Football is a popular sport and with many kids enjoying the sport, and parents wanting to photograph their kids enjoying the sport football photography has become very popular, and it is easy to see why. Football photography is a challenge, even when taking photos of kids’ football, and capturing shots that are unique and different isn’t an easy feat.
Whilst kids’ football photography is a challenge it is possible to awesome photos of your kids enjoying the sport providing you tackle it in the right manner of course.
I have been passionate about football photography for many years, however it has only been over the last few years that I have turned my focus to kids’ football photography. My little nephew has developed a love of the game and he has managed to secure a position on a local youth team, and a very good youth team at that. The team were looking for a new photographer, and since I had a decent camera, and interest in football and a nephew in the team I was asked to be the team photographer, which was an honour.
Whilst taking photos of kids’ football over the last few years I have had successes, I have had failures and I have learned a lot in the process. Whilst photographing my nephews football team I have identified some tips and tricks that have helped me capture football photos I am proud of, and actually managed to sell (to the team members’ parents of course) and make a bit of money with, and I thought it was about time I shared them, and I hope they are useful.
Cameras for football photography
Okay, you can use any camera for football photography, but I have found in the years I have been taking football pictures that using any camera other than a slr camera results in very few usable football photographs. There is always the chance you could get lucky with your CSC camera or point and shoot and capture some awesome football pictures but it will be more luck than football photography skill or photographic technique.
When choosing a slr camera for football photography I recommend one with a crop sensor (such as an APSC sized sensor) over and above a full frame camera. A crop sensor slr camera makes the effective focal length of whatever lens you use longer which allows you to get in up close and personal to the action and capture frame filling football photography shots.
As well as using a dslr camera with a crop sensor I also recommend a camera with a fast auto focus, to lock on to the subject quickly. I would also recommend a camera with a high burst rate, so you can take multiple shots one after the other which obviously increases the chances of capturing cool and unique football photos that are sharp and unique.
Canon dslr cameras that are perfect for football photography includes the awesome Canon EOS 1DX and the Canon 7D. The Canon 1DX is a full frame dslr with a lightning quick autofocus system and high burst rate. Even though the 1DX doesn’t benefit from the increased effective focal lengths of a crop sensor camera it is Canon’s flagship sports camera, and quite rightly so. The 1DX is pricey and you are going to have to have lots of spare cash laying around if you want one.
The Canon 7D is a different beast to the 1DX since it is prosumer level camera. The 7D is not as fast as the 1DX, nor does it have such a high burst rate and neither is it built to the same high specification. Despite this the Canon 7D is a capable camera for football photography as well as all other sports. The Canon 7D is a lot cheaper 1DX and a popular alternative for enthusiast and professional photographers alike. The Canon 7d may not be as “good” as the 1DX but it is still an exceptional camera. Compared to other cameras in the same league and class the 7d has a high burst rate, fast auto focus, and since it has a crop sensor it also has the effective increase in focal length.
As much as I would like a Canon 1DX it is out of my budget, so I bought the 7D. The Canon 7D is a fantastic camera and I have to say I am more than happy with it. The Canon 7D is also a camera I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to shoot football photography.
For non-Canon shooters there are other cameras that are ideal for sports/action and football photography. These alternative cameras that are popular with football photographers include the Nikon D5 (the costly flagship model), the Nikon D800 (the cheaper prosumer camera) and the Sony a68 to list just a few. Whilst I don’t use any of these cameras, and I never have I will go out on a limb and say that all of them are capable of capturing great football photos.
Lenses for football photography
The best lenses for football photography are tele lenses with image stabilisation technology (for Canon shooters) or vibration reduction technology (for Nikon shooters).
My nephew’s matches are played outside and whilst the UK weather is a bit rubbish at times, i.e. dull, overcast or rainy, there is sufficient ambient light not to have to use lenses that have a really wide maximum aperture. That said, it is nice to have a lens with an F2.8 aperture because for those times when I want a tack sharp player and to throw the background nicely out of focus.
The lens I use for all my football photography is the Canon 70mm – 200mm F2.8L IS USM lens. The 70mm – 200mm (effective 112mm – 320mm on my Canon 7D) the perfect focal length to get nice and close to the action. The f2.8 aperture is ideal for the shots described above (i.e. a tack sharp subject and intentionally throwing the background out of focus) and the image stabilisation technology ensures I get tack sharp shots, even at slower shutter speeds.
I can only describe the image quality of the Canon 70mm-200mm F2.8L IS as awesome and it is a lens capable of capturing high quality football photos. If I were to recommend a tele lens for football photography it would be the Canon 70mm-200mm F2.8L IS.
The F2.8L IS is the flagship lens, and it is pretty darn costly. Fortunately, there are more affordable alternatives such as the F2.8L, the F4L IS and the F4L. All of these tele lenses are capable of capturing stunning football photos so if you don’t have the deep pockets needed for the F2.8L IS lens these other 70 – 200 lenses are definitely worth a bit more investigation.
