Photography Tips for Covering Football

Nikon D2X, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/1250

Action Shots

For this blog I am just focusing on what happens on the field and not the reactions to it by fans and the sidelines.

Three things I think you should strive to have in all your action shots on the field:

  1. The Ball
  2. Expression
  3. The competition
While not every great sports photo will have all three, the overwhelming majority of them will have all three elements.

Definition of Sport—an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1000

I like capturing the expressions of football players. This shows the “physical exertion” being put forth to play the game. The key for me is to put myself in the place where I will see their faces more often.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1000

I recommend when possible to cover one team. this way you can show their team’s faces on offense and defense without running up and down the field over and over to get in front of them.

I generally try to shoot way down the field in front of the teams and prefer standing in the endzones. If they are far away I just use longer glass like  600mm lens and when they are on the goal line I may switch to my 70-200mm lens.

Why the endzone? Well they are generally running in that direction and trying to cross the goal line. When you are on the sideline they may run slightly in your direction, but they could be running to the other sideline as well.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250

While my knees get sore from kneeling most of the time I think you get better “athletic” moments. When you are low you make the football players look like they are much higher off the ground when they jump than when you stand. We like our star running backs to look like Roman Gods that fly when necessary. Remember the purpose of the sport is entertainment. Them flying because I am down low is a lot more exciting than from above where they look like they are closer to the ground.

Nikon D3S, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 converter, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/2000

Some of the best defense shots of the game are behind the line of scrimmage. This is where the quarterback is sacked or the running back is caught in the backfield for a loss. You see the defense moves the ball forward for their team when they create a loss for the offense of the other team.

You can always rent long glass lenses rather than buying them. I recommend having between 300mm to 500mm lens coverage. This can be done with 1.4 & 2X converters.

Here is the list of gear I use in Football

  • (2) Nikon D4 Cameras
  • 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 Nikkor
  • 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 Nikkor
  • Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8
  • 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S carried in the Thinktank Glass Taxi™ [not in photo]
  • Sigma 1.4 converter
  • Nikon SB-900
  • Manfrotto 294 Aluminum 4 Section Monopod
  • Manfrotto by Bogen Imaging 323 RC2 System Quick Release Adapter w/200PL-14
  • ExpoDisc
  • Shure FP15/83 Lavalier Wireless System
  • RØDE VideoMic Pro
  • Zacuto Z-Finder
  • AWP Knee Pads – Important to save your knees
  • ThinkTank System for lenses using belt and harness
  • ThinkTank Memory Card Holder
  • ThinkTank Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag
  • ThinkTank Credential Holder Tall V2.0
Nikon D3S, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 converter, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/2000

One last advantage of shooting from the end zones—BACKGROUNDS. Your background is easier to keep clean and improve impact.

Have fun shooting this fall.

Time for Senior pictures

Nikon D4Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250—Two Alienbees B1600 mixed with daylight [diagram below]

It is that time of year that I get requests for doing Senior photos. I have not marketed myself to this market, but friends through church and work call and ask if I will photograph their Senior.

Today’s Senior pictures are much different than when I had mine made back in 1980.  Today we are seeing more and more photos of Seniors in their favorite activity.

Last night I captured Grant Newsom at the pool where he is on the swim team and also a lifeguard.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250—Two Alienbees B1600 mixed with daylight

When we first met to start the shoot I was told that Grant’s employer scheduled him to work right at the same time and didn’t tell him about the change in schedule. He didn’t want to let down his employer and was really concerned this was going to take a long time.

We did all these photos in one hour. Three locations and one of those required us to drive a small distance. This means taking huge soft box and setting up and taking down in three locations. It also meant that he had some outfit changes to do.

Well after to first few minutes Grant relaxed realizing we were getting great images and moving quickly.

This is why you practice over and over doing these type of photos so you are ready to go when you have to “Get Er Done.” I have done this so many times through my career I was able to quickly move and set up and get some pretty good images of Grant. I will let you be the judge of the images.

