Hits (and misses) From My Bucs/Colts Monday Night Football Game

(Above: Bucs wide receiver Michael Williams takes the field before last Monday night’s win against the Colts. However, I rather not discuss last night’s game against the 49ers. Uggh!).

Shooting Monday Night Football is always a blast, but getting to shoot in my own backyard (at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium) makes it that much sweeter! I even got one shot I actually like — the one you see above, which I posted on Google+ after the game, and as it turned out, it got featured on the site PhotoExtract.com as one of their “27 Top G+ Photos” daily photo picks. I’ve been checking out their daily list for a while now so I was totally psyched!

Above: To be able to show the top banner of their site, and my featured photo (which actually appeared much further down the page) all on the screen of my 15″ laptop screen took a bit of Photoshop magic, but I did get it done (as seen above). Thanks to the folks at PhotoExtract.com for including my image—I am truly honored!

However, the shoot wasn’t without its lowlights as I had a blunder or two that left me shaking my head at some simple mistakes that made me miss a few key moments. I was not a happy camper.

Mistakes Were Made
Every time I see the shot above, I cringe. I was in the perfect position—in the end zone right in front of Bucs Wide Receiver Preston Parker as he stretches across the goal line for the score. A clear, unobstructed view. No refs or video cameras in front of me. I had already switched to my 70-200mm lens. I was right on him—It was perfect!

Only one problem: At some point my thumb must have hit my front dial (or it hit my leg while running down the sidelines) which changed my f/stop from f/2.8 (where I leave it all night) and it changed to f/3.2. This lowered my shutter speed from 1/1000 of a second or higher (which freezes the action for tack sharp images) to 1/500 of a second, which doesn’t (and this photo above isn’t). You should be able to read the words “NFL Equipment” on his glove, and you can’t. I missed nailing it because I didn’t keep an eye on my f/stop while looking through the viewfinder. I ‘assumed’ it was still at f/2.8. Uggh. There’s no excuse for that.

(Above: I thought I’d share a few of my favorites from the shoot, mostly shot with my 400mm at f/2.8 so they’re pretty sharp, before I get back to my epic fail #2).

(Above: I liked this one because of the way they’re on the far left of the frame, but his arm is extending out, and I like the tape on his hands. Just something about it).

(Above: He doesn’t have the ball, and there’s no action on the field, but this one has meaning for me personally — he’s my favorite player, Buc’s Cornerback Ronde Barber, about the last guy left from our 2001 Super Bowl winning team. A very classy guy, future Hall of Famer, and twin brother of Tiki Barber. I like the way he’s framed between the goal posts. The pink compression gear and gloves are to honor Breast Cancer Survivors).

Epic Fail #2
I was in perfect position once again, late in the game (this is when most folks saw me on TV. It’s when LaGarrett Blount caught a short screen pass, then broke down the sideline for the score that eventually won the game for the Bucs. I was at about the 7-yard line, and they were back at about the 30 or so. I was still shooting my 400mm (I like to get in really, really tight), but when he came running right toward me, I should have immediately switched to my 70-200mm lens, but I didn’t. I don’t know why. I just kept shooting the 400mm, and he ran right in front of me, and there’s no way that 400mm could possibly focus that close.

(Above: here’s what it looks like when you try and shoot something two feet in front of you with a 400mm lens. Yup, that’s him running right in front of me for the big score. Nice job!)

Once I’ve safely missed “the shot of the game,” LaGarrett is finally far enough away from me that I can at least capture a celebration shot. Of course, I still hadn’t switched to the 70-200mm, so even my celebration shot is ho-hum (as seen below).

(Above: I’m not going to win the “best post-score celebration dance” shot with this one. I won’t even win Mr. Sideline Congeniality).

It gets worse
o I missed the score, muffed the celebration, but for reasons I don’t deserve they are going to give me a third chance — his teammates run into the end zone for more celebrating, and it looks like they are going run straight up the sidelines toward me, celebrating as they go. I quickly switch to my 2nd body, the one with the 70-200mm attached (finally!) as they stop literally right in front of me as they are getting totally pumped up and hitting each other on the shoulder pads and helmets and there’s all this raw emotion unfolding right in front of me, and I finally have a chance of capturing it. I can’t miss this one, right? Right?

