My First Soccer Shoot: The U.S. Men’s National Team vs. El Salvador

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Even though I had never shot a soccer match before (or what the rest of the world calls Football, or futball), I was totally psyched to get the opportunity to shoot the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. El Salvador match played in my hometown of Tampa at Raymond James Stadium. [Click on the photos for much larger views].

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I Needed Some Shooting Help
Since this was my first time shooting soccer, I really wanted to get some shooting tips from someone who really knew the game, and knew how to shoot it, so I thought who better to ask than the guy who won the “Shooting from the Sidelines with Scott & Mike” contest, Alex Walker (who won the competition with a stunning shot of his son during a soccer match).

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Alex was incredibly gracious with his time and talents, and sent me not only loads of tips, and techniques he learned from shooting his son’s games over the years, but his son even pointed out particular players on the US Team to key on during the game. I can’t tell you how helpful this was, and I followed Alex’s advice the entire time and it really made a difference. (Note: Alex’s stuff was so helpful, and so detailed, that I told him it would make a great Guest Blog post. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll do one for us).


Predicting The Future Must Be Harder Than It Looks
The Weather Channel online forecast showed a 10% chance of rain at game time, so I almost didn’t take any rain gear at all, but at Brad’s insistence I threw some into the trunk of my car before heading to the stadium. As it turned it, it rained non-stop the entire first half of the game (thanks Braddo!), but luckily I was wearing a hoodie and a ballcap, so the rain didn’t cause that much of a problem for me personally, but my gear needed some protection. (Photo of me above by Ron Metz).

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Bring the Rain!
The last time I needed rain gear was when I was shooting the Outback Bowl on New Years day, and I had some camera rain gear made by Kata that my buddy Dave Moser had bought me for my birthday the year before, so I took that along for the Bowl game.

I know Kata makes great stuff (I have a Kata backpack camera bag which is incredibly well made), but I just didn’t really like their rain gear. It was kind of clunky to use, and for whatever reason it just didn’t click with me, so I saw another photographer using AquaTech rain gear and asked him how he liked it. He didn’t, but said he heard that Think Tank Photo had just come out with some rain gear that he heard good things about, so he was switching to that.

That was all it took for me (I’m a Think Tank Freak), so I immediately ordered my Think Tank rain gear the next day, and that’s what Brad threw in my trunk.

This was the first time I got to shoot using the Think Tank rain gear, and I have to say—I was thoroughly impressed. Of course, it did the job of keeping my camera body and lens dry, but working with it felt really great, and I was totally comfortable with it from the get go. Beyond that, it has all those little things that Think Tank does with their stuff that let you know this was not only designed by a photographer, but that the photographer who designed it actually uses this stuff. Highly recommended (by the way—-if you’re thinking of getting some of their gear, read this link first—it’s the third paragraph).

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Camera Gear and Settings
Since it was raining like it was, and I only had rain gear for one camera (and I wasn’t shooting on assignment), I shot with only one camera the entire game, my Nikon D3 with a 200-400mm f/4 lens mounted on a Gitzo tripod. This was  a night game, so I shot at 4,000 ISO the entire game to get my shutter speed up to 1/1000 of a second to freeze the action (though a couple of times I noticed it fell down to 1/800 or even 1/640. I should have turned on Auto ISO, right?).

By the way, Ron Metz (who took the shot of me in the rain you saw earlier), was shooting a 400mm f/2.8 lens, and by shooting at f/2.8 (rather than f/4 like me) he was able to keep his shutter speed around 1/1000 at an ISO of only 1,250. That gives you some idea of why we’re always going on and on about really “fast glass.” I did a live on-location demo of this whole “fast glass” thing and shooting sports indoors for one of the next episodes of D-Town TV.

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Post Processing
I started with the usual exposure and cropping adjustments in Lightroom, and the occasional vigetting (that’s all I did there), but then I took the images over to Photoshop to apply lots of contrast to the player’s uniforms, socks, and shoes (but not to their skin), and in some shots I applied a little to the grass playing field as well. I added the contrast using two filters; Topaz Adjust and Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3.0 (I applied the filters to a duplicate of the Background layer, then added a layer mask and just painted over their uniforms). You really have to be careful using these contrast effects when you have out-of-focus backgrounds, because it really looks funky (for lack of a better term) —it looks crazy over-processed.

Important Note
I added this extra detail and contrast because I was not on assignment, so these are pretty much for me and I can take lots of liberties with how they’re post processed. Had I been on assignment (I shoot for Southcreek Global Media) I would not have added the enhanced contrast look, and would have just tweaked the exposure, cropping, and sharpening in Lightroom and that’s it.

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The Bottom Line
I absolutely loved shooting this game, and it actually was a lot more fun to shoot than I had anticipated (especially since the US Team won 2 to 1), but what I loved about shooting it was the non-stop action of soccer. Don’t let the low scoring throw you—there is a lot of action, almost non-stop during the game, so you don’t have to wait around for a shot on goal to capture some great action. There is so much happening on the field that you just keep your eye to the camera the whole time, and I loved that.

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Although I got a couple of shots I liked OK, I know I can do a lot better with more experience, and shooting my first soccer match just reinforced the fact to make great shots of anything, it requires a lot of practice, and I definitely need that. I’ll be keeping an eye out for other opportunities to shoot soccer in the future, because the only way I’m going to get better is to go out there and do it, so that’s what I’m going to try and do.

A very special thanks to my good buddy Jim Workman for helping me get the media credentials in the first place, and for giving me the opportunity to try something new. It rocked!

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Wait, One More Thing!!!!!
I have a favor to ask. If you’ve got a sec, click on this link to jump to a page to vote for Tampa, Florida as the site for the 2018 World Cup supported by the MSL, US Soccer and other heavyweights in the field. It has information about the World Cup and the events leading up to it as well. Thanks much–Scott. :)

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article and I have shared the experiences of shoot a soccer game for the first time. I only wish that I had Brad’s advice then because I was shooting on assignment for the league! The post-production on the images that you have here are great and I want to go back through my archives and reprocess them. Thanks again for another great article Scott!

  2. Great idea on just post-processing the uniform.. I think its very important to know the rules of the game which can help you to get those ‘foul-making, frustrating and players throwing tantrums’ kinda shot. You did a great job by capturing the essence of this action-packed sport. Congratulations!

    I would also like to see some Photos of Soccer fans. This is one sport, where there is equal amount of action happening in the stadium as much as on the ground! One can find angry fans, cheering girls, painted faces, crying coaches and so on! Great thing to shoot on the side, in my opinion.

    Another great sport you should try Photographing is Cricket. Its really popular here in India, hence a bit over-shot by newspapers and magazines, but I’m sure you will bring a different/American perspective to it.

  3. Its always great to see how others have got on with a branch of photography that I love. Really nice work Scott and great to see the extra PP you’ve applied.

    I tend to set my camera on manual for night games, metering from the grass (green is almost grey, or gray as you say in the USA, right?) then I don’t need to worry about my shutter speed dropping. Light tends to be pretty even at night games in a decent stadium.

  4. Hi Scott,

    Great to see you do soccer match. I am sure you would soon be on a trip to capture the best of matches like the EPL and others.

    Great photographs. I am sure you have done your research regarding the rules of the game :)

    Oh yeah like Vineet said would love to see your shoot a cricket game starring Sachin Tendulkar ;)

  5. Scott, great photos. Football is THE sport of champions of course (by football i of course mean UK football =). As soon as I know when you are visiting UK I would love to see if I can get you in to shoot my team (Queens Park Rangers). Season is finished between May and August though. You are almost right on the pitch at QPR so it’ll be a good experience !

  6. Hey! A proper sport at last! (only joking). You’re not having my vote for the 2018 World Cup though. It’s going to be over here that year.
    Another enjoyable and informative post. Thanks.

  7. Hey, Scott… I’m glad you were able to shot during one of our national favorites sports (I’m from Argentina)… You’ve done a really great job, much better than those who take sports photos here (I have a friend who will cry when I show him yours)…

    Well done… And good luke…

  8. Great article Scott. And for someone who was shooting their first football game (I’m from Scotland……..its the one and only football in my opinion :-) )……you did a fantastic job. As a couple of people have already said you should get over to the UK and shoot a game….that would be a whole different experience that you would love.

  9. Great post! I too bought the Kata rain gear based on your recommendation in your book..Only used it once and I am not a big fan of it either. Always fogging up which made it a nightmare to shoot with.

    Pretty darn good shots for your first soccer game.


  10. great post. will think about getting those extra software to make similar effect.

    off the record, my vote is going to either Holland/Belgium or Australia. I think it’s too soon for the US to have another shot at hosting the WC. I think it’s fair to give it to another country who hasn’t hosted the event yet. It’s for the good of the game

  11. Hi Scott.

    ..”he was able to keep his shutter speed around 1/1000 at an ISO of only 1/1250 of a second.”

    ?? :)

    Great pictures of the soccer match.

  12. Thanks so much Scott for this post and to Alex for his advice. I was able to shoot my first MLS match from the sidelines this past September and plan to do another one this year. The field got darker than I expected as the sun set, so I had to crank up the ISO. It certainly is very fast and non-stop action. It’ll be great to give it another try, especially with these tips. Hope I get to use a 2.8 lens. I also learned that I needed to bring a small chair. :)

  13. Scott, I have shot football games at 500th sec and got some good shots. SI has a page web site that suggests the camera settings for their submissions and they start at 500 (shutter). Great photos and don’t you just love that tonal contrast filter in NIK? I use it a lot! Everytime you talk of the great job Brad does (and he does) I think of Joe saying “I lost him to Scott in a card game…on purpose”, yea, right. (I always assumed that was the Brad he’s talking about)

  14. Your post processing looks really cool. Really neat effect. You use Photoshop for it? ;)
    4000 ISO really? C’mon… Sick. Love it.

    Keep em coming!

  15. Wow! That looks like it was a blast. I shot my first rugby game on Saturday–talk about non-stop action…keep an eye out for that chance, Scott, even a high school game is really intense.


  16. really really nice work Scott.
    I think for me the photos are not just sports shots but also convey the emotion of the game.
    Well done.
    BTW, sorry you guys lost the Gold Medal Hockey Game and were crushed by the invincible Team Canada featuring the stellar Sydney Crosby and . . . okay I’ll shut it.
    No really the US was amazing as well.

  17. Good to see you covering a manly sport! I know, love, watch, and play soccer/football, and I think you did a good job capturing these moments. And thanks for the details of post-processing…you’ve given me new ideas. Mostly, though, I’m inspired to hear someone as accomplished as you being humble enough and wise enough to point out how there are always new things out there to do, and how we need practice to get good at them. You could rest on your vast accomplishments, but your adventurous and generous experience is inspiring. Thanks!

  18. I read your blog daily with interest, but seeing a soccer game covered by such a solid American citizen got my attention! A relative of mine is a co-owner of an MLS team and the game is special to us and I’m glad you discovered why it’s so popular to the rest of the planet. Great photos, sir, and keep it coming.

  19. Great article Scott and i love some of the post-processing on these shots. As an English guy living in the States, it’s always good to see another American, convert to the fast-pace and energetic nature of football.

    I spend a lot of time shooting American sports and have experienced many of the feelings and sentiments that you’ve described in this article; it is certainly challenging to shoot sports that you are not familiar with and keeps you on your toes from start to finish. I remember when i first started shooting football (yours not mine) and i would often anticipate the play going the opposite way and end up shooting completely the wrong things. However, with time my anticipation and guess work improved and i think my shots have improved as a result.

    I’m also definitely now going to check out Thinktank’s gear. I’m up in Michigan and shooting outside at sporting events is always challenging because of the extreme weather conditions – freezing rain is not fun!! I’ve also been trying to find a decent pair of gloves for photographers that provide both warmth but still allow you to operate the camera, any ideas?

    Lastly, did you have any issues with your lens steaming up as you left the field and came inside? I’ve always struggled with this and wondered if you have any advice.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience and for an entertaining and informative read.

    1. Adam if you find a pair of gloves let me know…Shot a road race here in Boston at the begining of Feb. with winter golf gloves and after 2 hours I thought my fingers were going to fall off. Not fun at all. Let me know what you find.

  20. Hi Scott, Awesome images, just wondering why don’t you follow your national team to the FIFA 2010 World Cup Soccer here in South Africa which is about 100 days away from tomorrow. Beat having to wait for another 8 years. Watched USA play Brazil in the CAF cup at the end of last year and was sad they lost, they really played well. Just wished I could crack the nod to be at pitch side to take photo’s of the tournament. Thanks once again

    Cheers Delme

  21. Scott,

    Thank you so much for the post, and your willingness to share your journey and all the little bits and pieces that wouldn’t normally get discussed. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve learned from you and all the training offered at Kelby media.

    Would you mind walk us through the settings used for AF on your D3 when you were shooting the game?

    I’m guessing:

    Continuous focus with (a4) Focus tracking with lock-on set to “Short”.

    AF-C priority set to “Release”. (or release + focus)

    Dynamic area AF set to 9 or 16 points? (Havn’t seen much love for 51-3D tracking

    Do you use the AF-On button for AF activation.

    AF point selection AF11 or AF51 (guess there are a lot of those little suckers to get through)

    Lastly, I know this may sound stupid but… when looking through the viewfinder are you generally moving the focus selector around for the composition you want or do you just keep it smack in the middle and let the AF track your subject.

    Sorry for all the questions — I’ve been scouring the web and there seems to be so many opinions out there as to what works best. Totally understand if you can’t get to this.


  22. What I love about the processing you used is the texture and folds/waves in the uniforms, especially the white uniforms which would often look pretty flat or dull (or even blown out) otherwise…at least if I were shooting it. Your images look cinematic! Good stuff!

  23. Scott,

    Great post as always. I really enjoyed the shots and the solid advice. One thing I noticed about soccer versus your U.S. football shots is that with so much less equipment and no helmet, there is a much greater emotional impact to the photos. Being able to see the player’s faces and expressions really tells so much more of the story. Anyway, thanks again for all you do to help everyone learn.


  24. Football – the great English game combined with some fine English weather, aka “Liquid Sunshine”! I’m not a fan of the beautiful game, unlike most males of the species in the UK, but I do appreciate some stunning shots of the match. Well done, Scott.

  25. Hey Scott,

    I’m with Delme, follow your team to South Africa for 2010 and you will have all the opportunity in the world, with obviously all the best teams in the world. Btw ever thought of having a “world tour” that included South Africa? We are dying to see you in action here!!

    Just got your book on lightroom and can’t put it down. Even got my wife to read it and she is not that into photography. I can just imagine what it must be like sitting in an actual live session with you. So… please give it a thought.

    Anyway thanks for a great post again.

  26. Well I guess you call it soccer when you suck at it… I have many times wondered why USA keep getting things and names wrong.
    As for US rugby, why is called football for (I really can’t figure that one out?!?!) I mean it has way more in common with rugby than any other sport. I mean much do you use your foot?!?! It’s like playing handball with your feet. :P

  27. Thanks for the shout out! I have never been more flattered or honored to be ask for advice or to help someone. Yo have done so many wonderful things for me I will help anyway and anytime I can. Glad you finally saw a soccer game. Thanks again.

  28. I would be interested in knowing what settings you use for Auto focus points in Dynamic AF area, and your focusing track long normal or short. If you use center weight or mm settings. Thanks enjoy all the things you do

  29. Great article and nice photo’s Scott! Just getting into soccer photography myself, 13-year old son is just getting into it.

    Which Think Tank rain gear did you get; the one with or without the flash sleeve? If you got the one with the flash sleeve, did it tuck out of the way nicely and not get in the way at all?

    Thanks for all you do Scott – big fan and soaking all your media like a sponge :)


  30. I love the contrasted uniform look, especially in the white uniforms. It’s funny to me that you say this was done only because you took the pictures for yourself. You wouldn’t have post processed the pictures the same way if you were being paid. I worked for many years (way back to the early 90’s) editing sports photography for a trading card company. I worked countless hours getting paid to edit images in a similar way. Over the years I worked on thousands, maybe tens of thousands of images. The contrasted, highly defined image is now what I expect to see when I look at action sports photography.

  31. Fantastic shots, Scott. I do love the processing, though it’s not “allowed” in pro work. I’ll be heading to Scottsdale, AZ for baseball spring training and am hoping to bring back some good baseball shots. Luckily, the action is nowhere near as fast as soccer.

  32. You should start watching european football instead of american footbal which is not even half of the fun :D (I’m just kidding, please don’t hit me :D).

    Great photos!!!
    The world cup 2010 is almost there! It’s a great chance… you can watch the portuguese team (Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Deco, …) to see good football :D (I’m kidding again! :D )


  33. Hi Scott, great work out there. I`m one big fan of all your stuff. Congratulations about the photos. Searching for something i found your blog and in next seconds it was in my Favorites. I`m reading from 2 days and will continue.
    Best Regards
    Kiri Hristov (Bulgaria)

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