Ten Tips For Making Better Soccer Photos
Soccer is a sport that I struggled with at first. I did not understand the game as well as I should have, and it showed in my photos. I had a lot of growing pains trying to figure the sport out. Below are ten tips that hopefully help you along your way so that you don’t have the long learning curve that I did.
1. Find A Soccer Buddy – This sounds crazy at first, but knowing someone who knows the game really well can help you out. When you know the why behind what is going on it helps you anticipate the action better. I was lucky in the fact that I found a parent of a soccer player that helped me learn the game. I was lacking in game knowledge, and they were lacking in photos of their child. I shared photography tips in exchange for soccer tips. It was that fall learning the game alongside an eager parent that helped me make much better soccer photos.
2. Get Low – This seems to keep coming up in these posts doesn’t it? The lower that you can get on the field the better off you will be. You make the athletes look bigger, faster, and stronger by doing this. As you get lower just the players running down the field looks more athletic. You may have obstacles in your way to prevent you from getting too low, but always try and get as low as you can.
3. Tell The Story – If you are photographing your kid maybe this isn’t important to you. You just want the tight action shots of your child. Down the road though shots that show the venues, crowds, and other important details might be great to look at. If you are putting a gallery together for a school or team these are vital pieces that you should include. Show the crowd and the stadium. The story photos are the ones that will be remembered down the road. Rarely is the ‘Leading Off’ photo in Sports Illustrated a tight action shot. It is more likely a scene setter photo.
4. Focus! – Soccer is a sport where you are constantly trying to anticipate the action. Keeping your focus is an important thing. There are other ways to focus during a game as well. I always suggest using back button focus and whatever your camera company calls continuous focus mode. With back button focus you can focus and recompose when the play is at a stand still. Continuous focus also helps you keep your players in focus, especially if they are coming directly at you.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Photograph Backlit! – One thing that I see all of the time is tips that you have to shoot with the light. Shooting with good light is amazing. It looks so good. In a sport like this though you may not always have that option. You may have a team going in the other direction. Shooting backlit is not the end of the world. In fact you may make better photos backlit. When you shoot backlit the light will show every little thing that gets kicked up from the turf. You will see the grass, dirt, and sweat that is flying through the air. Backlit can make for very cool photos.
6. Location, Location, Location – Where do you want to sit on the pitch? This can really be an interesting question when you arrive at the venue. Depending on the level it may already be determined for you. If I can have my choice I like to sit just up the sideline from the endline. This way I can stay on my long lens just a little longer before having to switch to my shorter glass. To switch it up I may move onto the endline halfway between the goal and sideline. This view gives me a great angle at the players running right at me. When they get closer though I have to switch lenses pretty quickly to get the stuff around the goal though. Another factor that may determine where you decide to photograph from is how your team is playing. I have photographed for teams that are just playing defense. They can’t clear their own end of the field. With that in mind I will move down the sideline a bit so that I can still make photos of my team.
If you have a specific player that you need to make photos of then that makes your job a bit easier. You find the spot where you can photograph them with the best background. At the end of the day you have to find the spot where you are the most comfortable.
7. Practice Switching Lenses – If you are lucky enough to have a couple of cameras and some long glass then this one is for you. When the team is farther down the field you will be using your long glass. As they come closer to you it becomes necessary to switch to your shorter glass. In a perfect world I will have my 400mm or 600mm for the stuff down the field, and my 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter on it for the stuff a little closer to me. There comes a point where you know that you have to switch, and you must do so quickly. There is only one way to do this. Practice. Just like anything else you have to get better at it by doing it. You can practice the mechanics of the switch at home, but knowing when to do it in game action can only come by photographing many matches.
8. Jube! – This should probably be number one on the list. My favorite thing to photograph is jubilation. Soccer is a hard sport. Here in the early fall the weather can be brutally hot, and the players are running up and down the field. They are putting max effort into the game, and when they score it is usually a great thing to photograph. The photograph of the goal is a good thing, but the celebration after the goal is often the shot. Don’t stop photographing until the players are ready for the ball to be put back into play. Because it is fall and I am used to celebrations with facemasks I love these soccer celebrations.
9. Fill The Frame…But Not Too Much – Soccer is an interesting sport. The ball is usually at the players feet so you almost always need to have the full body in the photo. There are brief moments during the action where the ball pops up to the chest level where you can get in nice and tight, but for the most part you are photographing the athletes full bodies. With that in mind you want to shoot a little looser then you normally would. With the new cameras that we have you can crop in a little and not loose too much.
Just like any other sport though you have to wait for the action to come to you. Occasionally I will photograph action a little too far downfield because something interesting is happening. For the most part though the action has to be coming to me. If you are shooting with a 70-200 on the field this is even more important. You have to find a spot where the action will come to you. If you try and chase the ball all day you will end up very tired with very few photos on the day.
10. Get To Know The Game/Players – I touched on this a little earlier. You have to know the game to photograph this sport well. Early on I watched a lot of Fox Sports Soccer just to figure the game out. I also found the parent who helped me understand the game a little more. Knowing the game helps you anticipate the action a little more. You have an idea where the ball is going so you can get there first. Being a step ahead of the action can result in much better photos.
Knowing your players is also important. Who has the strong leg? Who will make the run for the ball as it is kicked in? How far can the goalie kick the ball? Knowing these answers can once again help you get ahead of the action. One place to get to know the players is during warm ups. I always talk about photographing warmups as a way to get warmed up yourself. Getting out there early also allows you to scout out the other team.
Bonus Tip: Have Fun! – I always include this because this is a fun thing that we get to do. Having fun on the field makes you looser as well which usually results in better photos.
Advanced Tip: Using A Remote – This was a tip that I wanted to include in the initial ten, but felt that it was not for everyone. If you are photographing your young child playing youth soccer maybe this isn’t for you. If you want to have another camera on the action though this is a great sport to set up a remote. I like to place mine behind the goal with a little guess as to where the action will be coming from. I also try and find the best background when setting up the remote. To set up a remote you need a small tripod or bullhead on a special plate, your camera, and a way to remotely fire your camera. I use Pocket Wizard Plus III remotes for my remotes. When you set up the remote just remember that you will not end up with a large amount of photos normally from it. If I can get one good shot from my remote I am happy. Anything else is gravy. The remote should be used to add to your photos from a game not to be the actual photos from the game.