(Above: Of course, my 70-200mm was extended out to 200mm, so if I had thought enough retract back to 70mm, I would have had some really great shots. Instead I got this. Sigh.)

I just stood there on the sidelines laughing and shaking my head at my triple-play of blunders. I had to laugh because at that moment I was considering taking all my gear and throwing it on the field in a heaping mess and setting fire to it. I should know better. These are silly mistakes to be making, but I made ’em and they are what they are.

Worse yet: lots of people saw me on TV (EPSN broadcasts Monday Night Football live) and they saw I had the perfect angle on the shot (see below). People were texting me just seconds later saying “Tell me you got that shot! You had to get that shot!” and so on. I just stood there still shaking my head while contemplating changing my cell number. I didn’t text anyone back.

Experience is the best teacher
I’m going to take my mistakes, learn from them, and move on.  I’ll be much faster to switch bodies next time, and I’ll keep a better eye on my f/stop throughout the game. Better yet….I could use the settings LOCK on my camera, so I don’t accidentally change them as I’m running up and down the sidelines, where my 2nd body is banging against my leg as I run. Now there’s an idea! ;-)

Here’s a few more of my favorite shots from the game, just so I don’t end on a low note. :)

(Above: That’s Buc’s Wide Receiver Arrelious Benn taking it in for the score. What I like most about this shot is the fan on the sidelines signaling the imminent touchdown. What I like least is–the play was called back because he stepped out of bounds before catching the pass and was the first player to touch the ball).

(Above: The Colts Score!!!! I was a bit back on this one, so I had to crop in a bit).

(Above: I caught this one as the Bucs were coming out of the tunnel to start the game).

(Above: One of my favorites because there’s a much bigger story here — a Colts Defensive Lineman is seriously injured and lying on the field just beyond the ref. His ankle is turned in a position you never want see anyone’s ankle, and it’s the kind of gruesome injury that can be career-ending. These Bucs players take a knee to pray for the fallen player, even though he’s on the opposing team. It was silent in the stadium).

(Above: That’s not the only time you see players praying at the game [and not just when they’re behind in scoring]. Right after the game, at about every football game I’ve ever shot, a group of players from both teams gather at center field; take a knee, join hands, and a player or coach leads them in prayer, thanking God for their safety, the health of any injured teammates, and for the privilege of getting to enjoy this amazing sport and walk away from it to play another day. It’s a very touching moment. I take a few quick shots at the start, and then I bow my head right along with them).

(Above: That’s the injured player, Colts Defensive Tackle Eric Foster being carted off the field. You never, never want to leave the field in a cart, but he was pounding his chest and letting the crowd know that while he won’t be back tonight — he’ll be back, and he’s with his team in spirit. They only showed it once, but for a brief moment while Eric was lying on the field in agony they showed a camera view of his ankle, turned all the way around the wrong way, on the big HD screens in the stadium, and you heard 70,000 fans simultaneously cringe and go “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”)

(Above: Here’s one for the road. This is the kind of sharpness I’m looking for — the same sharpness sports photo editors are looking for. If the image is a little soft, it doesn’t make their cut).

(Above: In Photoshop I zoomed in tight on the image before this one just so you can see what I mean when I say it has to be tack sharp. See how you can clearly read the words “NFL Equipment?” That’s tack sharp! That’s what I’m shooting for every time. I don’t always get it, but that’s the goal. Don’t worry — I’ll nail it next time!). :-)

P.S. Camera Settings: Both cameras should have been set to f/2.8 all night. My main body was a Nikon D3s set at 1,600 ISO all night, with a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 lens on a Gitzo monopod. The 2nd body was a Nikon D3, also at 1,600 ISO and f/2.8 with a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens.

P.S.S. Congrats to my readers: Todd Sloan, Josh Whiting and Matt Leitholt who won a signed copy of my new book, “Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it” for being the first to post of  photo of me as seen on their TV as they spotted me on the sidelines during the live broadcast. We’ll be contacting you later today. :)


  1. Thank you for sharing not only your successes, but also your mistakes. This is a humble, generous act that allows All of Us to learn from your mistakes.