I used two Alienbees B1600 flashes being powered by Paul Buff Vagabond battery packs. The reason I used two at the pool was I knew that when you do the butterfly stroke you are looking down most of the time and the light just isn’t there most of the time. I filled the shadows with the flashes.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250—One Alienbees B1600 with a large softbox off to the right to be mixed with daylight

We had a lot of fun capturing these photos. The main reason I feel like you get great photos in this situation is the Senior is doing what they love the most. They are in their world of comfort and I am there to join them.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250—One Alienbees B1600 with large soft box and mixed with daylight

For the most part I wanted to capture the competitor in the pool, thus less smiles here. We did get some, but I like the fierce look.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250—Large 30″ x 60″ foldable softbox with Alienbees B1600 mixed with daylight, also one Alienbees B1600 directly behind the model

We just changed shirts and locations pretty quickly to keep on schedule for the Senior to run to work.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250—Large 30″ x 60″ foldable soft box with Alienbees B1600 on the left and then mixed with daylight [lighting diagram below]

Keeping it simple I am using one large 30″ x 60″ Paul C Buff foldable soft box as the main light and then letting the available sunlight light the rest of the photo. The flash is about one stop brighter than the rest of the scene. I exposed for the softbox light and used an ExpoDisc to get a custom white balance before shooting the photos.

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/250—Large 30″ x 60″ foldable soft box with Alienbees B1600 on the left and then mixed with daylight

When you look for a photographer for Senior pictures some of the best will be former newspaper photographers. They have shot everything, so it will be rare that your child has a favorite hobby that they haven’t shot before.

I covered the 1996 Olympics and specifically covered the swimming and diving. I was ready for Grant in the pool.

Remember these Senior pictures we will cherish the rest of our lives and for generations later as they look back. Next year is my 35th high school reunion. It feels like yesterday and we are all pulling out those photos from back in 1980.

By the way we finished in time for Grant to go to work and have a date that night.

Everyone is a photographer—only a few will be pros

Nikon D2X, Sigma 120-300mm w/ 1.4 converter, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/750

Everyone is a Photographer

Almost everyone that I know has a camera. In the past few years I would say that for the vast majority of photos my friends take are with their camera phones.

Before camera phones people took pictures, but now having that phone with them all the time has made it not just easier to take the photo. I would argue that more important than just the ability to take a photo the one thing contributing to more photos being taken today than in any other time in history is our ability to share them instantly with the world.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/1000

Every photo isn’t good

Just because you are moved by your photo doesn’t make it a compelling photograph. Why?

Everyone’s personal photos help us to remember. Some of the things we experience are quite emotional and having a photograph to help trigger that emotion we felt the first time we lived through the experience does not mean that other people will be as moved emotionally.

There are photographers who consistently make photos that do move people emotionally and are storytellers. These photographers are able to capture a moment that creates an interest with an audience that wasn’t there. The photos pull people to them and engage audiences around the world.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

The grass is greener on the other side of the fence

“Everyone wants to be a rockstar or a photographer,” is a quote I have heard a lot. These are two mediums that emotionally move people.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

Around age 14 we begin solidify our genre of musical taste that will be played over and over through our lives. We love to play our favorite music because it helps to take us to our “happy place” and sooth our souls.

Photographs can do the same thing—take us to our “happy place” and sooth our souls.

So not surprisingly many of us would like to help others find those happy places and feel like maybe we should be either a musician or a photographer.

Gut Check

When I was studying to be a social worker I learned that one of the things we should help people to examine in counseling is are they running away from something or running to something.

Running away from something could be a disaster in process. Most people I encounter that want to be a professional photographer are running away from their lives. They are extremely unhappy in their work.

They seek the recognition in their jobs that they see being given to musicians and photographers. A dirty little secret is that many musicians and photographers want to leave their profession for similar reasons.

A good gut check for finding out if you really should be a photographer is if your photos stir consistently the emotions of people. The key here is people will want to talk to you about the subject that you captured and not about your camera.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/2500—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

Wired that way

There is a certain amount of healthy Obsessive Compulsive Behavior you possess. If you are looking at your work and realize that you could have done something else to make it better, then you are exhibiting some of the qualities of the artist needed to make it professionally.

If you look at your photos and see that technically they are fine and you can’t see why you are not winning all the awards you are not in touch with reality. Remember musicians and photographers that are at the top of the profession move their audiences emotionally.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5.3, 1/500—Off camera fill-flash using the Nikon SB-900 & SB800.  The Flash is on the Pocketwizard TT5 and being triggered by the Mini TT1 on the Camera with the AC3 to control the output of the flash.

