My Football Photography Hall of Shame

Hi everybody. I’ve been very fortunate to have shot a lot of both College and Pro football this season, and I’ve been sharing some of my favorite shots from those games here on my blog.

Well, I didn’t shoot any Wildcard Playoff games this weekend, which gave me an opportunity to do something different: dig up some of my worst football shots, and foolishly I’ve chosen to share them here with you.

Now, when I’m out there shooting, and I fall for the fake handoff and shoot 22 frames of a running back carrying nothing, I will normally delete those right in the camera (just out of sheer embarrassment). If I miss deleting them on the field between plays, then when I import the images onto my laptop, I’ll usually delete the really bad ones then, but alas, I still had plenty left over. But today, I’m just going to share a few. That way, I have enough left for a part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5………part 62, part 63……

Here we go (hang on folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride):

Above: Focusing on the player that has the ball isn’t always a big priority of mine. I think the real story here is those guys in the rain ponchos back on the bench, and as you can see—-they are tack sharp! A lot of photographers out there get all distracted by the ball, and the play that’s going on, and stuff like that. Such a shame.

Above: A lot of guys try to make sure they’re in position to nail that end zone corner catch (like these guys here), but then they miss out on getting that really dramatic shot of the blue padding on the goal post, and the ref jogging over after the play, and I think that’s pretty short sided on their part.

Above: I think a lot of shooters out there are all hung up on the action, and miss out shots like this where you really get to use the “rule of thirds” composition technique. It’s not what you see in this shot—it’s what you don’t see.

Above: I know it looks a little soft here, but you should have seen how sharp it looked on the back of my camera. I was psyched!

Above: Remember, if you’re afraid you won’t capture the action, why not try capturing what happens right before the action. See, a lot of guys would have missed this shot.

Above: A lot of shooters on the sidelines are all hung up on the shot being, ya know…in focus, but hey—-you can still tell what’s going on, right? I mean, you can see he caught the ball and all. This would make a great 17×22″ print. Maybe larger.

Above: Touchdown! In an image like this—catching a pass in the end zone—-it’s really all about capturing the player’s emotion. That look on his face is priceless. Heck, you can almost see the ball in this one! Wait for it…..wait for it…..Epic!

Above: Picking the right spot to shoot from, where you won’t be obstructed by the chain gang, or a ref, or a video camera man, is really critical, so I’m always very careful to be in just the right position to capture “the shot.” Look at the expression on the Michigan player’s face. Classic. Could have been a poster. Could have sold millions.

Above: At the end of the day, it’s really about knowing how to frame your shot in the heat of the action. This is one of those shots where it just all came together for me. People ask me why I do it. This….is why I do it.

Above: My rule is: leave a lot of headroom up top, ya know….in case Sports Illustrated wants to use it for their cover shot.

Above: It’s not easy capturing an out-of-focus shot of a field goal kick. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one, but this is the kind of magic that sets me apart.

Above: There was something really thrilling happening there just a moment or two ago—I’m almost certain. Sidenote: look at how sharp the gloves are on the player on the far right side. When you get one like this, it reminds you of why you do it all in the first place.

Above: It’s all about getting tack-sharp images, and if you look closely, you can almost read the brand of drums they’re using. That’s tack-sharp my friends!

Above: I hate it when they run to the other end of the field. Everybody’s so tiny, so I don’t worry about actually composing my shots, which really takes the pressure off.

Above: Capturing that peak celebration shot after a big play, and the raw emotion of these headless players is really what it’s all about.

Above: The referees are such a big part of the game, I try to work them into at least 20 to 30% of my shots each game. It helps me to stand out.

Above: I don’t usually like to brag, but every once in a while you just nail one! Can you say “SI Double Truck!” I’m livin’ the dream, baby!

Above: So many guys out there are all about capturing the entire player, but I say, a chopped off limb here or there, especially a throwing arm, really isn’t a big deal. It’s about the moment—not the individual body parts.

