Sports Shoot – Lessons learned

Last night I was shooting at a Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer game with Scott Kelby. Lots of fun, but….
Maybe the title of this blog post should be “lessons confrmed” since I really only learned a couple of new things, but I did confirm several key things that I probably already knew.

For example, the right glass is everything. We have a couple of great sports lenses here and I had my eye on the 200 – 400  for last night’s shoot. Unfortunately, Matt had already snagged it for a shoot, so I had to use my 700 – 200 2.8. Now don’t get me wrong, I love this lens, but for sports shooting it was just a little short, so I added a tele convertor. That meant I was shooting at f4 and very quickly had to pump the ISO to 5000 and then 6400 to get a decent shutter speed. As the evening got darker I ended up taking off the tele convertor (so I could shoot at 2.8) and only shot when the action got to our end of the field.

I still got some shots that I liked, but I definitely had lens envy as I looked at the nearby shooters with thier really big (long) lenses.

What else did I learn/confirm?

1. When you borrow someone else’s camera, make sure you have enough time to go through the settings and make the camera function the way you like. I’m sure I missed a few shots early on since I was still tweaking some settings.

2. In soccer, the ball is everything. Shots just don’t look as good when there’s no ball in the shot (compare the 2 shots below for example)

3. When shooting soccer, you can pretty much pick a spot to shoot from and stick with it – and if you do, bring a chair. I mean, it’s okay to move around, but I found sticking to a couple of spots made things much easier.

4. When you borrow someone else’s camera, make sure you remember to grab your camera card from their camera. Doh! I had to wait until this morning to look through my images as my card drove home in Scott’s car, still in the D700 I had borrowed.

Here’s a few more shots….

And finally, nothing new in this statement, but I also re-confirmed that the more opportunities you get to shoot something, the more you learn.


  1. Geoff Penn

    September 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Dave,

    Welcome to the beautiful game! You have some great action pics! I am one of the club snappers for UK team Brighton & Hove Albion, and you are right – you’ve got to shoot game after game, and learn a little bit at each.

    Your rule #2 is spot on – a good photo must contain the players (ideally faces too), the ball, and a good background (the crowd is great for this).

    One tip for next time: when a player runs with the ball (dribbling) they are invariably looking down at the ball, so you can get lots of photos of the tops of players heads! However there will be one brief moment when they look up to look for a team mate to pass the ball to. Bang! That’s when you hit the shutter – you’ll have a full face, eyes, legs and ball in the photo – and if they are about to be tackled by the opposition, you’ll have a winner.

    You mention a decent shutter speed; what do you consider this to be? I think ideally 1/1000 or more is great, but when it gets dark – and the floodlighting isn’t up to much – I’m sometimes reduced to 1/320 or 1/250 with high ISO at f/2.8. – and Lightroom comes to the rescue! Below this speed there’s just too much movement blur to be acceptable.

    Keep up the good work, Dave,


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  3. Tim I.

    September 20, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Just a reminder to others out there, if you had gone with a D-90 or another APS-C sized sensor camera, that would have effectively increased your 200mm focal length to 320mm. Sometimes full frame is not an advantage. Dedicated sports shooters are now starting to carry both full-frame and APS sized bodies just for this reason.

  4. Matthew Hayford

    September 20, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Response to Tim,

    Sure you would get a little closer with a D90 or a D300 but the noise in those cameras would be a lot worse when you need to shoot at a higher ISO. If they were shooting during a sunny day those cameras would be fine. Dave was using a D700 and Scott Kelby was using a D3s which are more ideal to be using when shooting sports at night under the bad lighting of a minor league stadium.

  5. Leonardo Herrera

    September 20, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Another tip: photos from a side (the player not running from or towards you) look better when the ball is not at center. You can get nice pictures of a play that way, instead of a picture of a player with the ball.

  6. David Ezzy

    September 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    In support of Tim

    I definitely see the advantages of an APS-C sized sensor camera, especially when you don’t have the lens to support full frame… and that’s when I have a 300mm. Shooting football (soccer) especially, even 400mm on a full frame is a struggle. While noise is a consideration, the alternative with full frame (and an insufficient lens) is that often you’ll need to crop the photo to about a 1/4 the size to get a shot you like, in which case you’ll have comparative noise at least anyway. I’d rather use my 50D, rather than a teleconverter and as a bonus I can keep my 2.8, therefore also ironically, keeping noise down. Personally I’d rather have the 50D, than need to buy a 500mm lens.

    I’m not sure how the D90 goes (Canon user). My 50D performs exceptionally under low light. I keep my full frame for the team photos, and portraits. FTR, I’ve shot under really bad lighting too.


  7. Runi

    September 21, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Would you recommend using the Nikon D3 with 70-200, or the Nikon D300s with the same lens for soccer? (Or the Nikon D7000 when it cames out?)

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