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Beginners Guide to Football Photography

Fancy combining your love of football and photography together? Well in this article I’m going to show you how to get started with football photography, what camera kit you’ll need and how you can take amazing shots without the need of press pass.

REIMS, FRANCE-JUNE 11:Megan Rapinoe of USA celebrates after scoring during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune

What Camera is Best for Football Photography?

If you’ve ever been to a football (or soccer as it’s called sometimes) match then you’ve no doubt noticed the pro photographers on the side lines and behind the advertising boardings with those huge lenses and cameras – but do you need them when you’re just a beginner?

Honestly, no. While more advanced cameras will give you much more functionality there are only a number of specific functions you’ll need on a camera to get you started with football photography

  • Weather Sealed Camera Body – as you’ll be shooting outdoors in all conditions this can be helpful if you’re not undercover.
  • Cropped Sensor – You may think a full frame camera would be better but as a beginner, a cropped sensor will give your lens a longer reach.
  • Fast Frame Burst Mode – with all that action going on you’re going to need a camera that can take lots of photos very quickly so you don’t miss the moment.
  • Manual Drive Mode – Having a manual mode will give you full control over the exposure is the lighting changes
  • Subject Tracking Mode – Vital to keep up with the moving players and ball and keep them all in focus.
  • Auto ISO (with upper limits) – This takes one worry off your mind if you can set the ISO to never exceed X amount and then you can concentrate on your aperture and shutter speed instead.
  • IBIS (In-Build Image Stabilisation) – When you are using long lenses cameras are more front-heavy and can result in camera shake if your shutter speed isn’t fast enough. IBIS allows you to shoot at slower shutter speeds than you’d conventionally need for football photography and still get a clear shot.
  • Fast writing and reading memory cards – You’ll be taking lots of images and you won’t want your camera buffering while you’re missing the action.

Don’t worry about a tripod or monopod as some professionals use. Unless you’ve got press accreditation for a semi-pro or professional match it’s unlikely you’ll be able to bring it into the stadium.

ZAGREB, CROATIA - JUNE 07, 2014: FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 Preliminaries - Croatia VS Scotland. Photographer shooting players warming up.
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What is Lens is Best for Football Photography?

If you’re sat in the stands then you’re going to be quite away from the pitch meaning you’ll need a longer focal length. This is also why a cropped sensor camera is really helpful.

For example, shooting on a full frame camera with a 200mm lens will give you a 200mm focal length. But if you shoot on a cropped sensor camera with a 200mm lens you’ll actually get closer to 300mm with your lens due to the crop factor.

Cropped sensor cameras and lenses tend to be cheaper too which is good if you’re just a beginner. Plus some football stadiums won’t let you carry in big camera bodies and lenses unless you have press accreditation, so a more compact camera and body is a better combination.

I’ve shot with a 70-210mm lens before at football games on a Sony A6000 and got great results from the stands. Any focal length above 200mm should be able to give you enough reach, unless you’re far back in the stands.

Photographer with professional tele-optics filming a football match at the stadium

How to Get Started with Football Photography

You don’t have to be a season ticket holder or a regular match goer of your local professional team to get started with football photography. If you’ve got kids and they love football why not head down to the park and start taking shots of them in action? Dress them up in their team kits and make it look like a proper game.

Otherwise think about visiting your local club to take photos on a weekend. There’s always a period of warm ups on the pitch which you can shoot to get your camera settings correct.

Some local teams don’t have any shooting match photos (expect on the odd iPhone) so it could be a benefit to them to have some shots of the game so they can post on their social media. Keep an eye out for the team manager/coaches and offer to send them shots afterwards if you’re happy with them.

NONTHABURI THAILAND-May 17:Unidentified photographer and view of SCG Stadium during Thai Premier League Muangthong utd. and Chonburi F.C. at SCG Stadium on May 17,2014 in Thailand

If you attend upper league games at a stadium get there early just as the turnstiles open. If you don’t have to take your seat immediately, get down pitch side, as close as you’re allowed and shoot the players doing their warm up routines. Some routines include passing and shooting so you can still get action shots before the game begins.

The key to being a good football photographer is timing and being aware of how the game is developing in small sequences. That will allow you to know where the players and ball will likely move to so you can react quickly. Maybe observe the game for 10-15 minutes before shooting and see how each team are playing.

Do they pass the ball to the goalkeeper a lot? Are the wingers running up and down the outside of the pitch regularly? Where are the strikers positioned? It’s a very fluid and reactive type of photography so your finger should never leave the shutter button!

Where Should You Stand in the Stadium?

Wherever you’re allowed! Honestly, if you are allowed to move around the pitch then take that opportunity to shoot at different angles.

At moments during the match, the action can be happening all at one end of the pitch – and if you’re stuck at the other all you’re going to get is photos of the back of every player’s shirt!

It’s best to pick a spot for 10 minutes at a time and then move based on the gameplay. If one team is dominating the other you know to stay near the goal. If it’s a tight game then stay in the middle and if it’s end-to-end then get your running shoes on!

But if you’re restricted on your movements and have to stay in your seat (try to get a seat behind a goal, but to the side if possible) then you can only hope you’ll get opportunities to shoot. If you don’t get much close action in the first half, as the teams swap sides your opportunities may come in the second half instead. Just be patient, you can’t control the game, only react to it.