Above: My instincts told me “Hey, this guy is going to catch a pass” and my cat-like reflexes took over. I turned, nailed the shot (BAM!), and headed to the photographer’s work room for a chili dog, knowing I had this one in the bag.”

Above: When you’re covering a big name Quarterback like Donovan McNabb, you have to put yourself in a position to capture the moment. I kept yelling at this player in front, “Hey, move to your right!” but he just stood there—blocking. I was so pissed.

Above: In the NFL, plays unfold so fast that you have to react in a split second. The play was over, so I whipped over to catch this majestic moment, frozen forever like a moment in time. Look how the ref is dragging his foot. Amazing!.

Above: They say that shots where you can’t see the ball, or that are partially obstructed by an official, or that don’t seem to have any focal point or story behind it are useless, but I think this powerful image proves them all wrong. While I’m on the subject; I know as photographers we’re out there to do a job, but when we’re side-by-side shooting, you know what we don’t talk enough about? Love. That’s right. Love. Between plays, we need to share our feelings, and talk about our relationships, and our struggles and dreams. And gosh darn it, if one of us really nails a great shot, we should all go over and hug him. Ya know…or not.

Capturing the moment. Or at least the one right after it.
Well, there you have it, part 1 of some really stunning shots that I cannot believe didn’t get deleted right out on the field. I wish I had 20 more to share. Unfortunately, I have hundreds. Maybe a thousand. Maybe more. I’ve got a playoff game lined up, so hopefully more of these magical shots will be heading your way soon (and if I actually get any decent ones, I post a few of them, too!).

Have a great Monday everybody (and stop all that snickering). ;-)

UPDATE: I added a few more “keepers” over at my Facebook page. Here’s the link. (to see all my Facebook posts, click the “Like” button).

  1. Great post! Very funny. I’m actually glad that you’ve shown the challenges involved with shooting sports. I think we’ve all taken our fair share of these kinds of shots.

    Any chance that you’ll tell us what game you’re shooting this weekend so that we can look for you as we watch it?

  2. You should stop deleting the really bad ones, because if these are the ones that passed the in camera check, I really want to see the ones that did not!

    You should try some different sports, like Quiddich, it’s so much stuff going on you never know where to point the camera.

  3. Love it!
    I’ve long considered starting a website dedicated solely to “Awesome Shots Ruined by Officials.” You know the ones: half a windmill dunk, half a ref’s blurry backside. I think we’d all have some stellar submissions.

  4. Don’t take this the wrong way, but in a bizarre way I found this post quite inspiring! Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the world who ends up with shots like these – it’s so reassuring to see that even you guys at the top of the game get one or two 0 stars from time to time…!

  5. Heh Scott, great post. It’s always nice to see others mistakes so you know that you’re not alone when missing the focus on that great shot. :)

    Thanks for sharing these! Btw even though I’m not that into football I always enjoy your football posts. Keep it up!

  6. I’ve cancelled my NAPP membership, subscription to Kelby Training, if Layers was still going I’d cancelt that too. And I am having the life size tattoo of your face removed from my back with painful laser surgery. My two kids are no longer called ‘Scott’ & ‘Kelby’ – they are now ‘RC’ & ‘Rockinthehouski’. All my dreams are shattered, in pieces, like a thousand un-named layers in a Bert Monroy creation.
    Why Scott, why – I thought you only took perfect photos, I always thought those guys weren’t making plays to win, they were only ever making great plays for you to photograph and then you show us this.
    The dream is over ;)

  7. A funny alternate caption to: Above: Touchdown! In an image like this—catching a pass in the end zone—-it’s really all about capturing the player’s emotion. That look on his face is priceless. Heck, you can almost see the ball in this one! Wait for it…..wait for it…..Epic!

    Of course highly seasoned photographers know that getting a razor sharp image of the OTHER photographers getting the less important shot (the touchdown) is the mark of a true professional!