Seeing from another person’s perspective

Young children before the age of 8 seem cognitively unable to take the perspective of another person.

If you want to be a photographer that uses photography to communicate to an audience then you need to be able to see from another person’s perspective.

Take a simple test for yourself. Take something that you know really well. Simple as how to make a pot of coffee from scratch and then talk through this as if you are teaching another person. Surprisingly many people struggle with this ability.

I remember one time an adult who was a genius but lacked some basic skills called my mother and asked her how to sew on the button. The next day he came to our house because he still couldn’t do it. Well my mother didn’t tell him to cut the thread from the spool. Everything was correct except for this step.

Sometimes you just have a slow audience. Every once in a while I will see this used as a humorous skit on TV. They will have someone tell a person how to do something that they cannot see and the person doing the task cannot see the person instructing them. What follows usually is pretty humorous, but will illustrate that it is very difficult to teach someone a simple task.

Pictionary and Charades are games that can be fun to play because it can be funny when we are trying to communicate.

You need to be someone who consistently wins in Pictionary or Charades for example before going pro, if there was such a category for these games.

Do your photos communicate? Are people asking you to take photos from them because they know your photos will help them reach their audience?

If the only reason you are wanting to be a pro is how it makes you feel, then you need a wakeup call and a good slap across the face.

Check list to be a professional photographer

  1. Your photos emotionally move total strangers all by themselves
  2. You are rarely satisfied with your photos
  3. You have insatiable desire about a subject other than photography
  4. People are asking you to photograph something for them regularly 
  5. If you want to be an independent photographer you know and understand the skills to run a business. 
    1. Know your audience
    2. Market to that audience
    3. Know your numbers for expenses to make a profit
    4. Willingness to do what it takes to find work

Great Photographers are like Great Fishermen

Alaska [photo by Don Rutledge]

Fishermen know the habits of fish and know they are creatures of habit. They work hard to be in the best spot to drop their lines to catch fish when they are biting.

There is a lot of waiting for the fishermen. I have sat for hours waiting for nibbles then all of a sudden you can catch fish as quickly as you can put the line back in the water.

This takes a lot of time for the fishermen. The photographer spends time waiting for people, however too many people live by the saying, “Be picky with who you invest your time in, wasted time is worse than wasted money.”

Dominican Republic [photo by Don Rutledge]

I think way too many and especially myself for the first few years of my career didn’t spend enough time with a subject when I had the time.

If I could boil down to one of the biggest differences between Don Rutledge and other photographers I would say his photos were better because he had more patience and worked situations longer than most anyone. He would be waiting for so long that many of the writers and people who traveled with Don would say he would just disappear into the woodwork of the room.

Oklahoma [photo by Don Rutledge]

Looking at Contact Sheets

I wish I could share with you the contact sheets of Don’s work, especially his coverage of Bailey King. I just don’t have easy access to them.

You would see situations with little variance back to back and over time, then there would be about two or three really nice images, then maybe a frame or two more then Don would move onto a new situation.

The difference between Don’s contact sheets and everyone else is how consistently Don would stay with subjects and then have an outstanding shot. You could almost just look at the last 3 to 5 images in a series and consistently pick a winner.

Today I watch many photographers relying on their LCD on the back of the camera. They look and if they think they got the photo they move on.

Brazil [photo by Don Rutledge]

Don would ask me when he saw some photos and I moved on to a new situation what I saw and why did I start taking those photos. What is it you saw that you were trying to capture? Then he would ask why didn’t you stay longer with the situation.

Over and over I watched Don review photographer’s contact sheets and the constant theme I heard over and over you need to stay longer on the subject and let it happen. If you felt like you saw something you will most likely see it again.

Creatures of Habit

People are like all animals we are creatures of habit. Dave Black knows this all to well with professional athletes that they work so hard and being a creature of habit that they will go through the same routine over and over. So he would study tapes of athletes so he could anticipate their actions.

Don Rutledge [photo by Ken Touchton]

Don wanted to do a better job of capturing moments so he studied other photographers to see what tips he could pick up. It was common for Don to call up a newspaper and ask if he could ride along with some of the photographers while they were working.