    As an NFL fan, I also really dig these photos! I agree with you on Ronde (don’t call me Tiki) Barber, a classy player who plays hard & loves the game.

  2. Congrats on getting featured.

    Brilliant pictures. I always like this post, always. It teaches one exactly the gear, the specs and the points one should remember. Plus, you mention the mistakes as well, which is the most crucial part. Terrific.

    Great pictures.

    Oh and the Google reader / rss issue is solved. Thanks.

  3. Scott

    You have no idea how these ‘epic fail’ shots cheer me up. As someone with only a few years doing this, and repeatedly bumping my f stop or worse switching accidentally to shutter priority, it is heartening to see the real pros can still do it. I should also add teh rest are awesome. I love the Williams shoot charging through the smoke or whatever that stuff is. His expression and body language speaks a 1000 words.

  4. Scott,

    I’m always kicking myself when i know I had a good shot but I ruined it by some missed setting or other technical issue. I agree with Andrew though, it is heartening to hear that other (far more talented than me)people make the same mistakes too! Creative people can sometimes be very hard on ourselves, and it’s good to know we’re all in the same boat of sorts!

    The attitude of learn and move on is completely right – you should get that made as a t-shirt!

  5. Hey Scott,
    Yes, I thought you would have gotten the shot of Blount’s game winning touchdown. However, I think we all learn a lot with you telling us about your failures and that you don’t always get “The Shot” when you are working. It shows us all that you are human after all. ;)
    I have moved the settings on my camera without seeing them before shooting and miss the shot. Even though I teach my students to “Be Quick, but Don’t Hurry” with their shots, I feel we all get “In a Hurry” and miss it at times.
    Thanks for sharing your less than super photographer side with us. It is greatly appreciated. ;)

  6. Mistakes always will happen…I had the same thing happen to me a couple of weeks ago at the Boston College-Wake Forest game. I was in the corner of the end zone with my 300 focused on the quarterback. He throws a pass to the corner of the end to a wide open receiver right in front of me who makes the catch, looks right at me holding the ball up and I totally missed the shot as I couldn’t get my 70-200 fast enough in front of me…My buddy who was a few feet away comes running over asking me if I got the shot…That ruined my whole day.

  7. Shooting a live sports game has a lot in common with actually playing sports. You have to be coordinated, quick to move, quick-thinking, be able to anticipate and find where the ball is going before it gets there, have great aim and tracking skills, etc. To me, the challenge is a big part of the fun of shooting sports. Not everyone can do it. I’m not an expert by any means, but it’s always nice to shoot a game that several other photographers are shooting (some with better gear than me), and then see that I’ve done a better job of capturing the key moments than they have. You have to have skill – and Scott, we all know that you do have the skill. But, (like with actually playing sports) no matter how good you are, you can’t always win every time and you’re going to have bad games or bad plays here and there. It’s about how well you perform over the course of a season, not about the few mistakes you make. Even though it has a little noise (which is no big deal), that first shot is so awesome it makes up for anything that went wrong the rest of the night. I got to see that shot on your iPhone when you showed it to me in Houston. You rock!

  8. Scott, you are a phenomenal photographer and instructor. Yes, there are days to revel in “the thrill of victory” and others to mourn “the agony of defeat,” but your honesty, humility and willingness to share those mistakes, and even laugh at yourself while teaching others, makes you even more compelling and effective in all you do. Not sure why, but I think our mistakes (those we learn
    from) are some of the greatest facilitators to our growth and knowledge curve. You have earned the following you have, through your honesty, humility and HUMOR, and many, many people are better off because of it. THANKS FOR SHARING!

      1. Agreed, we like to see you fail! :) Which is to say we all do it so it’s nice to see other shooters willing to put their blunders out there. Let’s us know we are not alone. Sort of like group therapy. Laughing at yourself is the best medicine. Sometimes I manage to do this after I’m done muttering to myself at what an idiot I am.

        Plus, that shot of Williams coming out of the tunnel is epic! Nice capture. Down the road that’s the memory you’ll keep and the rest will get the mental delete.