  8. Scott

    Fantastic post. Humor and self-deprecation are very important qualities of quality individuals. You did more for my self-esteem (as a photographer) than all the books of yours I have read.

    It’s nice to see that even the BEST can sometimes shoot crap. The fact that you are willing to share that with your readers speaks volumes about the type of individual you are.

    Thanks for the wonderful Monday morning laugh. All the best.


  9. I loved these photos. Now I feel a little better when reviewing some of my own shots. Wish I had your talent to add those great captions to pictures!

  10. I woke up this a.m., turned on the PC and did my usual scan of what’s new on the blogs this morning. Your colourful commentary on your football images had me laughing outloud! What a great way to start my Monday! Thanks for the smiles Scott!

  11. Um, I was actually looking at those drums before looking at the players. I’m a drum geek. Even though I watch one game a year, maybe, I do enjoy and appreciate your sports posts. Thanks Scott!

  12. Good to know there’s someone nearly as good as me out there taking shots like these……
    but it’s Scott Kelby no less. I usually close my eyes and take the shot, seems to get the results just like yours ;-) BTW thanks for the CS5 book, great read.

  13. The bubble has burst. The dream has died. Icarus’ wings have burned. I can’t believe Scott Kelby truly resides with us mortals, and takes crappy photos just like the rest of us.

    I thought that the post last year showing your “ground” shots from your hip hitting the shutter release was just a one-time fluke. Now I know you sometimes actually have your eye to the viewfinder! Maybe you should switch to Canon in the future so your shots will be in focus. I hear all the cool kids use that brand!

    Oh, and please try to work on getting the horizon level in the future. It’s tiring to have to turn my head slightly to the side each time I view these pictures. There’s a tool for that in Lightroom, you know!

    Seriously, Scott, thanks for a great Monday post! Needed the laugh after a tough weekend for me and my family. Looking forward to more of these types of posts!


  14. Scott, you cracked me up … I needed that this morning! These look like some of my best photos … just kidding. :-) Thanks for reminding us that even the Great Scott Kelby is human! :-) Super post and thanks for making my day! Like Ken, where’s the Kelby foot shot?


  15. Very nice work Scott! ;-)
    It takes a big man to admit his mistakes, but it takes a GIANT man to actually post them on a blog read by thousands!
    Your tongue-in-cheek captions actually remind me of a photo presentation I attended a few months back. Peppered through the introductions of each photo were numerous lines like, “I would have preferred that the branch didn’t block half the lion’s head, but ya gotta take what ya get.” Or…”I realize this one’s badly out of focus, but I think it gives you a good idea of how big these animals really are.” Sad, but funny.
    Trev J.

  16. Thanks Scott,
    It’s nice to know that pros take some bad shots too.
    I have learned so much from you and the other guys on kelby training. Hope to meet you someday to say thank you in person.

  17. Well, in all seriousness, a bunch of these shots are caused by the AF mechanism suddenly moving the focus from the action to the background. Happens to me all the time.

    Do you have any tricks for minimizing that?


  18. LoL – wipes tears from eyes!
    Thank you Scott – with the British American Football season about to kick off around March I can now hold my head high in the knowledge that at least some of my shots are on a par with yours! :-)

  19. Really funny! Great read and gave me a chuckle first thing Monday. Now if only the camera designers would make a “mind reader” interface for the autofocus so we can all stop getting those tack sharp backgrounds.

  20. Fantastic. Such a refreshing change to view and read some humility in photography! Hell, I was beginning to think that everyone was perfect. This gave me a wild smile. Congratulations. (Oh, and your images that are good…are great!)

