(American) Football

Welcome to the Football Photography lesson! We recorded this on Live with our Charter Members in the audience. We went through a ton of information, so make sure to hover over the embedded CrowdCast below and then scroll within the actual CrowdCast window in order to see all the questions.

If you have any trouble, you can always watch the replay on the actual CrowdCast page itself for a more native viewing experience.

That said, let's jump right into the video / broadcast replay:

powered by crowdcast

Links promised in the show:

Lens/Camera Rain Cover

Sigma 120-300mm 2.8

Pre Show Notes

Yep, pre show, not post show. Here are some notes that Vincent jotted down before the live broadcast. Of course, there's LOTS more in the broadcast, but we thought we'd include these pre-show notes for quick reference.

Positioning is the key.

In baseball, you're often positioned in a photo well (in the pros, not in little league :) ). In basketball, you are along the baseline. In hockey, there is very little movement for the photographer.

But in football, you have more access than just about any other sport. And that can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how well you understand the game.

So my number one tip for you is to emphasize how important positioning is when it comes to shooting football. I know some professional photographers that always get the shot. And the others along the sidelines- shooting the same games- can't understand how they always do it.

And it's because they know where to be.

In football, you have to ask yourself what's about to happen, or what can potentially happen. Let's use a high school game as the example. If my focus is one particular team, or more specifically, one player, it gets easier because you get to focus tighter. Not "photography" focus, but mental focus.

When I shoot an NFL game, I need to cover everything. I'm not focused on a player or one team, so if the moment happens, I need to get it. No matter where it is on the field. That's much more of a challenge than if someone hires me to shoot one team or a player.

So what is the main tip?

Position yourself where the action is headed or going towards. If your kid is the star wide receiver, position yourself downfield beyond the line of scrimmage. If you are thirty yards downfield with a telephoto lens, and your kid nabs a pass out of the air, beats the defenders and races to the end zone for the touchdown, you will be ready to nail that shot.

If you're focusing on the quarterback, the story is different. He's most likely not going to be running all over the field. And he'll be involved in every offensive play. With a quarterback, you have opportunities to take chances and go beyond the typical throwing the ball photograph. You can position yourself along the sideline near the line of scrimmage, so you can get that tight shot of him dropping back to pass. If you want to get that image of his face as he is tossing a tight spiral, then being downfield ten or twenty yards will be an ideal spot. Shooting from behind the line of scrimmage will give a unique vantage point of what he sees when he is throwing the ball, or even before the snap as he commands the huddle.

Now if the team you're focusing on is on defense, the script can be shifted. If you want that image of the big tackle, the fumble recovery or the interception ran back for a touchdown, position yourself behind the line of scrimmage. If the opponent is not far downfield, the ideal spot is in the end zone. That's where you are going to see the faces of the defenders. That's where the will obviously run towards with a fumble or interception, and you want to be ready to capture if perfectly. If you are on the other side of the field, most of the times you will just get their backs. Also, if there is any celebration in the end zone, you will be right there (wide angle lens ready), to capture that unique moment that nobody else will get.

These are just a few examples. But the one key to being a better football photographer is to position yourself in the best spots possible.

Safe Bet: Shoot From the End Zone

And with the action coming your way. This is my go to spot any chance I get. There are so many benefits to doing this.

First and foremost, it’s the only spot on the field where you get a clean background, or relatively clean background.

Second, the action comes right at you. This is the position that I’m in where people always say “the player is looking right at you!” Actually, he or she isn’t, they are looking to the end zone, which happens to be right where I am. So when they break away for a touchdown with the defenders following, who’s lens will they be looking through?

Third, the end zone isolates your subject, which will make your photo “pop” much more than one that has a busy background. Shooting from the sidelines is necessary at times, but your backgrounds are much more crowded because you are shooting towards the other sidelines and you are shooting across the shorter part of the field.

Be prepared to move!

Football is a sport where you need to move to get the images you want. The more you move, the better feel you get for the sport, for the angles, and the images. It’s a blessing that we get that ability to do so.

Position yourself for the story you want.

When I shoot the Pittsburgh Steelers, my editors want the best action of them, not necessarily the other team. Same with your kids. So if you want to get your kid scoring the touchdown or making the big catch on offense, position yourself in front of the line of scrimmage.

If they're close to threatening for a touchdown, position yourself in the end zone.

Conversely, if they are on defense, you can take a chance and shoot from behind the line of scrimmage. So when your kid makes the sack, interception or recovers the fumble, they are making the play facing you, not away from you. That alone can be the difference between a lifetime shot and a throw away image.


The light will affect where you shoot from. The common theory in sports photography is to shoot with the sun behind you. I often try to do the opposite. If the venue and the look is right, I will often shoot with the sun in front of me to get a a cool backlit look with a darker background. For the safest, most even lit situations, shooting with the sun behind you will be ideal. But the backlit photos stand out more if they are done well.

Gear and Equipment Considerations

Football players move fast. When I’m shooting the pros, I want my shutter speed to be no less that 1/1000th of a second. Even though I shoot with 2.8 lenses, I will often shoot at 3/5 or F4 to give a little depth of field. As the light gets darker, I take advantage of the 2.8 more.

If you can, shoot with two bodies. One will have your long lens, and one a wide angle lens. This allows you to get the action down the field as well as when they are right on top of you scoring a touchdown.

Shoot on Al Servo / AF-C.

My three go to lenses for shooting football are the 300mm 2.8, the 70-200 2.8 and the 24-70 2.8.

Game insights

- Football is a an interesting sport to shoot. The action happens really fast, in very short bursts, with tons of action and movement in that time. What is the bonus of shooting football over most sports? You have the option to move around all you want. So the better you understand the sport, your equipment and photography, the better your pictures are going to be. Take advantage of your ability to roam and don’t get comfortable in the same spot.

- Shoot low from the end zone. A quick, easy tip to make your kid look larger than life. When I shoot football, I always try to shoot from as low as possible. It’s such a more interesting perspective.

- Two faces and a ball. It’s an old time mantra my editors in New York used to bark at me, but it’s still true. What’s the quickest way to a good football image? If it has two faces and a ball. It’s harder with football, because they wear helmets, move really fast, and they don’t care if they are facing towards your camera.

- The quarterback controls the game. The more you understand the position, they better of a football shooter you will become. Because they can only do four things with the ball. They can throw it. They can hand it off. They can run with it. Or they can get sacked.

- Knowing the score and the game is huge for your photography. A 3rd and inches gives you a clue as to what might happen. So will a 3rd and 17, with a team down by four, with a minute to go. Know the game and pay attention to the details.

- Know your surroundings. There is lots of stuff going on on a football sidelines. I’ve been knocked over, had footballs hit me, run into cheerleaders, been knocked into by other photogs, and so much more. Know what’s going on around you.

-Pick your spots. Realize that you will not get everything. But we want to help you get into positions to get as much as you can.