images and someone who’s taking good, striking images is is how many of their shots have the players’ faces clearly visible.

Quite often you’ll see inexperienced photographers with images of players‘ backs.  Who wants to see the back of a player’s head?  These type of images would certainly not make it into any publication or be sold to a player, so why take them.  It’s probably keen-ness on behalf of the photographer to get a shot but, like when the play is too far away from you, hold fire.  Also, go through your images when you get back home and delete those where the key player’s face isn’t shown unless the image depicts a very good story.

I try to get the ball in shot for all of my images unless the photo actually tells a story in itself – one of the key areas for this is the Celebration shot, covered in more detail in the section below.  Being able to capture is firstly partly luck because you need to be in the right place, but a great opportunity to capture some really good facial expressions.  Another example of a similar opportunity is where a player is shouting at the defenders or the Manager is screaming instructions to his team. Whatever the situation – capture the faces and the facial expressions to show the emotion.

 

7. Celebrations

For me this is the area that I have found most popular, especially from having images published in the Press and from sales to players.  It’s a great opportunity as it captures the real emotion of the moment and is often an aspect of the game missed by supporters that are celebrating themselves.

As mentioned in the previous section, there is some luck to capturing the moment, as you need the celebrations to happen in front of you.  You can increase your chances of capturing that moment by understanding how the team normally celebrates – often then will run towards their own supporters, to the dug-out/manger, or they may even have a favorite corner flag they head to.

If the player celebrations don’t head your way, though, all is not lost – look for other opportunities, the shots don’t always have to be of the players.  You can turn to spectators to capture the moment – even if there’s a lone supporter with his arm in the air, this can make for a striking shot.  Another area to look for if the players are out of shot, is the bench, the Manager, the substitutes – these kind of shots don’t just have to be of the scoring team remember – you can still capture the emotion of the supporters, players and coaching staff of the team that has just conceded the goal, or lost the game.

When I first started in sports photography, the difficulty was not getting caught up in the celebrations yourself and remembering to take the photos!

 

8. Straight Horizons/Verticals

Sometimes images just don’t look very appealing and this can often be down to the fact that the image isn’t straight.  Generally this can be seen with the horizon – in the image above, this is shown by the grass line in the distance that meets the wooden advertising boards.  If this was not straight it would take a lot from the image itself.

Often, football pitches are not straight, however, and so it is good practice to think about Verticals, rather than Horizontals.  This is ok when there is a reference point to take the vertical from, like the post holding up the roof in this image.  This could be a fence post, side of a stand or other building for example.

When I first started out in sport photography I really struggled to keep the images straight as I followed the action around with the camera – but there’s no excuse to showing images that aren’t straight as most image editing software has the option to straighten images. You just need to ensure you’ve got enough space around the subjects to avoid any part of them being clipped away.

I never used to use  a Monopod as I felt it restricted my movement but moving to larger lenses I’ve become used to it and one big benefit I find is that it helps to keep the images straight.

 

9. Special Moments

During a game there are often a number of defining moments that you should be looking to capture.  This can be anything from a Red Card through to an Injury.

Also, don’t always solely focus on what’s happening on the pitch.  You can often capture some good images of the Manager, coaching staff, or supporters.  If you find that you’re too far away to capture a goal or the celebration It’s often a good tip to get a supporter’s reaction or the coaching staff if they are nearer to you.

 

10. Enjoy!

 

Above everything – enjoy the challenge of capturing your team’s special moments.

As with most technically challenging tasks, practice, practice, practice and you will see your the quality of your images improve together with the admiration you receive from your players!

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Tips

  1. Get Down Low

  2. Fast Shutter Speed

  3. Location

  4. Anticipate Action

  5. Fill the Frame

  6. Faces

  7. Celebrations

  8. Horizontals/Verticals

  9. Special Moments

  10. Enjoy Yourself!

 

Dave Horn

Dave runs a photography business called Extreme Aperture Photography (www.extremeaperture.com) that covers everything from sports and event photography, including weddings and black tie events through to anything news related.  He covers football from grass roots youth football through to Conference league.  You can email David at dhorn@me.com or connect on Twitter (@extremeaperture) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/extremeaperture).

 

 

 

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