Football (called soccer in some parts of the world) can be a very challenging sport to photograph. The ball is constantly moving quickly around the pitch, which may make it somewhat of a challenge to capture the action if you don’t have the right knowledge on how to do so. This simple guide will point you in the right direction to get more success at your next football match.
First, let’s start off with equipment, because heading to a game with the wrong kit is definitely not going to help you.
For best results, an 18-55mm or similar lens will not be sufficient to cover a game of football; the players and the action will be too far away, and you will most likely end up being disappointed with the results. Using a 70-200mm or equivalent is a great starting point, and will be a fantastic range for areas closer to goal. However, if you do have anything longer in your bag that is always helpful; anything up to about 400mm will be perfect. Anything longer than that can get a little too tight on a football field, unless you want to photograph players at the other end.
If you find that you’re current lens isn’t quite long enough, don’t feel like you need to run out and buy a longer one; cropping can always help quite a lot. With newer cameras having such high resolutions now, you won’t find too much of a drop in final image quality. Renting a lens for a day or two is always an option you may want to consider as well.
Also, bringing a small camping stool will be of great comfort to you, and because you will be closer to the ground than standing, it will help you get less of the field in the frame.
If you’re comfortable with using Manual mode, the below will be a helpful guide to getting you started. If you’re not too comfortable with Manual mode just yet, using shutter speed priority set to 1/800th, or faster, should do the trick.
Football (soccer), as with the majority of sports, is fast paced. To be able to freeze the action you will need to use a fast shutter speed; 1/800th as a minimum, is a great starting point for more advanced players as they tend to move much faster than younger, junior players. If you’re photographing a very young age group match, you may find that 1/500th could be fast enough, however 1/800tj would be a safer option.
To add some variety, slower shutter speeds can create some fantastic images when done correctly. Shooting at around the 1/30th mark is a great starting point. If you find that there is too much blur in your images, then speeding the shutter speed up slightly will help. Conversely, if there is not enough blur, you may need to slow the shutter speed down.
For single player shots, f/2.8 would be ideal as it will isolate the player nicely. However, if photographing tackles, etc., where there is more than one player, it is best to use f/4 as this will give you a slight increase in depth of field (DoF), without sacrificing too much shutter speed. If your lens cannot got as wide as f/2.8 or f/4, that’s perfectly fine, just use the widest aperture your equipment offers.
Now that you have your aperture and shutter speed set, use the ISO to fill in for the exposure, or brightness, you want to have. Depending on what shutter speed/aperture combination you have, you may find ISO 400 on a bright day works, or on the other hand, if you’re in a low-light situation such as at dusk, night, or on a heavily overcast day, ISO 800 or higher may be required. Just be careful with how high you go on your particular camera as each model can perform differently at higher ISO’s. This is something that you may need to play around with a bit to explore.
Using the correct autofocus function on your camera will be a key element in ensuring you capture a sharp shot! Because you will be photographing moving subjects, One-Shot AF on Canon, or AF-S on Nikon, is not an appropriate focus mode to use, as it will not continually track the moving subject. In this situation, using AI-Servo on Canon, or AF-C on Nikon, would be the best solution as it will continually track a moving subject, so long as you keep the autofocus engaged. If you’re comfortable with manually selecting AF points, that will further help you control your camera’s focus even more; just select whichever autofocus point you wish your subject to be placed in the frame.
As with any sport, sitting in the right position will increase your chances of getting the shot. For football (soccer), this is generally around the corners of the pitch or field.
- Position 1: Looking down the pitch (field) will give you some great shots of players as they run with the ball toward you. You can also get some great shots of goals here, too. This position is also the most versatile position as you can get a good mix of everything.
- Position 2: Looking around the pitch (field) is fantastic for shots at goal, as you will generally be able to get the goal shooter, and keeper in the frame. From here, you will also be able to capture players running down the pitch (field), but they will not be as head-on if running down the wings.
- For some variation, try shooting at position 3, as from there you will be able to get some great panning shots of players with the ball, as they run the length of the pitch. You generally won’t be able to get many great goal shots from here but you may find some great tackle opportunities if they happen around mid-field.
Do not be tempted to run around the pitch following the ball – you will be forever running, and not photographing! It is much better to sit in one location and wait for the action to come to you. You can always move locations, such as at half-time, if you’re wanting to photograph a particular team.
What to look for
Here are some things for you to look for at your next game.
Celebrations – This could be of the team that just scored a goal, or after the final whistle, capture the team that won the match.
Action – This will be a major part in the game. Football (soccer) has a lot of tackles, headers, dives, slides, not to mention goals, and goal deflections by the keeper. Staying focused is key to capturing these moments. Also bear in mind, that older players will generally play with a higher intensity than the younger players, so capturing dramatic tackles will happen more often. But be aware that older players also move a lot faster!
The crowd – If the game you’re covering has a lot of supporters, don’t forget to get some shots of them, too, they can add some great atmosphere. Look for emotions on their faces; maybe they’re excited as their team just scored a goal, or they may be very quiet as their team is about to lose. The crowd is a great place for emotions.
Football (soccer) can be a very rewarding sport to photograph. As with any sport, the more you understand about the game, the more you know where to look for action, and will be able to follow it easier. However, if you’re not all that familiar with football (I’m not an expert on it by any meaning of the word) practice makes perfect.
One thing I would suggest is if you are planning on heading down to your local club to photograph a game, as a courtesy ask any match officials or club president if they are okay with you doing so. They will appreciate it, and it will make it easier for future photographers. Happy shooting!