  9. Thank you Scott!!! I totally agree with Daniels’ comment. As bad as you feel your mistakes were & as great of a photographer as I feel you are, it’s actually encouraging to see that even the best aren’t perfect…!!! And what’s even better is your NOT AFRAID to admit and SHOW your mistake photos. Not many would be soo willing to do both. As an aspiring photographer, we can learn from both your mistakes and our own & become better because of them.

    Thanks again for all you do for us little guys & gals out here behind the lens … :)

  10. Football is so much better than baseball for photography because even a small run can look engaging and they happen so often so the opportunities for a great image are so much better. I love the excellent ones and your ‘mistakes’ are nothing worth beating yourself up for when you come away with a collection of images from the game like that.

    On the other hand, I shoot High School football every Friday night and when editing through the images my wife thinks I have a thing for referees ass’s and cannot believe that they are all inadvertent. (no, they are…really!)

  11. I went to watch the Texans lose to the Raiders on the last play of the game. From the stands my 100-400 f4.5-5.6 clearly wasn’t going to be a game winner. The f-stop is too high for tack sharp in a domed stadium under a massive storm! I was caught between losing sharpness due to high ISO or losing sharpness due to low shutter speed. I split the difference. My shutter speeds ranged between 1/500 and 1/1000 with my ISO at 4000 so a few are OK for my personal satisfaction.

    There’s a scene in the Foo Fighters documentary, Back and Forth, where the band is recording in analogue and they make the comment that you have to be perfect on each note because you can’t fix it later when recording analogue. Shooting sports on digital and getting the perfect shot is hard – just can’t imagine how they used to shoot sports on film!

  12. Scott – your dial mishap at the game is a sad story that every one of us has had happen to us – the dial moved! In the heat of shooting we all forget to check the dials. What we need is a means by which to lock those settings in. I hope that Nikon and Canon are listening.

  13. Thanks for sharing your mishaps, now I don’t feel so bad. I shoot high school football almost every Friday night and have a ton of deletions. It is such a fun sport to photograph.

    BTW, I enjoyed Dave Black’s class at PSW!

  14. I love these images, don’t be too hard on yourself, we never get them all! Never gonna happen.

    My fave is the prayer, What fish eye you using here? I got to get one, I keep putting it off.

    How wide we talking with this pic? (Hope it’s ok to ask)

  15. not to be THAT guy but if you change your aperture from 2.8 to 3.2, it’s only 1/3 of a stop, not a whole stop. so wouldn’t your shutter speed by 1/800th of a second assuming you’re shooting in Av mode and nothing else has changed?

    1. Dear “You are so THAT Guy:”
      I gave you the settings out of the camera. You can look at the EXIF data from some of the images I posted and see that at f/2.8 the shutter speed is around 1,250. At f/3.2 it’s 1/500 of a second on that night, on that field, under those lights. Feel free to technically debate it all you want.

      Hey, let’s have a beer some time, you seem like a really fun guy to be around. ;-)


      1. hahaha. I can’t debate what the camera puts out. I guess the lighting situation changed on the field and those were the results you got. No arguments there. I just found it funny that Mr. Scott Kelby may (for a second) had gotten his technical specs wrong. So yeah, I’m totally that guy but only because you’re so awesome. :) If you ever make it to Knoxville, TN, beer is on me!

  16. Scott,
    Just before reading your post, I was going through photos of my daughters soccer sectional finals game that I shot on Saturday evening, only to realize 75% of my shots were over exposed. I was so into the game and not checking carefully enough, as the evening grew darker I would check my screen and feel I was under exposing (never checking my histogram) and bumped up my ISO. Our team lost the game so as a senior this was my youngest daughter’s final soccer game. It makes me cringe to look at them know I was where I needed to be following the action but they are a mess because they are over exposed.

    My favorite thing to shoot is sports. My favorite sport to shoot is football. I have the opportunity to be on the sideline with our high school team every Friday night and love it.

    Thank you for sharing you photos, I love to see your football shots!!! Thank you for sharing the hits and misses, it is more encouraging than you know.

  17. Scott,

    Thank you so much for sharing your failures as well as your successes. As someone who just bought her DSLR last December and gets frustrated when I make mistakes (and trust me there are a lot of them) it is nice to see a pro of your caliber makes mistakes as well. Your successes are wonderful!

