Football Photography Tips and Techniques

This post is by PictureCorrect Contributor from PictureCorrect

American football photography offers challenges which are very different than those of traditional photography. In this article, I will introduce you to helpful techniques to get you up to speed with gear and technique, so you can catch the winning touchdown this fall!

football photography

Photo captured by Riley McCullough; ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/640s, 55mm.


A fast DSLR camera and lens are an absolute must. The camera and lens should each be able to auto focus very quickly. My camera of choice for the last several years has been Canon 1D, with the Canon 70-200 Image Stabilized f/2.8 lens attached.

The Canon 1D series is noted for its ultra fast focusing, especially when using the center point. The 1D series also represents the finest in Canon technology, producing low noise even at high ISO settings. Colors are pleasingly warm and vibrant, and images very sharp.

A monopod can been helpful at times, but if you have a steady hand you are better off hand holding the camera.


I prefer to shoot in Manual Mode at all times, with AI Servo Auto Focus. Setting exposure can be tricky on sunny days because many areas of the field will be a few stops higher or lower based on where the sun is landing.

There are no hard and fast rules, but I do have a few helpful tricks.

  • Set your exposure by pointing at the grass in the general area of the field you expect the play to occur. Adjust your aperture and shutter speed until you get the exposure to “0” or “-1/3”.
  • Try exposing for white on the uniforms. You can use the white stripes of the referee’s uniform, or any player’s uniform or helmet. Adjust your exposure and take a test shot until the camera displays the whites just beginning to “blink” in the viewfinder as over exposed. This is particularly effective if you are shooting back lit and want to ensure the players’ faces are not too dark inside their helmets.
  • If you are shooting during the day, consider setting your white balance to “Cloudy” instead of “Sunny” or “Auto (AWB)”. The “Cloudy” white balance setting gives a warmer and more saturated look to subjects under a sunny sky.
football image

Photo captured by John Torcasio; ISO 125, f/3.5, 1/1600s, 400mm.


There is no substitute for real experience. You will get better with repeated shoots. But there are some tips to help you get better, faster.

  • Learn about the game of American football. Part of the “trick” to getting great shots is to know ahead of time where the play will unfold on the field. Understanding football strategy and recognizing who the key players are on the field will help you get the best shots. Look for mismatches, where one player is superior to another.
  • Use the light. I shoot mainly daytime football games, and constantly keep aware of the sun’s position to maximize my image contrast. Back lighting can be very effective, but I prefer the colors and contrasts from side lighting and angled lighting where the sun is behind the camera and slightly to the side.
  • Don’t use too much shutter speed. If you are attempting to freeze the action, 1/500 to 1/1000 of a second is usually plenty fast enough for American football. Going up to 1/2000 even in very bright conditions is overkill and will cause you to sacrifice depth of field. You can still get a great out of focus background and bokeh using an aperture of f/4.0 to 5.6, and you will get more of your subject in sharp focus.
  • Keep your subject in the center of the screen and follow him with center point auto focus. When you anticipate the action is about to occur, shoot in burst mode until the action comes to an end. You will end up with a lot of pictures to go through, but this greatly increases the odds that you will catch a few beauties.

About the Author:
Article written by Daniel Padavona from Warmpicture Sports Stock Photos.

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