I’m not gonna lie, football has some of the toughest photographic challenges of any sport you’ll ever shoot. Just to name a few: there are 22 players on the field, all of them are moving at the same time, the field itself is gigantic (which means the action often happens very far away), games are played in all sorts of inclement weather and depending on the age level, the games sometimes happen at night. Any one of these conditions alone would be tricky for any photographer. Combine them into a single event and you have a photographic nightmare. Sounds impossible, right? Nope. It just means you have to know a few tips and tricks to navigate your way around. Oh look, we have five of ‘em just for you. Must be your lucky day.
READY FOR YOUR CLOSEUP?
I know this sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve seen trying to take pictures from the bleachers. If you want to have any hope whatsoever of getting some decent shots, it’s absolutely critical to get as close to the field as you can.
Even standing on the sideline, you’ll still be fairly far away from the action. This is where your equipment comes into play. If football is a sport you’ll be photographing on a regular basis, a long telephoto lens is a must. There are a ton of options for DSLRs but if that’s outside your budget, there are a number of compact cameras with built-in super telephoto lenses including the Nikon Coolpix 1000 with an equivalent 3000mm zoom and the more budget-friendly Canon SX530 with 1200mm zoom.
DOWN AND DIRTY
If you want to add some drama to your football photos, few things will do it better than a low-angle shot. Shooting from a low angle creates a perspective that makes the subject seem taller and more imposing. It also emphasizes a player’s face, which is often what people will focus on regardless. All that said, getting low is no fun. At the very least, you’ll spend a lot of time on your knees. Some photographers even bring a tarp so they can literally lay down on the sidelines to get as low as possible. That’s pretty extreme but it does show how important a low-angle vantage point means to the pros and what it can do for your photos too.
PAN YOU DIG IT?
Players move pretty fast in every sport but with football, they move really fast. If they’re coming towards you, it’s not a problem but if they’re running past you, you’ll have to pan your camera to follow the action while keeping the main subjects in the frame. Sounds pretty simple, right? Actually there’s more to it than you might think. Check out the video below from the folks at SLR Lounge who go through the five main components of panning.
PUT ME IN COACH
When taking pictures at any sporting event, most people focus on the action happening on the field or court. That’s all well and good but I’d advise you to keep an eye on the sidelines as well. You might be surprised by how much drama is happening there too. Sometimes, you can capture some very compelling shots that will go a long way towards telling the story of the game. In fact, we have an entire blog post about photographing coaches you may want to check out.
Football is one of those sports where the size of the field itself is one of the biggest photographic challenges. It’s 100 yards in length between goal lines and 160 feet in width. With 22 players all moving at the same time on every play at a high rate of speed, how do you know where to position yourself to get the best shots? In general, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re capturing players coming towards the camera or at the very least, from the side. It’s also helpful to isolate a limited number of players from the pack to avoid visual clutter and create a more compelling shot. The video below, by experienced professional photographer Zamani Feelings (If you're serious about getting better as a sports photographer, I highly recommend his in-depth blog), offers some fantastic tips and tricks. He mentions the high-end professional equipment he uses but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s entirely possible to get great football shots without spending a fortune. Many of his tips will still be effective regardless of what kind of gear you’re using.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Hate to keep repeating myself but photographing football games is extremely difficult. Don't get down on yourself if the results aren't great right away. Just make sure you learn from your mistakes and never be afraid to ask for advice.