This was the first time I have been on the field during a football game since high school. Being so close to the players and coaches brought back many memories from those days, not all good. Just like high school, I learned a lot last night, at least if “learning what not to do” is learning. The camera and lens that I have work great under daylight conditions but using them to take photos under the Friday Night Lights of a football stadium would tax the most experienced photographer and I am on the other end of that spectrum.
Lesson 1: Use a Monopod
I took some test shots while the teams were warming up and all looked good. Then I realized the light was was going away and soon I would have nothing but stadium lights and I did not have my camera monopod. Luckily it was out in the car and my lovely wife was able to retrieve it for me. A monopod is useful because it stabilizes the camera, especially with a long lens attached, reducing one source of blur in the photos.
Lesson 2: Verify Picture Quality Often
The amount of light allowed into the camera is controlled by 3 factors, shutter speed (the amount of time the shutter is open), aperture (like the pupil size of your eye), and ISO (like the SPF factor in suntan lotion). I knew I was going to need as much light as possible so I had set my aperture to F4.0 (the largest aperture size for my 70-200 lens) and left the shutter speed to be calculated by the camera’s metering system. Big mistake in this low light situation and it didn’t help that I didn’t bump my ISO up high enough. After the first quarter I zoomed in to some photos and saw they were all blurry. Of course, the shutter speed being used was about a 30th of a second. For sports photography 1/400th of a second is about as slow as can be used and 1/1000th would be better.
With my lens I was going to have to compromise and stay near the 1/400th speed. When combined with the F4.0 aperture, this meant pushing my ISO to 3200. 100 ISO is the best, each doubling of the ISO means the photo will be ‘grainier’ due to noise introduced by the sensor. 3200 meant I would have lots of noise to deal with but anything lower meant I would have motion blur as the athletes ran faster than the shutter speed could capture them. Hopefully I can smooth out the noise using Lightroom when I process the photos at home.
Lesson 3: Shoot Tighter
My lens will zoom from 70mm to 200mm. I found that I am cropping many of my photos much tighter than I shot even though I was not shooting the photos at the max zoom. This means I could have ended up with higher resolution pictures if I had had zoomed in further at the time I took the picture. Why hadn’t I? Probably experience, not knowing how much of the action I would want in the photo and also not being able to follow the action through the lens when zoomed in close. Definitely something I can work to improve.
Lesson 4: Faces & Football
A good photo needs a focal point, something that catches and draws your eye into the picture. Usually eyes and faces do that. Under a helmet this can be harder to catch. Action also catches your attention and in Football the action is the ball. A pile of players on top of the ball carrier has no focal point. Even a runner being tackled has little visual punch if you cannot see the face of at least one of the athletes. I will attempt to watch the action more closely and not capture photos that won’t end up making the cut.
Lesson 5: Use High-Speed Shutter
I have trained myself at Cross Country meets not to take multiple shots in sequence because I don’t need to double or triple the number of photos I take and 3+ shots in a row don’t have enough difference in them to gives you anything extra to really use. If I was only trying to capture the photos of a dozen runners I would probably want the extra shots to select from but when shooting 100+ runners per race and 4 to 6 races per day, no.
For an action sport such as Football where the number of shots you can take is limited and where the key moment in a play cannot be anticipated, it is best to shoot a burst of 6+ shots and then just keep the one that captures the action. I found myself always pulling up on the shutter button and only getting one or two shots and many times missing the key moment.
Every time I go out with my camera I try to learn something. Using that standard, last night was a total success. I just finished processing the photos I took of the actual game and found that of the 773 photos I took, I only ‘published’ 103.