Monday, October 31, 2011


My coordinator at Production Iris sent out an email asking for a last minute replacement to shoot a university football game. While I am a fan of the sport, and I have shot other sports in the distant past, I never actually had the opportunity to shoot a football game, so I jumped on the chance. After a tiny bit of convincing (as my sport portfolio isn't the grandest), he gave me the go.

So Saturday morning, I got up and prepped my equipment....all my equipment. I have shot soccer, which is similar in terms of field coverage and speed of game, and I knew that you had to be prepared for anything. So bringing 2 bodies was a must, as I would never have time to switch lenses between when the QB throws the pass and the receiver right in front of me catches it. Here is a breakdown of my gear for the day

Canon 7D + 70-200 f/2.8 + 1.4x teleconverter

This is my best the setup for max range. The 7D, as with all Canon crop sensor cameras (Rebels, 40D, 50D, 60D, 7D) have smaller sensors and thus give you an effective focal range 1.6x the actual focal range. This means that a 200mm lens is effectively a 320mm range. Attached to the 70-200, I put on a 1.4x teleconverter which made my 70-200 on a 7D into a 450mm lens. Now I'm getting into the right focal range for getting close in on a football field. The drawback of the 1.4x teleconverter is that it cuts one stop of light. So my f/2.8 lens is a maximum of f/4. Not a huge deal for a daytime sports event.

I kept this setup as my bread and butter and had it on a monopod for the whole game. This is what gets you the close up money shots. I would love to have the 400mm f/2.8 lens that the pros use, but I don't have $14,000 just lying around :)

Canon 5D2 + 24-70

This is my up close lens. A more seasoned sport shooter at Iris gave me the suggestion to keep this setup ready at all times. When the action gets really close, just grab the camera and shoot blind. I kept the Focus points to auto select and made sure I had a fast shutter speed. I kept the focal range around 40-50mm. Those few times the players come crashing down on you, I had my camera ready to go.


I also kept in my bag a Canon 10-22mm for ultra wide shots, but never once took it out.
Gloves were a must as it was pretty darn cold outside. While I am moving up and down the sidelines, I'm stationary most of the time and you get cold, fast. I have these thing gloves with leather on the fingers, making the camera operation easy.

How I shot football

Knowing the game is key. You are minded like a defensive player and have to anticipate what type of play will happen. You also have to think about the shot that you want and from which angle you want it from, as this will impact how far down the field you are. If you want a side shot of the QB throwing, don't stand 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Canadian football has 3 downs, as compared to American football which has 4. This means there are a lot more passes in Canadian football than in American. Other slight rule differences (which don't impact photography) are the field is 10 yards longer, the end zone is longer, defensive players line up a yard away from the line of scrimmage. So again, knowing the game is a great asset to having a successful shoot.

After a few plays, I figured out that when in doubt (hey, that rhymes!) stand about 10 yards down from the line of scrimmage on the defensive side. This will give a decent shot of the QB as he drops back to throw or allow you to lock on the RB for a hand off. Most throws are in the 10 yard range, so if the QB throws the ball in your direction, chances are the receiver is right nearby. Once they get within 10 yards of the goal line, heading to the back of the end zone is a good idea as this will give interesting touchdown shots. Luck of the draw and I was not in a good position for any of the touchdown shots, but I did get a few misses in the end zone

Shooting a university game is pretty action packed. I was only allowed on the side line opposite the player benches. I'm sharing this 3-4 yard wide area with the line judges, the cheerleaders, a few security guards and the other photographers. So things get pretty tight. In trying to make my way around the cheerleaders doing their thing, I got whacked in the head by a pom-pom. The referees own the sidelines, so at all times, you must not be in their way. Let them go by, then work around.

Be mindful of the play and learn to shoot with one eye open. When you are this close to the action, it goes by really fast. In the picture below, I had a great angle on the QB throwing the ball. What I failed to noticed was that the receiver was right near me. Really, I swear I was paying attention and not looking at the cheerleaders. After snapping a few shots, I had to jump out of the way as the players come crashing through very fast. And they are big, and heavy, and there are often more than just one.

All in all, I had a great time shooting. It gave me some good insight on shooting the game and having quick reactions. Always good to stretch your skills once and a while as you can pick things up that you can apply in your day to day shooting.

Thanks for reading! Here are a few more from the game. Full series of 62 are up on the website.

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