On Sunday, I shot the Bucs vs. Rams NFL game on assignment for Southcreek Global Media (Both teams are having decent seasons so far and the Bucs ended up winning in the last 15 seconds, taking them to a 4 and 2 record. Whodathunkit?).

(Above: Cadillac Williams early in the day, not yet knowing he would make the game winning catch with just seconds left on the clock. CLICK ON IT FOR A LARGER VIEW).

The Dream Lens
I couldn’t hold out any longer, so I went ahead and bought the dream lens—the 400mm f/2.8, and after shooting with it for just one game, it truly is the lens for football. Scary sharp, great shallow DOF, and the 400mm length is really ideal. It definitely is heavier and larger than the 300mm f/2.8, but it’s worth it.

Camera Specs
My main camera was my Nikon D3 (with the 400mm attached, mounted on a Gitzo monopod), and my 2nd body was a Nikon D700 with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. I shot in Aperture Priority mode, wide open all day with both set at f/2.8, at ISO 200 on both cameras.

(Above: Quarterback Sam Bradford hands off to Steven Jackson, an amazing athlete, who had to have rushed for at least 100 yards on the day. Every time he touched the ball, I held my breath because he was always one step away from breaking for a touchdown).

(Above: Freeman was hauling in the ball from bad snaps all day, but I particularly like this one because of the way Cadillac Williams is ready to block up front).

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(Above: with 15 seconds left in the game, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams catches the winning touchdown. I was really happy for him. He’s a great guy, and struggled back through two long, painful knee injuries that end most players careers).

(Above: Quarterback Josh Freeman heading in after winning the game in the final seconds. What I like about this shot is the way you can see the stadium in the reflection on the back of his helmet).

My Camera Settings
Here’s how I set up both cameras for shooting Football.

(1) I set the Focus Mode to Continuous (technically called “Continuous-servo AF”

(2) I set the Auto Focus area mode to “Dynamic Area AF” (So I can move the focus point using the multi-selector button on the back of the camera). If the ball carrier moves off the point, it automatically uses the surrounding points to try and lock on the focus.

(3) In the Custom Menu, under Auto Focus, I go to the AF-C Priority Selection and choose “Release”

(4) Also in the Auto Focus Custom menu, I change my Dynamic AF area to just 9 points (ideal for sports tracking)

(5) The last change I make in the Custom Settings Auto Focus menu is to go the “Focus Tracking with Lock On” menu and lower the length to “Short.” (this gives you better response when you quickly change subjects at different positions on the field, like when you’re swinging from the quarterback to a receiver down field).

(6) I shoot in High Continuous mode so I can shoot a string of continuous shots if need be. I sent my camera to Nikon to have the buffer upgraded so it holds literally twice as many shots in the buffer as normal. It’s a $500 upgrade, but if you do this type of thing, it’s worth it. Here’s a link with the details.

(7) I use really fast 600X Lexar memory cards, which not only helps in camera, but it helps big time when you’re downloading the images to your computer at halftime (I upload a handful of shots during halftime to Southcreek so they can get them out there to media outlets while the game is still in progress).

(8) The 400mm f/2.8 is the first lens I’ve had that has a special “Tripod” setting for its VR (Vibration Reduction), but since I didn’t know enough about it, I didn’t want to take a chance, so I turned VR off on the lens. If a sports shooter out there knows whether this applies to shooting sports on a monopod, let me know.

Well, there ya have it. That’s how I set my gear up for NFL for NCAA shoots. Hey, speaking of College football, Notre Dame would be a fun game to shoot this coming weekend, dontchathink? ;-)

It’s kind of weird shooting your home team (or my adopted team, the Bears), because you have a lot of emotion on the outcome of each play, whereas guys who flew into town to shoot the game, probably don’t care that much one way or the other. It’s funny to me because I’ll be shooting and we’ll get a first down or make a big play and I’m yelling right there on the sidelines with my eye pressed up to the view finder. Then once the play’s over, I make the “First Down” gesture. I’m all alone at that point. ;-)

(Above: OK, I’m a sucker for these types of shots. What you can’t see in this frame, is that Buc’s Tackle Donald Penn had to literally jump up in the air a decent ways to reach the fan’s hand. I have shots that show this, but this one was my favorite because they’re actually touching).

(Above: Me with my new baby—the 400mm f/2.8 on the sidelines. iPhone photo by Matt May).

All in all, it was a really fun day, and my first chances to see the Bucs this year. I had some self-inflicted problems during the halftime uploading process that made things take a lot longer than they should have, but outside of that (and the fact that I didn’t get my parking pass in time, and had to park about a mile or so from the stadium), it was a pretty darn sweet day. I love this stuff! :)