Look out for where professional football photographers position themselves and try to sit in a similar area.

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 23, 2023:

Camera Settings for Football Photography

I’ve already outlined some of the helpful functions and features of a digital camera that will make it easier for you to capture striking (pun intended) football photographs. But let’s put it all together with some more context.

Football isn’t fast-paced for 90 minutes, there are moments when the play stops and players relax so your camera settings may alter depending on the tempo. Generally speaking, though I’ve outlined a list of camera settings to get you set up, to begin with.

  • Set drive mode to med-high frame burst
  • Set focus to C-AF (sports or object tracking mode)
  • ISO to AUTO (max of 1600 – you can go higher if your camera will cope)
  • Shoot in RAW
  • Turn on any camera body and lens IBIS
  • Shutter speed to 1/400th initially – this will need to change as the action gets closer (faster) and further away (slower) from you.
  • Shoot in Manual or Shutter Speed Priority (S/Tv) mode.
  • If you’re shooting S/Tv then the camera will decide the aperture, otherwise set the aperture to whatever is needed to get a 0 EV.

 

You’ll need to alter these settings depending on your camera’s limitations and the lighting conditions to get the best exposure. If you’re shooting at a night game you’re reliant on the stadium floodlights and you might need to raise the ISO or widen the aperture.

Kyiv, UKRAINE - November 02, 2021: Football photographer with camera during The UEFA Champions League match between Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine) vs FC Barcelona (Spain), Ukraine

What Type of Shots Could I Take at Football?

Keep your eye on the game throughout, but also be aware of other things going on around you to capture the atmosphere of the game from a fan’s perspective too. If you go to the game with friends, family or children get their reaction to the highlights to add more emotion to the day.

Of course, there’ll be goals (hopefully), tackles, challenges, disputes, near-chances, awful misses and feisty competition so be ready for everything and don’t let your finger leave the shutter button – even after the ref blows the full-time whistle.

There are many other actions and interactions you could shoot at football, not just the game. Look out for;

 

  • Team mascots interacting with fans
  • The managers meeting before the game
  • Fans waving flags
  • Sports equipment (balls, cones, water bottles)
  • The referee and assistants getting ready
  • The warm-up
  • The fans arriving at the stadium
  • Players confronting each other (and the referee)
  • Goal celebrations
  • Post-game warm downs
group of fans dressed in red color watching a sports event in the stands of a stadium

Problems with Football Photography

The biggest problem I’ve seen with beginners and amateurs getting into football photography is that they don’t get close enough to the action. Some shots are shot so wide (sometimes because they aren’t using a long enough lens) that they include fans, trees, buildings etc and the action becomes diluted. Get close and get tight with your shot. If you can’t, then the shot might not be worth it. Use the right equipment for the job and you’ll get much better results.

Another problem I’ve seen with football photography is a lack of focus. Some photographers forget to change their focus modes and are still using single AF-S mode which means after pre-focusing if the players move the shot will be soft. Use the right focus mode to track the movement and give yourself a better chance of getting the shots sharp.

Watch the action through the lens and shoot when you can see the player’s faces. Tackles and headers won’t result in the prettiest of reactions – but that’s football! Don’t crop in too tight when players are running towards the camera too, leave a little space for them to move left or right so they don’t look cropped off in the photo.

Shoot lots of images and don’t review them until you’re home, otherwise, you might miss an opportunity and you’ll only get one of those in football.

Image: Another problem with shooting from high positions in stands is that the DoF is different from shooting at pitch side. To get a blurred background, shoot from lower down the stand.

How to Become a Pro Football Photographer

There’s no exact route to becoming a professional football photographer but there are ways of getting your name out there and getting your photography known when you’re starting out, especially with smaller clubs.

As I mentioned earlier Sunday league teams and children’s football teams won’t have their own dedicated photographers. They might just be relying on players’ families and friends taking photos on their phones.

Offer your services to take shots of the game that they can post on their websites and social media (if they have any – check in advance and see what type/quality of shots they have already).

Or just take the shots and post them on your socials and tag the teams on it. After a little bit of time, hopefully, they’ll become familiar with you and see you as a competent photographer. Approach them and ask how you can shoot for them more regularly and maybe get a pass to allow you the freedom to shoot games in a stadium. They may ask for photos in return and no payment – that decision is up to you.

Tag players in your shots too if they have social media. Aim to build up relationships and network that way. It’s much easier to start with small local teams rather than trying to be Barcelona’s club photographer in 6 months!

Italy, Parma, january 10 2021: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio midfielder) attacks the penalty area in the second half during football match PARMA vs LAZIO, Serie A 2020-2021 day17, Tardini stadium

Football Photography: Final Words

If you’re already a big football fan and looking to combine your love of photography too then make sure you still retain the enjoyment of the game. Don’t get dismayed by blurred and mistimed shots to begin with. The more images you take and the closer you pay attention to where the play is going the better your timing will be.

Bookmark and save this article about football photography so you can find it again in the future. If you’ve got any other questions about photography chances are you’ll find the answers in our other articles and tutorials below.

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