  21. I’m wiping the tears of laughter off my keyboard. Looks like we all want more!

    How bout showing the shots I seem to always get like:
    -One’s own out of focus shoes
    -Giant flare streaks from the sun
    -The blurry self portrait while checking the autofocus
    -The unidentifiable, “I don’t remember shooting that”

  22. Imagine my shock to see such pictures! I thought that Scott wore a cape and all but now I see he has a weakness like the rest of of mortal photographers. These look like some shots I’ve taken–well sorta–except my perch is fixed about 40 rows up along the 20 yard line using a 450mm f5.6 setup. (Thanks for sharing Scott.)

  23. Back to school: if these pics (and the other thousand just like them) are fairly recent, the true gems you’ve shown us are that much better. McNally school says how did you correct these errors to get the gems. Please give us the thought process at least.

  24. LOL, thanks for sharing these! I think its quite a relief for a lot of folks (myself included) to see that someone of your caliber makes mistakes too. Kudos for sharing these on the web too …that took some guts. Everyone knows that photographers make mistakes, but not too many people are willing to air them on the web for thousands of viewers’ entertainment!

    I think your “keeper” shots, more than make up for the ‘near misses’. :)

  25. Thanks for the Monday morning giggle.

    Photography question for you. On canon cameras you can move the autofocus activation off the shutter button and onto a button on the rear of the camera. I believe Nikon has the same option and I was wondering how you have your cameras configured for shooting the games?

  26. Thanks for sharing Scott, It’s cool to see that I use some of the same great compositions and soft focus that you do! As you say you have so many of these shots I can only hope that you already have a book in the works of these shots. Please let us know when it will be available for purchase.

  27. The comments were hilarious. I really needed the laughs, but more importantly, needed to see a professional such as yourself struggle through a few bad pics along the way too. I’ve always admired you and your work, but you’ve risen a few more notches in my book for showing your ‘misses” along with your “makes”.

  28. Scott thanks for showing off these great images! I think a lot of times people think that everything a pro takes is supposed to be perfect. What they don’t realize is that you typically only show your best work. You may hundreds if not thousands of images to get a handful you think are worthy of sharing. Thanks for all you do. Love seeing all the football pictures you share throughout the year.

  29. I’m not a sports shooter (or fan) and usually skip over your football posts (sorry about that), but this had me rolling. Thank you for posting your mistakes. I think it’s something every photographer needs to see. No matter how much we would like to believe our heroes rarely miss a shot, it makes you more of a hero knowing that you do and that you’re willing to admit it.

  30. It’s a brave photographer that puts his/her outtakes online. Good for you, SK. Hang it all out there. Great teaching tool that will help people who are afraid to shoot to buck up and try.

  31. Hey Scott, you are maybe great at out of focus, tack sharp drummers etc. but you will NEVER get close to MY out of focus pictures etc.
    (I’m reflecting about issueing a full book about how to out of focus your images at all time…)


  32. Scott, you are awesome man! Thanks for making us all laugh and reminding us that just because you’re a pro doesn’t mean that you nail every shot. As an aspiring sports photographer, I especially enjoyed this post. There is an underlying message to all photographers with this post and I appreciate that as well.

  33. Scott – Thanks for sharing. I’d love to hear your techniques/tips/technology/etc. for avoiding these (assuming these are not what your really wanted!). I often find my technique does not take advantage of my camera and lens — especially when doing sports and using auto-focus. Some simply work, and others I am not sure why they did not… Thanks for sharing!

  34. Thanks for making me feel better about my own failed shots. Have an unposted reel similar to this for sand volleyball, and another for baseball.

    Also reminds me of something I learned early in my career. The biggest difference between a photographer and a schmuck with a camera is this: The photographer will only show you the shots that worked.

    Thanks for giving us a peak into what ended up on the cutting room floor.

