I had an amazing opportunity a few weeks ago to shoot a pro soccer game, specifically the USMNT vs Brazil game at FedEx Field near Washington, DC. I was there on behalf of one of the sponsors, to shoot the fan access events they were hosting, as well as documenting their logos on the jumbotrons and around the stadium. I had access to the field (with a sweet all-access laminate), getting to stand neck and neck with the other professional photographers, as well as access to the club level, to shoot the interior of the sponsor’s suite. Today I’m showcasing the photos that I took from the field.
Shutter: 1/640, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 640
I’ll be honest up front, I don’t have a ton of amazing tips for how to shoot a professional soccer game. This was my first experience shooting a game this big (I’ve shot high school soccer before, and pro tennis). If you’re looking for some tried and true experience on shooting a pro soccer game, check out Paul Frederiksen‘s blog post about shooting soccer. He shoots DC United games all the time and gives you some more insight. But here’s what I learned.
Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 320
This shot of the ball all by itself really sticks with me. One rarely gets a good look at the ball while it’s in play. To me, there’s quite a bit of tension… is someone going to kick it? What’s going to happen next? We have no idea. I guess in the end it’s not as dynamic as players or action, but I love detail shots like this, to place the viewer at the event. These are the things I look at when there’s a pause in the central focus.
Shutter: 1/800, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 1250
This is a shot where I caught an amazing moment (the ball slamming into the goal, bypassing the goalie) but due to my angle and somewhat the exposure, you have to know what’s happening when you look at it. Essentially this photo requires 1000 words instead of providing it. To be fair to myself, there’s only so much I can do as far as positioning goes. Photographers were only at the two endzones behind the goals, no one was on the sidelines except for the TV cameras. So it would either be straight on like this, or directly behind it (which would have been nice). Also this is the further end from where I am (right behind the other goal) so as far as zoom and then dept of field go, I’m also limited. I wish some of the players in the foreground were gone, that would help a bit. But I got the timing right. I also like how the Pepsi logo adds some dynamic flair to the scene.
Shutter: 1/800, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 1600
I like the tension and moment-frozen-in-time that I caught here. Soccer is very challenging, as the action can move to a spot very far away from where you were focused, very quickly. I’ll point out another shortfall. My 4 year old son just “graduated” pre-school. They had caps and gowns and everything at their ceremony. Every single parent had a camcorder or point and shoot, and then some on the sidelines had their Rebels and kit lenses. Then I showed up and strapped on my 70-200mm L series telephoto lens. Like a boss. Well oh how quickly I was knocked down a peg when walking into the pit of professional photogs. My lockerroom level feelings of inadequacy and shame quickly turned into admiration and desire. I want a 400mm f/2.8 or the 600mm f/4. They’re just so, handsome. I did alright with my 70-200mm, but I could see where the investment in cost would go. If you have the opportunity to shoot a game like this, I completely recommend renting some decent glass. 200mm was alright, but you may want to go even higher. I did fairly well without a monopod (my arms did get tired) but you would absolutely need some support with a juggernaut like those big puppies.
Shutter: 1/250, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 15mm Fisheye, ISO: 1250
Ok, enough dwelling on the photos I wish I got, I’m actually really proud of this one. As I was cruising down to the guest suite, I passed by this large open air space between sections. Currently under construction, it offered a unique view of the field. It was roped off so I gently asked a nearby security guard if I could just get a shot or two and move on. See, there’s a drop-off at the edge, so I promised to keep my distance and make it quick. I waited for my sponsor’s logo to pop up, got a shot for them, and then took a few more. I like how this shows the entire field, and gives a sense of how many people there were (as opposed to my wide-angle shots from the field).
Shutter: 1/800, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 1600
This is the type of depth of field I wanted to get for most of my shots. Unfortunately it’s up to the player and how far away he is from me, and the background to get this look. When shooting anything, your job as photographer is to direct the the viewer’s attention to something specific, to tell a story. In sports, one of the most effective ways to direct the viewers attention is by placing the player/ball in sharp focus and the background pretty fuzzed out. You need a wide-open aperture to get a more slim depth of field. You can get a cheapo 75-300mm zoom lens for just under $150, but its aperture is about f/5.6 fully zoomed. The cost of those big lenses is more about the aperture (my 70-200mm has an aperture of f/2.8) You can’t control the players, you can’t control their placement, so a sizable portion of getting that look and getting an action packed shot that tells a story is luck. But you won’t get the chance to be lucky if you’re not paying close attention to the action.
Shutter: 1/800, Aperture: f/1.8, Lens: 50mm, ISO: 100
I feel I did alright for my first go. I wasn’t familiar with which players to keep an eye on, and I don’t watch a ton of pro soccer to know what to look for. When I shot that high school soccer game, all I wanted was a good clean header, and it took me a whole game to know when to anticipate it, but it was sheer luck to be focused and zoomed on whomever was going to get it. There weren’t as many headers in this pro game. I like this photo because I got some fans, and it illustrates the atmosphere of the game. I always find it important to get many little details and people in addition to the action shots.
Like I said, I don’t have a ton of uber-helpful soccer shooting tips, so check out Paul Frederiksen‘s blog. And check out the rest of my photos below.