Football is almost notoriously difficult to shoot. I’ve been doing it off and on for most of my career, but I am more or less doing it full-time now at the Banner-News. This is both a matter of necessity and personal choice; I want to do it, and I feel obligated to. A newspaper lives or dies by its photography; sports photography is integral to any newspaper’s coverage; therefore, our readers deserve the best possible photos, especially in the area of sports.
I sort of made myself the unofficial chief photographer of the Banner-News when I got here. I had my own camera and a greater variety of lenses than most companies provide their staffs. I was also interested in broadening my experience, shooting almost any and everything that falls within our coverage area — meaning features as well as news, sports as well as, well, anything else. For me, the ability to shoot sports (especially football) is a question of focal length and lens speed. Speed, most importantly. Until this football season, I’ve never owned a fast telephoto lens. This year, I have a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto. It is magnificent glass. First of all, it is heavy, solid state, durable, even somewhat unwieldy — an incredible photographic tool that nonetheless felt immediately comfortable and “right” in my hands. It responds well in almost any lighting situation and has thus far produced some very appealing images.
Second, its f/2.8 maximum aperture permits me to shoot until after dark on the football field. That’s a good thing. When it’s dark, I’d rather have the widest possible aperture than a longer focal range.
Metadata on a typical football image (shot with the 70-200mm): wide-open aperture, 1/1250, ISO1600. (Always shooting NEF.) Strangely enough, many frames will look dark and soupy on my LED screen, but once I lighten the exposure in Photoshop, I’m usually looking at a crisp, clear, bright, clean image. That makes me happy.
I’m also shooting on the 16GB Extreme San Disk memory card, which, according to the company’s Web site, is better at capturing fast action. So far it seems to be working.
As for the game itself, it’s as frustrating as it is exciting, if not more so. High school football is often a game of errors — sometimes a comedy of them. For every thrilling play there are three duds that absolutely kill the momentum. You can’t plan for it, you just have to pre-focus on where you think the action will be and hope you’re in the right place at the right time — as long as that doesn’t include getting creamed by players.
That said, I’m just an amateur hoping to get lucky. The goal isn’t to win any prizes (though I would dearly love to); the goal is to get the best images in the hands of our readers. Isn’t that always the case, no matter what page they are on?