  18. Hey Scott, can’t tell you how good of a time this advice came, I really appreciate it. I’ve been blowing a few shots lately at sporting events and have been pretty down about them. If you don’t mind, would you speak about your auto focus settings and whether you were shooting in single or “motor driving”? I’ve been having a tough time deciding what the most efficient settings are fast paced action. Thanks again for the article!

  19. When you feel the urge to throw your equipment on the field and set fire to it, could you just throw it in a box and ship it me?? LOL These are amazing, and I am just starting out in photography, and your equipment would be amazing compared to what I have. I can send you my snail mail address if you need it LOL. Would love to be bale to take shots like this!!!!

  20. Scott,

    What WB setting were you using?

    Where you shooting in manual mode, shutter preferred or aperture preferred?

    Also curious of your shutter speed.

    I shoot a lot of high school games and struggle with whats the best shooting solution for getting the best results.

    Thanks for sharing and hoping you do a book one day on sports photography for all us Scott Kelby followers.

    See you in DC in September.

  21. Scott,
    Besides the great shots, you’re also a good story teller. ;o) Makes me want to watch some football!
    I’m a complete novice, but recently someone handed me one of your training DVDs. I just had to reach out and say “Hey Thanks!” The DVD was insightful and in plain English. Awesome!

  22. Those photos are great Scott. I’m in high school and I have just got started shooting my school’s football games and my first attempt wasn’t that great. These photos give me a good view at what I need to do. Thanks Scott.

  23. Scott…

    It’s true what they say that you are your own worst critic. You managed to get great shots and still find areas where you can improve. I hope I always make mistakes, otherwise shooting would be boring. Thanks for being self-less and helping us grow.
    Quick questions: Do you use image stabilization on your lenses? If you do, what settings do you leave them in?


    1. Hi Alex:
      If you’re shooting at high shutter speeds, like 1/1000 of a second, VR actually works against you (VR is designed to help shooting at slow shutter speeds), so we turn it off for sharper images. Hope that helps. :)

      1. Scott… I shoot Motorsports and I my shutter speed is usually below 1/1000 because I want something to blur on the image to show speed. I have the Nikon 70-200 VRII on my wish list for a while but I can’t afford it. I have started to look at non-Nikon non-VR models and wanted to know if the would be useful. Thank you for your answer. It helps a lot. Looks like I need to keep saving :)

  24. Hi Scott,
    Great photos as usual. And great self-debriefing that helps all of us. Question… how many tack-sharp, publishable shots do you expect to get during a typical game. Also, have you ever given any thought to leading a sports workshop on the sidelines of a real game? I’d sign up in a second if you ever did such a thing.
    Thanks again.

  25. I love hearing stories of the screw ups! Reminds me that I’m not the only one that will never leave the learning mode.

    On a second note, finally jumped aboard g+ I’m enjoying the circle of photographers and their daily chats! (yes, youre included in that)

  26. It’s great to see that your human. Makes me feel better. I believe Moose once said that he learns from his failed photos. I must do the same. Embrace the mistakes and get better.

  27. Well Scott, I feel like I know you listening to you on mostly photo with Katheryn and Leo. And now following you on Gvoice. The info. you share is great and helpful. We (guys like me) put you guys on petasial,( stool or however you spell it) and think there is no such thing as a bad shot. It’s nice to know I flub with the best.

  28. Scott,
    I started shooting some college football this season using my Nikon D300s, but have been considering renting a D700 or D3s. Since you use all three, How would you compair their performance to rental cost. So far I have used a 70-200mm and a 300mm.


  29. That first image got me goosebumps, good one.

    You should know that a lot of shots are being “blown” but most don’t tell or don’t show it, and that’s why a lot of people think they can’t shoot because the pros never make mistakes, they do, however normally they don’t show for people to learn from and gain confidence. Great post scott and great shots, personally I don’t mind a bit of motion inna shot, with soccer I always have a certain number of images with some sort of motion blur in them to show the speed, not too much just a bit like indeed 1/500. But I don’t know the rules for this, I just shoot sports as a hobby.

    Reminding me………. Nah it rains here.

  30. Inspirational Scott! Just lead my first photo walk a little over a week ago (thanks to you and the worldwide photo walk!), and just shot my first football game Friday night too!