The Canon 16mm – 35mm (effective 26mm – 56mm on my 7d) is a wider lens I use to pull back a bit and take pictures with a bit more in the frame. When used with a crop sensor (like my 7d) the 16mm – 35mm is sufficiently wide enough for group photos but not so wide that distortion is an issue. I use the 16mm – 35mm F4L because it is lightweight and small. The image stabilisation built in to this lens allows me to take pin sharp photos, even at less than favourable shutter speeds so it is perfect for football pitch lighting conditions. You can also buy the 16mm – 35mm lens with a F2.8 aperture without image stabilisation technology. Whilst the 2.8 aperture allows more light to enter the lens than a 4.0 aperture the F2.8 version is a large, heavy and cumbersome lens and is not as sharp as the F4 model. The F4 model is not as expensive as the F2.8, so it is the best choice.
I own and use the lenses above because I use Canon cameras however whatever brand of camera you use I strongly recommend a 70mm – 200mm F2.8 tele lens and a 16mm – 35mm zoom lens with an aperture of F4. Lenses of these focal lengths are popular and common, and you will find that all of the large Camera manufacturers sell their own particular version. This means that it doesn’t matter if you use Nikon, Pentax or any other brand, you will find a suitable football photography lens in these focal lengths.
Other photographic gear for football photography
Other than a camera and lens the only other photography gear I use for football photography is a monopod, and I only use that to take some weight off having to hold the camera and lens for prolonged periods of time. I know some football photographers like to use flash guns and speed lights however I don’t think it fair to use speed lights during a football match because they may put the players off. Besides, flash light is going to be pretty much useless and won’t improve the photos at all.
Whilst I don’t take any big bits of photographic gear (other than the camera, lenses and monopod of course) I do make sure I have lots of memory cards because it is all too easy to capture hundreds of pictures shooting in burst mode. I also make sure I have spare batteries (because using the camera in burst mode eats the batteries very quickly) and a lens cleaning kit (there are no excuses for grubby lenses).
The settings for football photography
Some football pitches are lit with large flood lights, and when this is the case I set a custom white balance based on the temperature of the lights used. Many photographers use auto white balance and then change/edit it in on the computer using photo editing software when processing the photos. I prefer to get the white balance correct in camera and at the time of capture so I don’t have to spend a long time correcting the white balance of hundreds of pictures after the football match. Setting a custom white balance is simple, it takes a matter of minutes and it saves lots of time sat in front of the monitor editing. I use a white balance filter to set the custom white balance and it works every time. A white balance filter is cheap and it is something all football photographers should have in their kit bag.
When I shoot football photography I set the camera in shutter priority mode. In any sports/action photography it is important to make sure the shutter speed is quick enough to stop and freeze the action. Using a too slow shutter speed will end up with photos that are a blurry mess. Before I start taking football photos I take test shots and review the LCD, zooming in to 100%, to make sure the shutter speed is quick enough to stop the action, hence allowing me to get sharp images. Once I am satisfied that the shutter speed is quick enough I start capturing photos for real.
Football is a fast sport and trying to manually focus is going to result in few, if any, pictures that are in focus. Whenever I shoot football matches I use autofocus and al servo or continuous autofocus too. Using continuous autofocus mode means the camera will get focus and then follow the subject (i.e. the player I am focusing on) keeping it in focus until the shutter button is pressed. I always use continuous autofocus for football photography and wouldn’t use any other focus mode.
When I shoot football matches I always set the camera to continuous shooting mode, so I can take several frames in single burst. The slightest change in body position or facial movement can be the difference between a good photo and a great photo, and using burst mode increases the chances of getting those great photos.
Football photography composition
When shooting football matches you have no control over the composition and it is, in the end, down to Lady Luck. At the end of the match the winning team will pose for the cameras and you may get individual players posing for the camera on the way back to the dressing room, but you won’t get any players posing for the camera during the football match itself.
Composing a photograph is nigh on impossible and the only thing to do is carry on taking photos throughout the football match (resisting the urge to review and look at the photos on the camera’s LCD screen) and review the results on the computer back home to see what photos have a good composition.
It is possible to change the composition of football images by cropping and enlarging them with photo editing software, therefore I would always recommend shooting wider than is ideal to get the most options to change the composition after the match.
Using photo editing software for football photography
Many people think that using photo editing software is “cheating”. I do not have this opinion, and I am all for a bit of tweaking to get as much out of the photos as possible. I shoot in RAW and all RAW files need some editing with photo editing software before use, and this is true regardless of whether the photo is to be printed or used on the world wide web.
When you take Jpeg files your camera will edit, tweak and adjust them itself however this does not happen when you shoot in RAW, and RAW files remain totally untouched. At the very least RAW files need adjustments to saturation, contrast, clarity, and sharpness. Because of this a good photo editing software package is essential for football photography. I personally use Photoshop Elements, which is a reduced version of Photoshop and I have to say it is great for editing football photos.
Photoshop Elements is quick and simple to use, it is a program you can teach yourself to use, and it is also affordable. If you do get stuck with Elements there is an online forum full of users only too happy to help out, so you will find solutions very quickly.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.