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Best football photography tips for the new season

Here we go … here we go … here we go! Whether you love it or hate it, the start of a new football season is almost as inevitable as the proverbial death and taxes.

Many of us in the UK do love our football. Whether it’s enjoying it on the TV in the comfort of our own homes, or going along to a live match - perhaps as something of a family tradition - football has a special place in our hearts.

But in these days where seemingly every moment and every memory is captured by photography, is it worth trying to do that at a football match? On the one hand surely it’s better to just enjoy the game itself and then catch up with photos and videos online later? But on the other, photos that you have taken at an event can become treasured memories: perfect reminders of the day through your eyes only.

So if you do fancy having a go at some football photography, how can you achieve the best possible results whilst still being able to enjoy the moment? To do this you need to focus on two key areas: Tools and Techniques.

Here are our Top Five Tips for each:

TOOLS

1: Find the best place
First things first; to be able to get good shots you need to plan ahead and think where most of the action that you’re interested in is going to happen. Then make sure you’re in the best place to capture it. For football this is often around the corners of the pitch or field. If it is a large, professional match then get as near to the front of the stands as you can but if it is a smaller local match then a corner of the field would be ideal: why not bring a small camping stool with you? Not only will this be comfortable but it will get you nearer the ground and closer to the action.

2: Equipment
For best results, use the longest lens you can: anything between 70-400mm would be ideal. You’ll find that anything longer is probably a bit too much, unless you want to be able to capture action at the other end of the field. However if you don’t have a very long lens don’t despair: with a high resolution camera and cropping techniques you can still achieve a good result. Or, for a very special match, you could always consider renting a lens for the big day. It’s also always a good idea to check with the ground in advance whether there is any restriction on length of lenses as some do limit this.

3: Manual settings
If you have a camera with good manual controls you can create the exact ambience you want for your shots. You need to balance the three elements of lighting: shutter speed, aperture and ISO:

  • Shutter speed: High shutter speeds - of at least 1/500th of a second - are ideal for capturing an action shot clearly. If you prefer a more artistic blurry shot then slower shutter speeds can create some fantastic effects. Try shooting at around the 1/30th mark and then either increase the shutter speed if you find that this is too blurry or slow the shutter speed down if there is not enough blur. Another technique to try is panning - an extended blurred motion technique that involves the photographer moving with the subject, resulting in photographs with sharp subjects and blurred backgrounds.
  • Aperture: the aperture is the hole that light travels through before reaching the image sensor on the back of your camera lens. You can open the aperture to let more light in by selecting a lower f-stop (focal ratio) such as f5.6, enabling you to then use a faster shutter speed. For close up shots, such as single player shots or tackles, a wider aperture such as f/2.8 or f/4 would be ideal as it will isolate the action nicely.
  • ISO: Now that you have your aperture and shutter speed set, you need to use the ISO to create the exposure, or brightness, you want to have. ISO measures the the speed at which your camera’s image sensor reads light coming in from outside. A lower ISO indicates lower sensitivity to available light, and higher ISO means more sensitivity. Depending on the shutter speed/aperture combination you have, a setting of around ISO 400 may work on a bright day, or ISO 800 for an overcast day or low-light situation such as dusk or night.

The best thing to do is to get to know your camera well in advance, so that you can get exactly the right combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO for the shots that you want.

4: Autofocus
You may have a camera that operates solely on autofocus. In this case using the correct autofocus function on your camera is the key element in ensuring you get that shot. Because you are photographing moving subjects, the best thing to do is find the setting that will continually track a moving subject (eg AI-Servo on Canon, AF-C on Nikon) as long as you keep the autofocus engaged. The alternative is to manually select autofocus points and get as many shots as you can whenever your subject is in the right place.

5: To flash or not?
Opinion is always divided as to whether the use of flash is a good technique. It can certainly be a good solution to low light situations, and an effective alternative to shooting with a fast shutter speed. But it can sometimes lead to portions of your shot looking over exposed and a little unnatural. This can often be overcome by bouncing the light from the flash off another surface - for example a white wall - so that the flash is not directly on the subject and that the photograph is more evenly lit. However, if you are planning to use flash do check first whether it is permitted: in some grounds it is banned.

TECHNIQUES

1: Perfect timing
Timing is everything. In sport it really is a case of “once you miss it, it’s gone.” The trick is to anticipate the action and just get shooting: if you wait for the key moment to come you may be a second too late. The beauty of digital photography is that you can take many more shots than you actually need and sort them all out afterwards on your computer. So shoot as many images as possible: if your camera has a continuous shooting feature you can shoot a rapid sequence of pictures.

2: Get the emotion as well as the action
You will probably already have an idea of the kinds of shots that you want. There are tackles, headers, dives, slides, saves - and of course those all important goals! You will need to stay focused to capture some of these key moments. But also bear in mind the emotions that the players are going through: these also make great shots. Capture the celebrations of the team that has just scored a goal, or after the final whistle have just won the match. Also don’t forget the players who have just lost, they can have powerful expressions that make for great photography.

3: Fantastic fans
Bear in mind that memorable football photography is not just about the game itself, it’s about capturing the ambience of the whole event. So remember to get some shots of the surroundings as a whole. Shots that provide depth and context as well as capturing the action. Whether it’s a stadium full of waving flags, small groups of passionate fans, or teams assembling on the side lines, there are many different opportunities to capture the spirit of the game as well as the game itself. You might even want to put together a photographic story of the game from a fan’s viewpoint: if a fan only attends home games then they may not have seen their team for a fortnight so the event will be a real highlight for them, and capturing their reactions to the game tells a real story. The crowd is a great place for emotions.

4: Dare to be Different
Leading on from both the above, why not allow yourself the indulgence of being that little bit different? One way to do this is to try and experiment with different heights and different angles to get unique sporting shots that stand out from the crowd. Another is to think outside the box and capture images that may not be directly part of the game but will be meaningful to you. Renowned sporting photographer Ryu Voelkel believes in finding beauty in sport. In his words: “The aim is to create something beautiful in a subject which is already littered with images that tell you who scored and who won and who lost. Why can’t I just shoot an image that has nothing to do with the outcome of the match? I just shoot what I find interesting. Beauty can come from anything in sports. You just have to find it.”

5: Don’t forget the selfie!
With all the above to remember it seems a bit lame to talk about selfies. But don’t forget to have some evidence that you were actually there. If you have a companion then of course they can take the photo for you: but otherwise a trusty selfie on your phone will have to do. For tips on how to get the best results from this why not check out our earlier blog The Perfect Selfie Angle.

Enjoy the new football season! Whether your matches are home or away, large or small, we hope that you achieve some wonderful football photography this season that will bring happy memories for years to come.

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