Saturday, October 8, 2011

Photographing High School Football at Night (Prospect Panthers)

I live very near Prospect High School in San Jose, CA and have driven by their football field countless times and thought that it would be fun to shoot one of their night games. that my daughter goes to school there, and was heading to the game last night...I thought that this would be a perfect time to make that happen. So...I grabbed my Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 100-400mm lens and my Gitzo monopod and drove the kids to the game.

First things first. The key to good sports photographs is location. I found the person in charge and asked for permission to shoot from the sidelines. As I figured, getting access to the high school sidelines is a heck of a lot easier than getting access to an NFL game or the Olympics! But, it is always a good idea to ask permission in these situations. Not only were they happy to let me on the field to shoot, but once they found out my photography experience, they were asking for me to send them images. No problem! was time to start shooting.

Since this was a night game, with decent but not ideal lighting, I cranked up to ISO to 3200 and started to shoot. Seeing that my shutter speed was less than 1/200, I decided to do something I usually avoid, I cranked up the ISO to 6400. This allowed me to shoot images between 1/250 and 1/400, which is just enough to freeze the action and keep things in focus.

I made sure to key in on both the offense and defensive players to capture as many players as possible.

I moved positions during the game, sometimes lining up right on the line of scrimmage (which is not possible at an NFL game since this is a restricted area for the team members only).

I shot this image from the end zone. This is a good example of the peak of action, as the ball carrier is crossing into the end zone and the referee is signaling a touchdown. I really love the kid in the background who is also signalling. :)

Proper camera settings are really important for these types of shots. Here is what I recommend for anyone out there trying to shoot football.

1. Shoot your images in RAW.
2. Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode
3. Try aperture settings between f2.8 and f5.6 (thus allowing more athletes to be in focus in each shot)
4. Adjust your ISO and Aperture to make sure that your shutter speed is at least 1/250.
5. Set your focus mode to Servo focus (so that your focus is constantly changing as the players move to and from you).
6. Use a zoom lens that can get you close to the action. Minimum of 200mm.
7. Use a monopod to save your back.

This shot was taken at 1/160 sec and you can see some motion blur, but I really like the added effect. The key to this shot is that the ball carrier (my main subject) is in perfect focus while the others are not. Why was the shutter speed slower on this shot? Did I change my ISO or Aperture? Nope. This was slower because it was a darker area of the field, out of the direct lights from above. 

The cheerleaders came out at halftime and put on a short show. Capturing these images is important, because it is part of the high school football experience.

Capturing their peak of action is just as much fun as photographing the football game.

And then it was back to the game.

The Prospect Panthers dominated this game, which meant that there were lots of opportunities to photograph them making big plays and scoring touchdowns.

An interception at the beginning of the 3rd quarter.

Earlier in this blog entry I recommended camera settings. No I am going to recommend some editing tips. Once you have shot your images, I would recommend the following steps in your RAW processing software (I use Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS5):

1. Adjust your exposure to make sure that your image is not blown out or too dark.
2. Straighten your image to keep the horizon straight (unless you are trying to go for that angled artistic shot).
3. You might want to lower your black level (since I find that my 5D Mark II overcompensates the blacks levels)
4. I added just a tiny bit of Fill Light to many of these images, to lighten the shadows and make the players faces more visible.
5. Reduce the Noise Levels. I adjusted my Luminance between 18-30 on most of these images to get rid of the digital noise (caused by the ISO being set high at 6400). I could have also used NIK Dfine, but this takes more time and I would only use that on a "portfolio image".

I hope this helps all those budding sports photographers to take better pictures at your next night game. 


Bigfreezer said...


Thanks for sharing your experience. I have had the good fortune of photographing many high school games this season. I am purely an amateur and in need of better equipment. I have made the best of the situation this year.

I actually have taken over running of the boosters website for our schools parent boosters and have a photo gallery page that I try to get some shots into each week.

I will make sure to use some of your tips to try and make better pictures.

Thanks again.

Jeff Freeze

Unknown said...

I started a few years ago and found that location is huge, with a little luck you can get some good shots.
Here is a site I created for our High School and my pictures.

Subbuteo Bible said...

Excellent photos. I'm a huge football photography fan myself. At present i use the Nikon J1 which, although not expensive, this is a fantastic camera. I've had it now for about 3 years and it's helped to produce almost all of the photos on my website - I'm actually looking to replace this camera now but it'll take a lot to fill the void.

I was wondering if you'd take a look at my site and send me any feedback you may have. No matter how critical.

Keep up the good work!