Making Magic at the Titan/Bengals NFL Game Yesterday

(Above: You can go to and see tons of shots with a receiver catching the ball in the end zone for a touchdown [boring], but how many times do you see a new fresh style, where the focus isn’t on catching the ball, or even seeing the ball, but instead the focus is on that icon of football—the goal post. This is the kind of fresh, brash images I was capturing all game. If I had to use one word to describe it: “Magic.” I was so in ‘the zone.” ;-)

Not every shot I took was a shot of the goal post. I actually had some where you could see the ball, and I can tell you without reservation, that they are pretty darn unimpressive. In fact, I spent four quarters creating some of the most average, uninspired, and down right yawners you’ve ever seen. I don’t know what happened. I’m bummed because I went into this game really thinking I was going to have a great shoot. We had perfect weather, a beautiful stadium, total access, and yet I missed so many shots, and was in the wrong position for some many plays, that I’m just sick about it.

(Above: Here’s one where you can see the ball, and it doesn’t bother me one bit that it’s partially obscured by the ref walking into my shot. In fact, I think it adds an artsy feel to the image—one that I believe is lacking in so many NFL shots these days. In fact, I think their sharp, crisp, clear photos are just a crutch these photographers use and their clarity just further exposes the lack of referee engagement in their images. It’s sad).

(Above: X-marks the spot, and clearly that is exactly where I was focusing. The real story is the headless guy in dark blue off the field on the right side. How does he keep his job with no visible head whatsoever? That, my friends, is the story. The rest are just blurry players on a football field). 

I actually did get a few decent shots despite myself, which I’ll share tomorrow, but it’s late and I’ve got an early flight home in the morning, so I’m hitting the sack, but at least I got to share a few of my “magic moments” here with you tomorrow. More to come tomorrow —- though some will be a little less “magic” than these.

  1. I like your artistic views… The tate modern im sure would be happy to display :0)

    Nice to see Mr Kelby that you are in fact human.

    Loving the light it, shoot it book. Have read and re-read numerous time now!
    Keep up the good work Sensei.

  2. Scott, you are the MAN! I am sooo waiting for your new composition class to hit!!! I can see that you are putting your theory into practice!

    Thanks actually for sharing, humor is a gift from the Lord, and knowing others get bad shots somehow makes me feel good (in a good way, I think).

  3. Completely agree with Doug. I was out at a local rugby match on Saturday, trying to perfect my action shots. Came home and uploaded to Lightroom, full of expectation. Was completely underwhelmed with the results and I thought, ‘Crikey! If only I could shoot sport like Scott Kelby.’ It’s so refreshing to have it confirmed that even the best of photographers have their off days. Thanks for being so honest. Have a great week everyone!

  4. Great post! ;D
    On a more serious note, I’m new to sports photography and was just wondering which AF setting is best to shoot with (D3S)? Does it differ sport to sport?
    If anyone could help me out, that would be great.
    Thanks in advance!

  5. I get it totally. I shoot Friday Night High School football every week and when I come home and start sorting my wife looks over my shoulder and has issues with me because there are so many shot of the referees rear ends. She thinks I should make a coffee table book of them.

    1. I love it. I shoot a lot of HS Soccer and never fails the side judge will run into the frame RIGHT as a kid is going for a header or shot on goal. I could paper a wall if I liked black and yellow stripes ;)

  6. Good to see I wasn’t the only one in Nashville having a rough go at photography this weekend. Don’t worry Scott that game was pitful. Too many penalties. Both offenses going in wrong direction most of the game. I’m sad that’s the game you got to see. We’re better than that.

  7. Do you need me to be your assistant on the sidelines again because your shots from the Bears game were awesome? I’m available to carry your gear anytime……lol. Take care!

      1. I know the keepers you’re showing tomorrow will be awesome , but what a great post. Made my day because I have quite a collection of ref butts myself.

  8. It reminds me of the first university football game I shot. I managed to have a lot of these amazing pictures when I got back home ;)

    Maybe you should go and learn from the pros… here’s a link to the blog of a guy who’s really good when it comes to shooting football : :D

  9. Thanks for sharing. If you need an assistant I will over my services NOT only to assist, but to walk right in front of you at strategic times to help you keep getting shots with the same look and feel as some of these. I can even wear my goal post costume if needed! Seriously, keep at it Scott. You do get some great shots and I am sure you have many more great shots left in you.

  10. Shooting football would be great series on Kelby Training. I also enjoy shooting football and realize I have a lot to learn. I glad I’m not the only one that screws up.

  11. Hey Scott….

    As much as I enjoy your PERFECT photos, I think I’m starting to enjoy the “screw ups” even more. Because with them, comes great humor!!! Thanks for being so open & free with sharing your not so great moments!!! In a way, this type of post can actually be POSITIVE & inspire others more than seeing a perfectly composed/exposed shot EVERY time. It’s OK to miss the mark sometimes…. even the PROS do it!!!

    Thanks again for the great Monday morning chuckle!!!


  12. Besides your inexhaustible knowledge of photography and Photoshop one of your most admirable qualities is your ability to laugh at yourself. It’s made reading your books, watching your videos and attending your seminars fun as well as educational. This series gives us all hope.

  13. C’mon, Scott. I can’t even tell if the ref is a back pic or a front pic. You’re known for your referee butt shots. I guess I’ll have to wait longer for the “Lighting and Focusing of Referee Butts” book.

  14. Scott, I think we all secretly like looking at these shots from you (ok, it’s not a secret), because it makes everybody realize that even the pros mess up from time to time. I know a lot of people though who can’t laugh at themselves like you can, and say “I’d never post my bad shots!” I don’t get that, I have no problem posting mine. :) (I actually posted one which I said was a bad shot, and somebody actually commented “nice bokeh” on it. I laughed for about a week).

  15. Have to agree with the others here Scott. This is an uplifting post in its own right.

    I’m not the sort to be saying misery loves company. But its good to know that folks that do this more often than I do also have some not so good shooting days. You hear about it, but don’t see a lot of it. Its brave of you to really share it with us all.

  16. At first look at the goal post shot I thought you were serious. By the end I was lol. Made my morning brighter just knowing that even the best of the best can have an off day. Thanks Scott, you really are the best!

  17. Hi Scott,

    Glad to know everyone has one of those days. I should show a few of these to my wife, she is always asking why I take multiple shots of the same scene. I tell her, just in case.

    Glenn N

  18. Scott,

    Thank you for publishing this post. I just shoot high school football games, but it gives me some degree of comfort to know that shots like you posted happen to the best in the world. I always figured it was just me that ended up with refs, goal posts, and water boys in pictures, or with the sidelines in focus while the action on the field was blurred. Unlike you, this happens far too often to me, sometimes I luck into a decent shot.

  19. As always its a joy to see your football shots. I just found out that I might be going down on the field during the Notre Dame vs Stanford game after Thanksgiving in Palo Alto! Been waiting aolng time for this. Can’t wait to put your words into practice and take some amazing shots!

  20. Scott, probably the most unappreciated aspect of these photos is that they appear to have come straight out of the camera, with NO post processing! On most of my photos from shooting Nebraska games, I have to at least do some cropping and usually some sharpening. But these, straight out of the camera, impressive! :)

  21. Scott, I’m a little surprised at you stealing my style of photography. I was pretty sure that I had perfected the out of focus, blurry, wayward people in the frame, and capturing the highlights of the most boring moments style of photography. Please tell me that you haven’t used my other style of shooting at ISO 3200 in daylight with AF in the OFF position. I get great OOF shots with that style.

    All tongue in cheek, mind you. Love the self deprecating way you in which you present these masterpieces. It may be a D- for the photos, but definitely A+ for the writing… that’s just pure entertainment!



  22. You can’t blame a pre-game tailgate party, I happen to know the tailgate party was after the game. : ) Hope you got to your hotel and on your way this morning without incident. Enjoyed shooting with you

  23. I don’t understand it Scott. You have such a good camera, how could you take pictures like that? Great post, I love when you do posts like this.

  24. Lol your funny.. If your anything like me sometimes your on it and sometimes your not. I cant seem to shoot a level image here lately myself… Tell myself to watch for it every time I fix it in lightroom..

  25. Ha Ha…thank you Scott!!! I got to go watch my beloved UK Wildcats two weekends ago three rows off the field. You know I took my camera. Well what would have been my best shot of the night ended up being an epic fail. I was focused on the far side of the field. I’m just glad it happens to the best too.

  26. You’re killin me! I usually try to take a few out of focus shots, before the game (11-13 year olds), of the backside of refs, or yard markers, or even the turf, just to get it over with. Kind of like throwing a golf ball in the water hazard to appease the water gods. Great post … can’t wait to see the “good” ones!

  27. Scott,

    If you feel the need to throw your gear away, out of frustration. Please let me do the recycling for you! :D

    I, too, share the sentiment that it is nice to see the human side of the pros. It’s actually provided a little more confidence in my skills since I’ve seen a few pro shooters share their issues—items which I was kicking myself for not being good enough at, or having good enough gear.

  28. Thanks for posting this Scott. Learning to shoot action sports can get pretty discouraging as you scroll through image after image that are just awful. It is encouraging to know that even a great photographer can have a bad game. I think it also underscores just how difficult it is to shoot sports action. I really appreciate you keeping it so real.

  29. Scott, you’ve given me an idea to start my own gallery of “ALMOST” Hall-of-Fame shots. I have deleted lots of shots over the years of that “perfect” shot only to have it ruined by a ref, another player, coach, or even the dreaded missed focus that otherwise would’ve been the perfect capture. So, from now on, instead of deleting that “almost” great shot, I will keep it and put it in a gallery where it belongs. Thanks for the inspiration. This way I’ll really have something to look back on and say, “if only.”

  30. Thanks for posting those Scott, I get some great shots of the backs of High School refs just when I focus on a catch, in they come. Regardless it’s fun. Quite a bit of satisfaction when you get a nice shot.

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