www.goalWA.net has some of the very best soccer photographers and soccer photos in the entire country. So, we thought we’d ask some of our shooters about how they take photos and what it takes to get really good soccer pictures. Joseph Armand leads our cast of contributors in this how-to feature.
How is taking soccer photos different from shooting other sports?
I think the biggest difference with soccer is the sheer size of the pitch. Arguably a soccer field can be one of the larger arenas in sports. A baseball field is obviously larger, but where the action is going to take place is fairly constant. A soccer game flows side to side and back and forth. This is one of the reasons that Rick (Morrison) and I coordinate where we shoot from at Sounders matches, so we don’t end up getting the same shot, from the same angle (which we have done in the past!).
One trick that I utilize is listening to the crowd. When the sound crescendos I know that action is building. Sometimes I have been able to catch action, off the ball, that I would have never caught onto if I hadn’t been listening. In any case you need to be very aware of what is happening on the field. Take your eye out of the viewfinder and just watch the game for a few seconds. Lots of things are happening out there, both on and off the ball.
Stephanie Brownfield: “Soccer is a constantly moving sport, no time outs. You have to have your eye on the game the whole time. Setting your camera down and taking a break is not an option until halftime or after the game.”
VISIT: Our latest photos in galleries at Facebook.com/goalWA
The Importance Understanding Soccer
I will say this: it seems every sports photographer who concentrates on a specific sport always says their sport is the toughest to shoot. To this I say “Phooey”. They’re all tough and they all present a challenge. High School Football…bad light, Volleyball…action happens too fast, Baseball…timing to get the shot of the ball on the bat. If you study any sport, before you shoot it, you have a much better chance of having the right gear and mind set to get a really good shot.
I recently shot for the Seafair organization. They wanted shots of the airshow. The technical challenge here was standing on a dock that was moving with the waves, and slowing the shutter on my camera so the propeller was blurred, while the plane itself was sharp. My solution was to take the dock out of the equation. I pulled a couple strings and got a jetski ride to a larger barge that was holding a car. I got the shot and most importantly, didn’t fall into the lake with my gear.
Stephanie Brownfield: “When you know the game you know what to look for. What calls will be made or should be made, cards and pk’s. If you know that, you can get reactions from players and coaches. Understanding the game is a must.”
Rick Morrison: “Understanding the game allows you to anticipate the flow of play which allows you set up shots in advance. For example, if you capture some nice shots of James Riley moving the ball up field you then look towards the center knowing that he will cross the ball and you are ready for your next shot. This makes it easier to get your camera focused on the next shot.”
Soccer requires a couple key settings to work well. (Warning technical jargon coming) I shoot in ‘Aperture Priority’. For the team photo I set the aperture to about f8 to ensure all the players are in focus. For action I set the aperture to around f4 to f5.6. This allows the action I am shooting to be nice and sharp and the background to be blurred and less important (called Bokeh). My ISO range varies for the available light; higher at Starfire (horrible light), lower at Clink Field (about as good lighting as you will ever get). My goal is to keep my shutter speed above 1/640th of a second. IF the above makes no sense to you, switch your camera to ‘sport mode’ and then get a book and learn more (I recommend Scott Kelby, a great keep it simple, layman’s terms writer). The technical side of being a photographer is as important as having a good eye. My favorite phrase, which is arrogant and sarcastic (like me), is by Claude Adams, “Having a camera makes you no more a photographer than having a hammer and some nails makes you a carpenter.” Put the camera down and learn how and why it works. Take photographs, not snapshots.
Stephanie Brownfield: “The shutter speed has to be fast. You need to set it fast enough to freeze the action. But the exact speed all depends on your lens and camera. A lot of cameras have a Shutter Priority Mode where you can adjust the shutter speed and it will automatically select the right “F” stop and “ISO” for you. This is helpful when the lighting changes through out the game.”
Rick Morrison: “I like to shoot at a higher f-stop than the maximum (all of my lenses are f 2.8) because I like the increased depth of field. This allows me to keep multiple players in focus when they go up for headers for example. I usually shoot at f5.6 and increase my ISO when I require a faster shutter speed. If lighting is very poor due to inclement weather (rain, fog), then I slowly lower my f-stop. Sometimes you have no choice but to shoot at f2.8 at the highest ISO your camera allows.”