    I was glad to find some of your other shots and tips for inspiration – I have a new level of respect for shooting sports!

  31. Scott, that photo of Ronde Barber is amazing, it really captures his calm on the field. It would make a great poster to hang over my bed, errr I mean my sons’ beds. Also thank you for the book I am incredibly excite to have a signed copy, and I never thought I would see my name in your blog I took a screen capture and saved the page as an HTML. Hopefully next time I show up (at best the very distant future) it will be showcasing my work or as a guest blogger.

  32. Hey Scott, Excellent photos as always … a learning moment for us! Thanks for pointing out your mistakes, however, your mistakes are better than what I think is okay for my shots.:-) You know, I read your reply to Alex, and I never thought to turn my IS (canon image stabilization) off at high shutter speed … duh! No wonder I get those soft slightly blurred shots! I’ve got to have a check list … :-) I have learned to turn it off on a tripod, again when I remember … this age thing is getting too me! :-)

    Thank again, and AWESOME photos!


  33. Hi Scott…
    Those photos are awesome, I LOVE how tack-sharp they are. You said you’re using the Nikon 400mm f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8 lenses. I have the 70-200, and it IS that sharp, especially compared to other lenses I own. I was wondering if you knew what other lenses (for Nikon, in particular) are in the same class as far as sharpness goes? I’m hooked on sharp glass like the 70-200, and would like to find more!



  34. Hello Scott,

    First, your shots are great! And I have been laughing at your re-play of missing the shot of the game. Have had several of those…

    I have a question – I was shooting with my Nikon D3s and the 400mm the other night, but I had my ISO at 3200 – most of my action shots are still blurry. You mentioned you keep your ISO at 1600. Could this be because your stadium lighting is much better? I’m shooting again tonight and was going to try and bump my ISO even higher, hoping not to get too much grain.

    I also shoot with my Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 – BUT still have not quite mastered switching quickly over to that one while shooting with the 400mm. Perhaps, I need to start putting down the 400 as I get closer to the goal line? Any suggestions?

    If you hold any workshops, I would be interested!


    Maureen Armstrong

    1. Ok. I am not Scott, but I hope this helps. Last weekend I shot at 1250 ISO, F2.8, and 320 shutter speed using my D300s and a 300mm lens. There was some motion, but not a lot. It could be your lighting situation. Hope this helps. Here is a link to those images.


      PS. While there was daylight, my speeds were much faster, but increased the ISO and decreased my shutter speeds as the sun went down.

  35. Hey Scott
    Don’t be to hard on yourself. The great thing about shooting sports is there is always next time (living in Chicago, I know this is true) and hopefully by making those mistakes, something is learned. I have shot Sports for over 25 years, 10 years as the NFL photographer at the Chicago Tribune, and one bit of advice I can give you is always prepare for something that will happen right in front of you, where the 400mm will be worthless. Keep the 70-200 at 70mm when it’s just sitting over your shoulder, you will then be able to see the play in front of you and then zoom in if need be. I can’t begin to tell you how many times a play 50 yards away is all of a sudden right on top of you. Most of us that shoot sports at the top level will tell you that preparation and anticipation is the key.

  36. Scott,

    I’m late to the party here (computer problems finally fixed).

    You mentioned missing the sharpness in “error #1” due to your f-stop inadvertently slipping from 2.8 to 3.2 (which is 1/3 of a stop). You then said your shutter speed changed from 1/1000 to 1/500 (1 full stop). I’m assuming you were shooting in aperture priority. If the lighting was equal, shouldn’t your shutter speed have only fallen to 1/800? Or was the lighting that much dimmer? If it was dimmer, even shooting at 2.8, sounds like your shutter speed would have ended up at 1/640, which would still not be fast enough.

    P.S. Great shots anyway!

  37. Well, that’s got to be rough..I know how you feel, but not with sports photography…you got some great pictures, I really like the one with the referee and the two guys bent down in front of him. That one has alot of meaning. Everyone makes mistakes though, even if unintentional..at least you’ve acknowledged that and are ok with moving past it and not letting it influence your work. As they say…”shit happens”, can I say that here? Good luck!

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