As an enthusiastic follower of football (soccer) and a lover of photography, it was always going to be natural for me to combine the two. Over time, I’ve been able to steadily improve my football photography by picking up advice from fellow snappers and getting out there and taking the shots. Here are my top ten tips to improve your pictures of ‘the beautiful game’.
1. Get Down
No – I don’t mean dance to the music from the PA system. The best action shots are taken from a low angle. There’s a reason why you see photographers sitting pitch side at matches. If you can get access to sitting on the other side of the fence, then do so. League clubs are heavily regulated on this, but in Non-league football it is easier to get access – contact the club beforehand with your requirements. They’re often very accommodating. Remember, take something to sit on (a stool or a sturdy camera case). No-one likes a soggy arse.
2. Fast Shutter Speeds
Motion shots require fast shutter speeds to freeze the action. For football, the faster, the better. On bright days, anything between 1/1000 and 1/2000 will be perfect, but even as the light fades, going as low as 1/320 can still produce great pictures. Just keep an eye on your exposure and ISO, especially as the light fades.
3. AI Servo / Continuous Focus is Your Friend
Most DLSRs have a focussing function called AI Servo or Continuous Focus. It tracks motion as your subject moves, keeping your shot in focus – exactly what you need for players sprinting down the wing or flying into a crunching tackle. Your success rate of keeping the action in focus will dramatically increase.
4. Learn Your ISO
I know… this is a basic rule of photography anyway, but with many football matches played in winter, when the light is constantly changing, ensure you keep an eye on your ISO levels. There’s nothing worse than noise killing what would have been a great shot of a goal or celebration. It’s often a balance between this and your shutter speed, so get to know your camera and what is an acceptable ISO limit.
5. Open Up Your Lens
Most ‘Pro’ photographers use an open aperture when shooting football. This has two benefits. First, of shooting under floodlights, you’ll need to soak up as much of what little light there is. An aperture of around F/2.8 will help. Secondly, the depth-of-field at open apertures separates the action from the background. You don’t want to ‘lose’ the subject of your picture in amongst the crowd or a cluttered backdrop.
6. Anticipate the Action
The beauty of digital photography is you can take numerous photos, instantly review them and delete where necessary. So, anticipate when something is going to happen – a contested header from a goal kick, a corner or a free kick, etc. Keep one eye on what is happening around you. Don’t be afraid to fire off a burst of dozen images in a row. You can easily select the best one after.
7. Only Delete When There’s Nothing Happening
Your memory card is filling up fast and you have hordes of unwanted photos. But don’t review and delete when the ball is in play. Action can happen in a spilt-second and you don’t want to be staring down at your LCD, deleting photos as something critical happens. Wait until there’s a break in play… an injury, substitution or half-time before you clear out the rubbish.
8. It’s a Ball Game
A simple one really, but when selecting which pictures to publish, make sure you keep the ball in shot. The clue is in the name… football. It’s not a hard and fast rule. For instance, a close up of a player or a celebration doesn’t require the ball, but including the ball tells a better story and keeps the picture in the correct context.
9. Whites of the Eyes
Backs of heads don’t cut it. Select your pictures where the subject’s face can be seen. The human eye is drawn to faces and if your picture clearly shows this, your results will be much more pleasing to the viewer.
Remember, the most important tip of them all… have fun!
Try to combine as many of these tips as possible and you will instantly improve your football and sports photography.
Author – Stuart Tree