While Don picked up some tips he was also surprised at how many times photographers rushed through assignments. One time they were covering a factory when the president asked if they would like a tour to see how they make their product. Don wanted to go on the tour, but the photographer he was shadowing didn’t want to stay. They left the place so the photographer could go and sit at a restaurant and drink a cup of coffee.

When Don told me this story he went on to tell me this happens more often than he could remember.

The other day Mark Sandlin and I were catching up on memories of Don when this tidbit about Don came up. Mark pretty much talked about the same memories, but they were his of Don.

Maybe the one key thing that Don did better than everyone else was spend time with his subjects long enough to really get to know them and long enough to then capture those moments that encapsulated the person. He was so good at capturing a person’s character in a photograph.

The other thing that happens when you wait like a fisherman for a great photo—your compositions are stronger. You compose and wait for the characters to be the creatures of habit. You are able to anticipate just like the fishermen.

Maybe this is why so many fishermen enjoy certain fishing spots—they too become like a composition.

France [photo by Don Rutledge]

“What you invest your time in defines who you are,” said noted author & speaker Todd Duncan.

Don Rutledge spent his life investing into subjects with his camera telling their stories. His photos changed people’s lives. Many readers of the stories he produced would feel a call to help those in the stories and people like them. The photos also blessed the subjects of the stories by changing their lives forever.

Don’s investment in people changed their lives for the better.

Photographers digital has divided us

Christians in Photojournalism July meeting in suburbs of Atlanta, GA

Staff photographers have always had a built in community through their work places. Freelance photographers in the days of film had some community through their professional labs and camera stores.

In the days of film even when you processed your own film as a staff photographer or if you were a freelance photographer dropping your film off at a professional lab you were able to interact with other photographers.

Just as indoor plumbing did to the watering hole and air conditioning did to front porches, digital photography eliminated the informal gathering of photographers.

Genesis 2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. …”

Most still photographers work alone as compared to motion photographers who work in teams of film projects.

When you work with freelancers you learn about depression. Once I have built a good relationship and can be open and honest with another freelancer many of them suffer from some sort of depression.

A lack of strong relationships is an acute risk factor for major depression and addiction. At a minimum, going into an office every day requires you to shower, get dressed, and at least nod to a couple of people. Freelancers are in danger of having less sustaining human contact.

Freelancers go through feast and famine periods. They have less access to the health, retirement, and insurance benefits that may help traditionally employed folks sleep a little better at night.

Jason Getz shares some tips and wisdom he has gained after the Atlanta Journal & Constitution let him go as well as Phil Skinner and Johnny Crawford when they downsized their photo department from 10 to 7 positions the end of 2013.

We had a meeting of Christians in Photojournalism at my house yesterday and three of the photographers who lost their jobs this past year at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution were there. We all enjoyed seeing each other’s work and listening to how everyone is learning to adjust to this ever changing industry.

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

One of the things that Jason, Phil and Johnny talked about after losing their positions at the AJC was the loss of built in community. Now they must be intentional and reach out to friends.

There’s an App for that

I think one of the reasons for social media to be so successful is because we all crave community. CIP uses Facebook to announce our meetings and I know some photo clubs that use an App for that called Meetup. Meetups are neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something…

I think the more things you have in common the better the community can be for you. Combining faith and work is a great way for freelancers to build a strong community.

Johnny Crawford shared with the group his new direction of pursuing teaching photography. He is working on his masters degree to open up more doors for him to teach.

Building the informal into the formal

I think one of the best things about the days where we gathered around the local lab and camera stores was the informal serendipitous moments. You may see a photographers work next to you on the light table as you were editing. I remember this often work spur conversations and I learned a lot during those moments.

One of the best things I enjoy about when the Christians in Photojournalism group meets is the 5—minutes we give to everyone that comes to share their work with the group.

Sometimes people are looking for help on a project and many times they are just sharing a recent project.

Jason Getz shares a pleasant surprise of getting to fly in a helicopter with the groom at a wedding in Savannah. 

Formalize the informal

I encourage you to find a group where you can be in dialogue with the other photographers. You need a place they accept you as a person and let you share your work and you get to see their work. You need to be able to ask questions and share your insights as well.

Check out our group as a possible group to join at Christians in Photojournalism.