10 Tips For Photographing High School Football

Ten Tips For Making Better High School Football Photos

When I first thought about making a post about better football photos I was just going to make one about football in general. As I started thinking about it though I realized that the high school game has some challenges that you don’t normally see for other divisions of football. You have some great things along with some things that are not so great. One of the great things is that you have much greater access then you do at the higher levels. The flip side to that is that you are usually shooting in poor light late in the year. These are not the only ten things that you will need to do to make better high school football photos. These are however ten things that have helped me improve my photography.

  1. Shoot in RAW mode – I think that every post should start this way. Sure RAW mode means that you will have to have more storage space, but the benefits outweigh the cost. When shooting sports you want to see the faces of the players. With the faces of the kids here in a helmet you have a unique task. At times the face may be in shadow while the rest of the body is not. Shooting in RAW allows you to bring back some of that shadow detail to reveal the players face. Another instance where shooting RAW can save you is near the end zone. If you have ever been to a high school field than you know how bad the light falls off in the end zones. What may be a perfect exposure at mid field will not be in the end zone. Unless you are super fast at changing your settings during a play, shooting in RAW can help you save that big play celebration. To me the benefits of shooting in RAW far outweigh the negatives.
  2. Arrive early, Stay late – Football is about more than the action on the field. During the pregame and warm ups you can get some great shots of the kids. As the season winds down, the pre game will be your only good light of the game. The players will give you some great shots before and after the game if you are there to get them. Simple moments that help tell the story of the game.
  3. Fill the Frame – I have heard the phrase “Shoot tight, Crop tighter” from many different photographers. For football that is definitely the case. As I said in tip #1 you are photographing players with a helmet on. You need to really get in tight to see their expressions. This can be done in a couple of ways. If you have loads of money than you can buy a 400mm or 600mm lens. With a big lens you don’t have to worry about moving as much. You can park yourself in the end zone for a lot of the game. If you have a 70-200mm lens or smaller than you have to work to fill the frame. You have to follow the action down the field much more closely. You also have to know when to shoot. Don’t fill your buffer up with the player too far away from you. Wait until he is filling your frame, and then fire.
  4. Know your team – For most people shooting high school football this is the easy part. You are there to photograph someone you know, and you have seen the team play before. That can help you make your photos much better. Knowing your team can allow you to anticipate where the play is going to be. You know who the go-to receiver is. You know when the team will throw, and when it will run the ball. Knowing your team allows you to be a step ahead of the action which in turn makes your photos that much better. One good example is what kind of offense does your team run? Do they run most of the time? If they do is it to a certain side of the field? They may favor running over a particular tackle or guard. Knowing this can help you make the photo. If your team passes do they sling it down the field like Terry Bradshaw or Ken Stabler? Maybe they use a more precise passing game. Knowing this can help you position yourself to make the shot. If the team favors the short pass you want to be behind the play. The receiver will turn to you this way. If they like to lob the ball up and have the receiver catch it then you need to be way ahead of the play. Knowing tendencies is not a must, but it can help you be one step ahead.
  5. Know the game – Knowing the game is much like knowing your team. It goes a bit beyond that though. Knowing how the game works helps you be where you need to be to make the picture. Keeping track of the time is a big help. If the play has ended with 15 seconds left in the quarter and the team is in no hurry then you get a little extra time to swap ends of the field. In some stadiums that can mean the difference in getting to the other end of the field in time. Knowing the game can also help you make some interesting photos. You know that standing behind the kicker is usually the best place to be for a field goal. Knowing the basic rules of your league allows you to not get caught by surprise.
  6. Don’t forget the Jube – This is one that took me a long time to master. The big play just happened. You are pretty sure that you got the shot, but you are not sure. You immediately look to the back of your LCD screen to see if you did in fact capture the moment. While all of that is going on you are missing some great photos. Stay on the players involved in the play until they reach the sideline. You never know when they are going to do something great. When you realize this you will see that many of your best pictures from the game will be of the “jube.”
  7. Get low – Most sports photos look better from a lower point of view. For a sport like football I would recommend going down to one knee to make your photos. Shooting up at your subjects makes them look that much bigger, and their feats on the field that much better. A player jumping shot from a standing or kneeling position looks completely different. Ideally you would want to shoot the game from your belly, but that is not the safest place to shoot when your subjects are so big and strong. Shooting from a knee allows you to get low, but also gives you a chance to get out of the way if the play comes right at you.
  8. Have a plan – One thing that will help you make better photos is to have a plan. If you know what you want to get from the game it can make your night that much easier. If you just want action photos then you can just follow the ball. I have shown up to games with a list of players gaff taped to my lens hood. I knew that I needed shots of those players first. Anything else would be a bonus. If you are following one player for the game you need to think of ways to make your shots different. You don’t want to go home and find multiple images of the same player that look the same. Go in with a plan for the game. With that being said don’t be afraid to ditch your plan if circumstances change. This is a sport with an oblong ball. Things can change quickly, and you also need to be able to roll with those changes.
  9. Keep your focus – Focus can come in many ways. One of those ways is to stay in the game mentally. Keeping your mind in the game allows you to accomplish the previous eight points. Another way to keep focus is with your camera. I use ai servo mode when shooting sports. With the new cameras this helps make sure that you keep sharp focus on your player throughout the play. Your aperture will depend on what you want to accomplish. Ideally you would like to be as high as possible throughout the game. Shooting at f/2.8 will allow more light into your camera which you will need when the sun goes down. If you want multiple players in focus though you may have to adjust that.
  10. Have fun! – Remember you are shooting a game. You are making photographs of high school kids, and you should always keep their best interests in mind. If you miss a play it does no good to get upset about it. Sports are fickle, and you will miss plays from time to time. A ref or player could get in your way and ruin your shot. It does no good to yell about it. Set a good example for the athletes on the field. You are photographing a great game from a great vantage point. Enjoy it!

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