SUMMARY: What makes football a high-paced, anything-can-happen event also makes it very difficult for digital photographers. To help you score a touchdown with your digital photos I've listed 9 digital photography tips.
(8/8/2006) - Updated 12/17/2008
- Andrew Malek
American Football - a game of high stakes and even higher emotions, whether it's the joy of watching an immaculate catch, the anguish of losing a game by a "wide-right" field-goal, or the worry of seeing your quarterback blindsided by an angry lineman with something to prove.
What makes football a high-paced, anything-can-happen event also makes it very difficult for digital photographers. You must deal with 22 players on the field (not to mention referees and coaches trying to get their points across), plus the mid-day sun outside or inconsistent lighting inside domes. Unless you have a press pass, you also must deal with nose-bleed seats in large stadiums and shouting and screaming fans ready to jump up at a moment's notice to block your shot. Whew!
To help you score a touchdown with your digital photos I've listed 9 digital photography tips.
1) Don't Get Your Hopes Up
This sounds like a lousy tip to start things off, but hear me out. If you're sitting in nose-bleed seats and don't own a digital camera with a large optical telephoto zoom (digital zoom doesn't matter), football players will likely appear as just large dots in your photos. And if you're sitting behind a tall person that loves to stand up and cheer after every play, good luck taking great photos from your seat without getting a shot of the person's head in the way.
In either of these two scenarios, look around the stadium for aisles or walkways where you can hang around without impeding others' views (and getting security nervous). You need a clear line of sight; an errant head or foam "we're number one" hand appears in too many photos.
2) Buy a Camera with Plenty of Adjustment Features
I'm not saying you must run out and purchase a $1,000+ digital SLR (though it may help!), but make sure the digital camera you buy has plenty of adjustment options. At a minimum you should be able to adjust the shutter speed, ISO settings (more on both later), and metering or exposure levels to adjust to difficult lighting scenarios.
One other point - look for digital cameras with image stabilization features or lenses. Though this won't offset any blurriness caused by football players moving at high speed, it may reduce blurriness caused by shaking when holding a camera.
3) Ensure Your Camera can be Taken to the Game
Don't get sacked before you even get a chance to sit down. Stadiums have different rules about what you can bring to the game. At high-school or intramural games you may be able to bring any camera you desire. For college and professional games you may be limited to cheap compacts, "non-professional" digital camera, or cameras with a maximum zoom level.
4) Bring the Right Accessories
Bringing a digital camera is just the tip of the iceberg, like the extra point on top of a touchdown. At a minimum you need:
* A lens hood - Focus light to your camera, essential on sunny days (even if it's cold).
* Extra memory - great shots won't end at halftime; don't let your memory fill up by then.
* Extra batteries - what if a game goes to overtime?
* Waterproof camera bag - In case soda or alcoholic beverages are spilled.
* Cleaning supplies such as dry napkins and a lens-cleaning kit - See above.
If you're attending a football game that lets you take photos on the sidelines, bring along a tripod AND if you own one, a spare digital camera. The digital camera mounted on the tripod can be focused near the center of the field to take photos without camera shake, and you can use your spare camera for quick photos if the action is outside the other camera's range of vision. Just be prepared to move quickly if the action gets too close!
5) Don't Forget Tailgate Parties
Tailgate parties are as much of a part of the football experience as the game itself. Bring extra memory and batteries to take photos of your friends and other fans around the stadium. Snap a photo of the person wearing a rainbow wig, the fans painted in their teams' colors, and of impressive grilling setups.
6) Take Photos as Fast as Possible
Action in football happens fast. Especially if you're sitting in the stands, the combination of fast action and hand-holding a digital camera often leads to blurry photos.
* Don't shoot in RAW mode - use high-quality JPG. You may not notice a difference in picture quality, and shooting in JPG means your digital camera can save photos to memory faster, letting you take follow-up photos quicker.
* Shoot with the fastest possible shutter speed (usually adjustable by a digital camera's "S" setting) that still results in photos not appearing too dark. If you mostly shoot in automatic mode, experiment by pushing your digital camera a step or two faster than what it recommends.
If you own a digital SLR and are allowed to bring it to the game, a faster lens may help increase the camera's fastest possible shutter speed. This can add to the camera's total cost, however.
In conjunction with this:
* Experiment by increasing your ISO sensitivity. Your ISO setting determines how sensitive your digital camera is to light. The higher the ISO (the default is usually 100), the faster you can adjust your shutter speed. However, a higher ISO will add some grain (noise) to your photo. Some prosumer digital cameras can shoot with 200 or even 400 with reasonable results; with a digital SLR you should be able to use an ISO setting of 800 and possibly higher.
7) Glance Over at the Sidelines
Not all of the action in a football game occurs on the field. Glance over at the sidelines once in a while when the teams are huddling or in other breaks in the action such as TV time-outs. You might notice coaches interacting with their team, emotions running high after a great play or costly mistake, cheerleaders, or mascots, all of which can make interesting photo subjects.
8) Learn the Game and the Team
The more you understand the game of football and the teams playing, the better your compositions should be. You might not memorize every player's name and a team's entire playbook, but reading team rosters and scouting report won't hurt.
Does a team have a pattern of running on first down and then throwing on second? Are they a deep-ball passing team or only using the pass for short yardage situations? Is the quarterback an analytical drop-back passer or likely to run if the pocket begins to collapse? On the defensive side are the players more likely to play zone or man-to-man?
As there are so many players on the field it is virtually impossible to take photos of every big play. By learning about the teams you will increase the likelihood of having your digital camera's focus on the right player at the right time.
9) Prepare for the Unexpected
This is football and anything can and will happen. Don't always put your digital camera down during a punting situation as you might miss a fake punt attempt. Fake quarterback spikes aren't uncommon. Plus, interesting things can occur outside the realm of the actual game. Once at a game I attended at the Louisiana Superdome, the game was briefly halted as a small blimp-shaped balloon drifted onto the field!
Football is an exciting spectacle full of suspense, drama, and the unexpected. With so much going on over a 100-yard field, it is extremely difficult to position your digital camera at the right place and the right time to take great photos. However, with preparation, the right equipment, knowledge of your digital camera's settings, and a bit of luck, you too can take digital photos at football games that will make your viewers shout "Touchdown!"
Return to the Digital Sports Photography page.
The MalekTips website was created in 1998 by Andrew Malek of Envision Programming. The page's goal is to freely disperse computer-related tips, hints, and informative articles. Tips are organized to be easy to find, and are presented clearly, in easy-to-understand language.