Ten Tips To Help You Make Better High School Football Photos
Today the football season starts for me officially. Last week I shot a scrimmage, but I don’t think that you can count that. Every year I try and maximize my football season by shooting as much football as I can. I love this sport, and the season always seems too short. A few years ago I wrote up a few tips on making better photos under the Friday Night Lights. Today I thought that I would update that post a little. Here are ten tips to help you make better high school football photos.
1. Arrive Early, Stay Late – This is something that I preach for any sport. The first part is to get to the game early. The players don’t just run out onto the field and play. They take their time and warm up. Shooting warm ups does not sound like very much fun. To be perfectly honest it really isn’t. By getting to the game early you may only end up with a few more photos in your gallery from pregame. What you do though is increase the keepers that you make right off the bat. You have warmed up as well so you are ready to go when the ball is kicked off.
2. Fill The Frame – This is where things can get complicated. I see people with all different kinds of lenses out on the football field. When the light will be good you will see me with my 600mm in the end zone. When the light is not too good I will have something shorter playing closer to the action. The important thing to do is to fill the frame with your action. Sometimes the play may go the other way, and you have nothing. That is okay. There are plenty of plays left in the game. When you have shorter glass you have to just wait a little longer before making the photo. Sometimes you can crop to fill the frame better, but when you are pushing the limits of your camera under the dull lights you want to crop as little as possible.
3. Create A Photo Story – I just talked about filling the frame with action. To fill in your photo story from the game you have to look around you off the field as well. At a high school football game there are so many things off the field to photograph. You have the cheerleaders, the band, the student sections, and the fans. Finding moments for all of these during the game helps your overall photo story much better. The photo above tells a lot of the story from my night in LaPorte covering the Slicers. You see the orange uniforms of the team, the rain coming down, and the homecoming crowd in the stands.
4. Know Your Team – Knowing your team is so important. I made the shot above by knowing that the team I was covering made many big plays in between the guard and left tackle. They had a great back, and most of the highlights came from this exact play. I picked my spot in the end zone with this in mind. It was the only touchdown scored on the day, and by doing a little advanced scouting I was able to get lucky and pick the right spot. If you have never shot a team before this is where watching warm ups can help. You can see some of the plays that they like to run. During the game you can try and predict when you will see those run during the game. Knowing the key players and plays that they like to run can make your job so much easier.
5. Get The Jube – I am guilty of this. Early on in my photography career I would chimp right was to see if I made a photo of the big play. There could have been the best celebration ever right in front of me, but I wanted to see if I made the photo of the big play. As you shoot for a while you realize that the big play is important, but the best photos from the game come from the jubilation after the play. The “jube” is what drives me to keep doing this. This is the moment that will lead off your photo story.
6. Change Your Position – I love to sit in the back of the end zone. On a day with good light I can sit back there with my 600mm lens and barely move. At some point though the gallery starts to get stale if you stay in one spot. In the second half when I feel that I have a good feel for the team I will try and get shots like the one above from the side. These little changes in position can make your gallery look so much better. You can get burned deep, but if you have some photos of the team scoring already most people won’t know it is missing from your gallery. There is far more of an advantage to get more shots of the action than waiting for the big play. If you have a 70-200mm lens then you are already following the action up and down the field. To get a different view when the play is near the end zone head to the back of it. When your defense has the other team pinned deep this is a great chance to get the athletes running right at you. When your offense if near the goal line you can try and predict where the ball will be. Just be careful that the goal post doesn’t come between you and the big play.
7. Get Low – This is true for nearly every sport. The lower you get the more athletic your athletes look. For the photo above I was laying on the ground to make the picture. Getting on the ground just makes everyone look that much bigger. You really have to know your team and players though to make sure that you are not endangering them by getting on the ground. I usually only use this technique when I am in the back of the end zone. Too many plays sweep out to the sides to try it on the sidelines too many times.
8. Get Creative – If you have a lens with the highest aperture of f/5.6 or f/6.3 this is even more important. At some point your lens will stop being usable. If you have something that can reach the players and is fast enough you can keep shooting for peak action. At some point though you will have to think about other ways to capture what is going on. Using techniques like panning can be one way to keep shooting. You will not have as many keepers, but you will end up with something that is interesting when it does work.
9. Have A Plan Of Attack, But Be Ready To Change – This one is a fun one. It is good to have a plan when you walk into the stadium. You want to have things that you are looking for. Players that you think could be the breakout star. Sports can get crazy though, and you also have to be flexible with your plan.
10. Shoot In RAW – A lot of sports photographers will tell you that shooting in RAW just creates more work. When you are pushing the limits of your camera under those dim high school lights you want every pixel that you can get from your photos. Shooting in RAW allows you to have more data to work with when you are processing your images. If you do it right and have some presets that you have made the processing time is not that long.
Bonus Tip – Have Fun! – Shooting football is a fun thing. If you are having fun doing it then the pictures will come to you. If you are worried about things that you cannot control you are not thinking about the game. Go out there, have some fun, and make some pictures.