December 26, 2012

5 Tips to Shooting Better Football Photos

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) slips as he escapes New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Tom Johnson's (96) tackle at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on December 23, 2012. (Stan Olszewski/The Dallas Morning News)

I had the great opportunity to photograph the Dallas Cowboys' last home game of the 2012 season against the New Orleans Saints last weekend for The Dallas Morning News.  This was the second Cowboys game for me in two weeks.  Although this game was not as much fun to shoot and seemed much slower than the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I still had a blast.  There's just something awesome about photographing impressive athleticism, beautiful cheerleaders, and a nail-biting overtime ending – oh, I forgot to add – all in a fantastic venue like Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

A Dallas Cowboys cheerleader performs during a timeout in a Christmas outfit at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on December 23, 2012.  (Stan Olszewski/The Dallas Morning News)

The Dallas Cowboys had a pretty amazing comeback to score a touchdown with just a few minutes left in the 4th quarter to tie the game and send it into overtime.  A win for the Cowboys would be huge and would give them a spot in the playoffs.  Instead, a wild fumble by the Saints and in the Saints favor gave them an easy field goal win. This lose left the Cowboys with slim chances to make the post season.

Read through the break to see 5 Tips to Shooting Better Football Photos:

1.  A long lens is everything.  I love shooting football with a 400mm f/2.8L IS, often with a 1.4x extender attached.  This gives me enough room to stay out of harms way and get in close to the action to see faces.  Feet are overrated – great pictures are in the eyes.

If you can't afford a big lens (not many can) either add an extender to a 70-200mm, consider cheaper alternatives (300mm f/4L IS or 400mm f/5.6L), or rent a lens for the weekend at

2.  Shoot from the end zone.  The best way to create great background separation from the players is to use long lenses to get in close, use fast lenses (f/2.8 instead of f/5.6), and get the background as far away as possible.  Shooting from the sidelines gets cluttered quick, shooting down the field does not.

3.  Get on your knees.  Dropping to your knees will do several great things for you: it will make the players look bigger, it will open up faces under the helmets, and it will also allow you to shoot up into the stands, minimizing cluttered backgrounds.  You should also pick up a pair of comfortable gel knee pads too.  They'll reduce your fatigue and pain.

4.  Anticipate the action, follow the reaction.  Have you ever looked at Sports Illustrated?  They run two types of photos: action and reaction.  Shoot the receptions, the tackles, and the drives, then look for the dejection and jubilation when the play is over.

5.  Shoot with both eyes open.  Professional athletes (even college and high school kids too) run fast, hit hard, and throw harder.  Keep both eyes open so you can see any tackles, dives, or wild passes coming your way.

Check out the photo below.  Cowboys quarterback Romo threw this wild pass straight to me.  I had just enough time to drop my 400mm down, shoot two frames with my 70-200mm, and realize "this thing is coming right to me!"  I was able to knock the ball down with my forearm, keeping my gear, my face, and the cheerleader behind me safe.  By the way, she thanked me with, "You saved my life!"

NFL quarterbacks throw hard.  Keep your eyes open for wild passes, close tackles, and those annoying t.v. guys running down the sidelines.

Do you have any other tips to shooting great football photos and staying safe?  Share them in the comments below!

Dallas Cowboys vs New Orleans Saints - Images by Stan Olszewski

Gear Used on this assignment: