My First Football Shoot of the Season

(Above: It’s not a composite, and the background hasn’t been blurred in Photoshop. It’s the 400mm f/2.8 doing what it does best).

On Saturday, I got to shoot my first football game of the year, alongside my buddy Mike McCaskey, as the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame routed the Michigan State Spartans 31 – 13. It’s was a day made for shooting football—65° at game time with bright beautiful skies.

(Above: In the 2nd half the sun gets low enough that about half the field is in shadows, and anything in white turns blue.  So, I get Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush; I lower the Saturation slider quite a bit, then I paint over the blue areas in their jerseys, shirts, gloves, etc. and they return to white.).

Shaking The Rust Off
I was really rusty—not having shot football since last January, and it took me until about the 3rd quarter to finally start getting back into the groove.

(Above: I was positioned at the goal post, shooting down on my knees, as the teams came down the tunnel to enter the field right before kick-off, and this Michigan State Offensive Guard didn’t seem particularly pleased to see me).

Camera Settings
I shot the entire day in Aperture Priority mode at 200 ISO, at f/2.8, which gave me shutter speeds anywhere from about 1/2,400 of a second up to 1/8000 of a second.

Camera Bodies and Lenses
I used two bodies: A Nikon D3s with a Nikon 400mm f/2.8 lens, mounted on a Gitzo monopod, and a Nikon D3 with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.

(Above: Notre Dame Quarterback Tommy Rees scrambles during the 3rd quarter. He’s probably thinking, “I’ve got to get to the sidelines,” and I’m thinking “Don’t run into the shade—-this would make a great two-page spread). ;-)

Why I love shooting Day Games
It’s a “set it and forget it” kind of day. You choose your settings before game time, and you never have to change them again—the entire day. It leaves you free to focus on trying to get the shot.

(Above: I wish I’d gotten this shot from the other side).

(Above: Nobody gets any love from field goal shot but I like this one because it’s right at the moment of impact. I was actually hoping for the shot a split-second after this, but at least this one has some movement. I focused on the holder with my 400mm, and waited for the kicker to run into the frame).

(Above: I’m amazed at how few facemask penalties get called, because when you’re shooting at 400mm, you see them all the time).

(Above: In the third quarter and beginning of the fourth we had some really great light, but my the middle of the fourth, the entire field was almost in the shade —notice how the parts of the tackler are already looking blue).

(Above: Stretchhhhhhhhhhhh!)

(Above: For once that day, I was in the right place. Every touchdown happened at the opposite end of the field I was on except for this one which happened right in front of me. I had switched to my 70-200mm f/2.8 when they got inside the 15 yard line, where I got this frame. The play was reviewed, but the touchdown stands).

(Above: At the end of the game the team meets at the far end of the field, and they sing their Alma Mater, and that’s where I got this frame, on my tip-toes holding the camera above their heads and firing my camera one-handed. Right after I shot this, I hear a text message alert, and a friend from Birmingham texted me, “Are you shooting the Notre Dame game? I think I just saw you on TV. You were behind the players singing holding your camera up high? Yup—that was me!).

A great way to start the season
Even though I got off to a rusty start, it was such a fun day, with such great weather, I didn’t really mind that it took me like three hours to get into the groove. Now that the rust is off, I can’t wait until my next shoot (though I’m not sure when that will be. I’m doing my seminar in Portland today, and in Los Angeles tomorrow).

My thanks to my buddy Mike for letting me shoot with him, and to all the great folks with Notre Dame Football for giving me a really fun day of shooting. Football is finally here—-yeah, baby!!! :-)

      1. Scott, I’m certain I’ve missed this but when you shoot JPEG, what Picture Control settings do you use in camera, e.g., color saturation (vivid, standard, etc), sharpness, ADL, etc)? Do different magazines/websites desire different looks that require different settings?

  1. Great shots, Scott! Yes, football is definitely underway and I agree that daytime shooting is much preferred. I have not been able to hook up with a college venue yet so I resort to shooting Friday night High School games. These night games sure are challenging. I’d love to be able to “set it and forget it!” In the meantime, I will honing my sports photography skills, continue posting shots on, and keep trying to get to the next level. Thanks for sharing these photographs and your passion for sports photography!

    1. I’ve started doing high school game shooting myself this year. This is my first exposure to sports photography as well. Scott’s blog and tips he gives have been helpful for my attempts.

      Once it gets dark it definitely does get challenging. Most high schools don’t have lights around the goal lines, either, so everyone is in dark shadows running towards the goal. I’m lucky to get 1/500 with ISO 3200/4000 using my 70-200 f/2.8. 300mm and 400mm are way out of reach of my budget.

    2. Bob, I saw your a Temple grad, so I had to share this. Following the advice of Mike Olivella posted here on Scott’s blog, I landed a season pass to shoot Temple football which this year meant Penn State. Shot the game this past weekend and I can’t tell you how much fun it was to be on the sidelines for a big game like that. If you want to see the game shots of your old school check out my site,

      Since we’re all talking football shots here, I’d invite any of the readers to take a look and fell free to give feedback, I always respect corrective criticism or advice.


  2. I don’t even like football (don’t hate me :) but find myself mesmerized by your images. Your acute instincts are quite apparent with your ability to capture the decisive “moment” with exceptional composition and engaging depth of field. Well done.

  3. Awesome Photos!

    Are you photographing for the school? espn? newspaper? Getty? independent? for fun?

    I hope and wish 1 day soon you can come to The ZOU in Columbia, Missouri to photography a MIZZOU home football game! Memorial Stadium as well as the whole campus of the University of Missouri makes for some amazing photos.


  4. Great shots Scott – I’m with Ken Toney on this one – as I scrolled through the shots, the Robinson picture is actually one of the picks for me..shows the catch from a different perspective. All quality shots! Cheers

  5. Superb captures Scott. nice, clean and spot on for that great capture the moment. !
    Absolute great quality shots. ,and btw sorry I missed you in Amsterdam.. had to attend a last minute paid assignment.
    Greetings From Rotterdam.
    Ken (Riker).

  6. Really like your shots and your timing and eye are great. Day games are a ton of fun…H.S. Night games not so much (g) If you can’t make a college or pro game one weekend try and find a Pee Wee, Pop Warner league near home. Warning you will smile so much your face will hurt afterwards.

  7. This is off topic for this post, but I am going to shoot my first Indy Car race at Kentucky in October. I would REALLY like to have your advice about how to gear up for that- especially about lenses. I can rent a long lens (300mm or 400mm), but do I need to? Would really love to hear what you think!



  8. That 400 really takes it´s task seriously. I just love the background softness, color and contrast from that lens. A more than perfect companion for you i guess. :)
    Have you tried Nikon´s F1,4 series during a game? You should!
    When i shoot racing nowadays i only bring with me my 35/1,4 , 50/1,4 , 85/1,4 and my old trustworthy 300/2,8. And 90% of the time i just use the 35 and the 300, i love it, it´s so easy to just run around with these two lenses only.
    I would love to switch the 300 to a 400, but i can´t really justify that switch just yet.

    Great to see that your back in the field!

  9. As always I love your photos and the story you tell with them. I was particularly amazed that Robinson didn’t have his mouth guard in… but rather stuck in the side of his face mask. Not only did the different perspective of your location provide interest, but that little detail too.

  10. Fantastic photographs as always and thanks for the tech specs.

    One request – You can show us a tutorial / video tutorial for “So, I get Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush; I lower the Saturation slider quite a bit, then I paint over the blue areas in their jerseys, shirts, gloves, etc. and they return to white”

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Girish:
      I can’t do it today (I’m teaching my seminar in Portland today), but I’ll try and do it for tomorrow. I don’t have a studio mic with me, so it’ll be a little sketchy on the audio part.

  11. Hi Scott
    I really enjoy looking at your football photos even though I’m a soccer (can’t believe I just said that cos I meant football) girl at heart ;)! I don’t understand the rules at all but I am totally fascinated by your shots of the game. I’m hoping some day someone will take me to a game and tell me exactly what’s going on! I tried my hand at a high school game at night recently and I thought it was pretty tricky. Didn’t have a 400mm and it was pretty dark even with the lights on the field. You make it look so easy!!
    I adore the shot of the #67 guy – that’s magic!
    Have a great day and I look forward to seeing more :)

  12. After seeing Dave Black’s incredible images at Photoshop World, I rented a 400mm f/2.8 last weekend to shoot my local high school game on Thursday night. It was something like f/0 out there and I practically got a hernia lugging it around. But although it certainly limits your mobility, there’s nothing like a tight shot with a blurry background. I got a couple of frames of an interception in mid-air from 70 yards away, with the quarterback jumping in frustration still in the frame. Made it all worthwhile.

  13. Scott,

    Im about to take you off my blogroll for the simple fact you covered and gave props to Notre Dame.

    I am only joking, but hopefully it shows my disdain for Notre Dame. When I covered USC football, the only time they ever got in my frame was from covering a Trojan player. Im letting my biased loyalty show, but I dont care, Its notre dame! LOL

    Nice work on getting the rust off.

  14. Great photos, Scott, as usual. I’m wondering why you use the LR Adjustment brush to remove the blue only from the white areas. Wouldn’t the entire image have a blue cast, including helmet, skin, etc? Wouldn’t you want to change the color temperature of the entire image to remove the color cast? That’s how I’ve been doing it in my images but admittedly I shoot RAW just for that purpose. If shooting JPEG and removing the blueness via the Adjustment Brush is a better way to go, I’ll do that from now on.

  15. Scott – As always, great shots (and, yeah, I know about the shots we shoot that we don’t publish )…just a thought about dealing with the color change when the sun goes down: have you considered shooting a color target (e.g., like X-Rite target I use) and then using Lightroom’s Camera Calibration feature to adjust all of the shots that go blue rather than Adjusting each one separately by hand? I find that approach, even mid-game (baseball and volleyball) really helps keep color consistent. I’m using that approach now to get consistent uniform and face color arena to arena when I shoot indoor volleyball. You could also use the target to create a custom white balance in the camera (say, by adjusting every quarter).

  16. beautiful shots as always scott. I kind of like bluish tint to the light in the late 4th quarter shots personally.

    i’m surprised you shot everything at ISO 200. The motion is perfectly stopped, without any blurring, and I always thought you needed a higher ISO for this, regardless of shutter speed. Am I misunderstanding the relationship between them?

  17. Scott:

    Great shots. This post made me realize what I love so much about your football shots. Many of the photogs working for magazines like SI have to focus (obviously, it’s their job!) on covering a game in a documentary format. They have to get the shot to show people who weren’t there what happened.

    When you cover a game, since you aren’t really beholden to a publication, you are able to bring your artistic eye (and what a great eye it is!) to the game and let people FEEL how it was to be at the game, rather than just see what happen.

    This isn’t to take away from the outstanding photographers that cover profssional sports as a career. They do a great job, they are just forced to approach a game differently than you seem to. You turn the game into a work of art, rather than just a documentary.

    Keep up the great work!

  18. Great captures Scott! What dynamic AF-area mode where you using? Are you tracking using 9, 21, 51, or 51 3D points? Do you switch periodically during the game? If so, what necessitates the change?

    1. I shoot a lot of racing and i think that the longer the lens the better reach you can get. It depends on the track of course and how far away you are and so on.
      But i think you need at least a 300 if you have a fullframe camera like the D3 or D3S. With the 400 you´ll reach even further and i think you are gonna like the background blur you get with the F2,8. You can really isolate the subject from the background.

  19. I love “Stretch” – how you can see the “Spartan” tat on Michigan #40’s arm. I find it amazing how much DOF the 400 gets you on the subject. The players are tack sharp front to back.

  20. Scott could you please tell some of the photobugs out here what yur settings are for example how many points 9 or 21, matrix or spot metering, are you using any exposure compensation and finally what white balance are you using. You could also tell us where you’re focusing on to get these crisp picts. Keep up the good work.

  21. Great shots Scott. As usual my jealousy cup runneth over. Going to a Notre Dame game is a bucket list trip for me. The chance to shoot a Notre Dame game would flat out kill me of a heart attack before I got there. Great work bud.

  22. Fantastic shots! I’ve been a huge fan of yours for the last few years and I was actually on the sidelines for that game with my boss. Sadly I didn’t see you during the game and I’m kicking myself. Condoleezza Rice, Jerome Bettis, Regis and Martin Sheen at the game…and I’m mad that I didn’t get to meet Scott Kelby. Maybe next time! Thanks for always sharing your wisdom!

  23. As always I love your shots, but I showed your blog to my husband of your first football of the season and he wondered why you didn’t shoot any of the cheerleaders? Now that would be great shots don’t you think?

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