Photographing High School Football – 12 Tips

Photographing high school football can be challenging and rewarding. The combination of low ambient light, artificial lighting and rapid movement can result in strange colored, blurry, unfocused images. Here are several tips to enable you to capture your best football images.

1. Location. The closer you can get to the sidelines, the better. If you clear it with coaches and officials, you may be allowed to stand near the sidelines. Make sure you stay alert to sudden action in your area. Or, you may have to shoot from "behind the fence", but you can still get some great shots from that location as well.

2. Camera Support. A sturdy monopod is essential. You need the mobility, so a tripod is out of the question, and hand-holding will cause your images to be blurry from camera shake. Consider a swivel mount on the monopod to let you switch from landscape to portrait.

3. ISO. Set your camera's ISO (sensitivity) to high to let you capture faster shutter speeds. Usually 1200-1600 is a good setting. The images will not be as clean as low ISO, but the additional exposure room you gain will be worth it. Some newer Nikon dSLRs can do well up in the ISO3200 range.

4. Shutter Speed. I recommend a shutter speed of 1/100 second or faster. 1/250 will stop most action. Experiment with a shutter speed that gives you the right balance of exposure and motion freezing. For creative shots, you can go to 1/20 or slower and hold the camera very still on the monopod – you'll see lots of player motion and some stationary players, all on a crisp field.

5. Aperture. The widest aperture the better, to facilitate higher shutter speeds, and to narrow the depth of focus. This will throw the background out of focus and move emphasis in the image to your central subject. For lenses, I recommend f / 2.8 lens and aperture, or the lowest your camera / lens combination can handle. If you set your ISO high and set your camera to Shutter Priority and fix your speed, the camera will choose the aperture. If the combination is insufficient to get a good exposure, the camera will probably blink at you to warn of underexposure. In this case, I recommend that you shoot underexposed to preserve the speed, and boost the image in post-processing. Or, you can tweak the ISO up and the shutter speed down to get in the good exposure range.

6. No Flash. Given your distance to the objects, you will see very limited or no benefit from flash, and it will confuse your camera into making exposure decisions that will not be good for your image.

7. Focus. I suggest using spot focus and fast shutter settings. That will force the camera to use the center of the image to set exposure and focus, and you will capture more action with the rapid-fire shutter.

8. White Balance. Stadium lights have a different color than daylight. You could choose auto white balance, but you may want to check out your camera's custom white balance function. It generally involves shooting a white object and having the camera evaluate the center of that image to find a white or gray sample to set a custom white balance setting. Or, you can shoot Raw and tweak your white balance in post processing. One editing tip – if you can see something in the image that should be pure white or gray, you can use the color edit function in your image editing program to set a white reference and change color after shooting.

9. Composition. A variety of shot types are available. For static shots, of scrimmage line, bench or huddles, anything goes. For action shots, try to get the ball carrier near the center but not exactly centered, and try to get shots of the eyes in clear focus if you can.

10. Zoom Range. A telephoto lens will let you get close up on individual players, but you may want to carry a wide-angle lens to get larger field or audience shots. Having a second lens available lets you be more flexible.

11. Editing. Try some Black and White images to emphasize the grittiness of the game. Crop in close to emphasize the action. Push the contrast up to provide more emotional impact.

12. Sharing. Consider digital and printed copies to the team and coaches. Offer a website for sharing or selling, depending on your professional status and the quality of the images. The yearbook team will appreciate photos, as well as the local papers. Check with the sports boosters as well – they may want to use images in their programs or end of year banquets for slide shows.

Have fun shooting, and stay on your toes!