Braulio Herrera: “I would keep my shutter speed not lower than 1/500. I will try to open my lens as much as I can (f/2.8, f/4 or f/5.6) AI Servo is a must (for Canon shooters), and continuous shooting (burst). Manual shooting works best, but Av should be “ok” also. An underexposed pic might be fixable in Photoshop, a blurry pic can’t be.”
What makes a great soccer photo?
A great soccer photo starts with the technical side. The image has to be sharp, meaning it is cleanly in focus. It is appropriately cropped, only the important stuff is in the image. It is correctly processed, meaning not overly or underly saturated with color. I shoot about 3000 images per Sounders game. I get 35 images that I consider ok for publication out of all those frames.
On the artistic side, everyone has their own opinion but irregardless, ANY great photograph starts with the “Rule of Thirds”, Look it up!
My personal favorites are images that convey lots of emotion. One of the reasons that I don’t have lots of photos of Jhon Kennedy Huertado is that he plays without emotion. Catch a smile on that mug, and you got a Pulitzer. I met a guy who considered his best shots of soccer games to be headers. His portfolio was filled with shots of soccer balls completely deformed around a player’s skull. I found the first few interesting, but my personal taste didn’t find them “Great”.
Two of my favorite photos with www.goalWA.net are both of Fucito. I originally wasn’t a Fucito fan, after he got a well-deserved yellow in the friendly against Barcelona. I considered him another blunt instrument in Sigi’s arsenal. Today, I have to say the lad has grown on me. He has a great work rate and I feel he is happiest running up and down a soccer pitch. It shows in the images we take of him.
Stephanie Brownfield: “I think capturing all the intensity that the players have during the game makes a great soccer photo. You want to get the determination when they are going after the ball. The disappointment that they have when they know they should have done something different. The relief, happiness and excitement they have in their face once they score a goal or even things up.”
Rick Morrison: “This is very subjective, but for me, a great soccer photo is one that conveys an extreme view of athleticism or emotion. Because of that I enjoy photos that typically show the players faces and not the backs of players.”
Braulio Herrera: “Any pic that would tell the story of what happened; it does not necessarily have to be an action image. This includes action/reaction from players, coaches and even fans. However, an action pic is always good, to show the intensity of the game. As a general rule: “No ball, no face = no good,” although there are some exceptions.”
Give your top three “tips” for improving soccer photo-taking.
Tip One) Practice, Tip Two) Practice, Tip Three) Practice
1. In this day of digital imaging you can practice taking action photos almost freely. I cut my teeth shooting on film, and I can tell you that I spent more money on film and processing than I did on the camera gear I have today. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more.
2. Buy the best glass you can afford. Less expensive camera bodies take great photos with great lenses. It doesn’t work the other way around. Retailers will lead you the other direction because they know that the serious photographer is going to have to upgrade their lens before they upgrade their camera body. In this vein also, the best glass is usually made by the camera manufacturer. I will buy one Canon lens than buying two Tamron lenses with greater capacity for the same price. Every time I have violated this rule for myself, I have been sadly disappointed. Canon or Nikon, buy their lenses.
3. Tip three, and really this should be the first tip…Get to know your camera and equipment. When I started into the digital era I spent $400 to take a class to learn about how to take better photos. We spent over half the class going through the owner’s manual learning about the camera functions.
Stephanie Brownfield’s tips:
1. Find the right shutter speed. Take a test shot. Zoom in and look at the whole picture to make sure your speed is fast enough. If something is not frozen make the shutter speed faster.
2. Keep both eyes on the action. I constantly have both eyes open to make sure I don’t miss anything. You might see something happening on a different part of the field that you need to shoot.
3. Try to get lower then the players. You often see photographers sitting or kneeling down. It gets a new perspective on the picture. The players look bigger and stronger. It looks like the action is coming right into the camera.
Rick Morrison’s tips:
1. Get the best equipment you can afford and understand the limitations of your equipment including both the camera body and the lens.
2. Understand the game and don’t put down your camera just because the whistle blows and the play stops.
3. Focus on taking photos and don’t talk to anyone standing next to you.
Braulio Herrera’s tips:
1. Don’t focus where the ball is, focus where the play will be.
2. Wait for the players to come to you, don’t run after the action like crazy.
3. Try to shoot as low as possible, specially when shooting kids.