  35. Scott, thank you SO much for posting these – that a photographer as talented as you does this as well has just brightened my day immeasurably! Thanks!

    p.s. why do I have to wait until March for your CS5 Portraiture book? I want it NOW! ;-)

  36. So I already thought you were a really cool guy prior to this post, but after sharing these wonderful shots with us (complete with your humorous captions) – you are even cooler! (if that’s possible)
    Do you realize what you have done by posting those shots? You have given HOPE to thousands of photographers (real and imagined). I now know I am just as good as the legendary Scott Kelby and that makes my day!!!! I know it’s true because most of my football photos look like these shots too! ;)
    Scott you are the Dude, the Man, & the Coolest…thanks so much for showing us a true look at a day on the sidelines. I respect those awesome shots even more knowing how difficult it can be to capture one.

  37. This is one of the funniest posts I’ve ever seen on a blog and, as a guy who shoots volleyball and baseball, it’s refreshing to seen I’m not the only one who doesn’t quite get every shot. Love the examples! And that’s why you need “major gigage” when you shoot sports!

  38. Yoickles, Scott, give yourself a break! I’m happy with one decent, in-focus image after a shoot! You usually have a million great shots per shoot. I think you can allow yourself a few digital boners now and then, so to speak.


  39. ROFL.

    In all seriousness…thanks. Remembering some of my first soccer shoots last year, this is nice pick me up/encouragement to keep trying in the new year.

  40. That’s the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time! And while it may not help you get more NFL gigs (:-) it sure made me feel better about myself and some of the shameful pictures I took over the holidays.

  41. Oh I get it buckeye fan, catch your man grabbing the michigan lineman facemask and of course no penalty. As the bucks say cheater! I bet the refs never called it either. lol
    thanks for sharing that one! great job besides that one.

  42. I spoke to a referee while shooting an Ohio State game this year, and he assured me that appearing in 20-30% of photographer’s shot was part of their training! ;)

  43. Thanks for sharing these. We usually don’t get to see all the blunders the pros make. When I see some great shots I think, “Boy, do I suck!” but when I see stuff like this from someone with your experience I think, “Boy, do I suck, but the pros aren’t perfect either.”
    Thanks Again.

  44. Great post, Scott. It shows perfectly that even pros don’t go in there, have their cameras click 20 times and go home with 20 perfect pictures. A touchdown post! ;-)

  45. Scott, I think that last shot is really begging for the full HDR-tone-mapping treatment. Push all the sliders to max and I guarantee a 172% improvement over the original image.

  46. Those darn referees are always getting in my way, too!

    And they never ask me to show them my replay when they miss a call (I’m talking middle school games) … fun post, thanks for being brave for our entertainment.

  47. Scott, thanks for making me a believer again! My sports photography resembles my golf some days (where did that shot come from?). It is the occasional great shot that keeps me coming back! I enjoy all of your posts, and look forward to the next game. (now where is the delete key on all those other shots….)

  48. There’s no such thing as a “bad shot”, it’s just becomes “fine art”. You just have to convert it to black and white and ad a really dark vignette around it. Do that, then enter it in a photo contest and it will magically become a grand prize winner.

  49. Scott,

    After this I feel much better about the images that I take of sports events. If you need more examples of just missed catches or Perfect focused feet let me know…

  50. What a way to start the New Year. Through your wit there is much more to be learned, than one may think — a true quality of a GREAT teacher.
    Thanks for sharing ‘you’ with all of us.

  51. Still giggling from the captions, I came over here to say thanks, and found Rui Lopes had already said it…perfectly.

    This post is proof that you rock in so many ways!

  52. ….. what’s so bad about these?????? Maybe a levels adjustment or better yet convert them to black and white! I see a new book deal in the works :)

  53. Actually, this is a great post. We sometimes forget that the amazing images we see are often selected from a much larger array AND that all of us blow shots.

    Scott, I am always impressed by your even keeled, self-effacing demeanor. It’s one of the reasons you are such a strong teacher. Your are like us and very approachable.


  54. Scott, Thanks for the absolutely great post today. You truly understand that the ability to share both the hits and the misses and to laugh at ourselves is the gift of a true teacher. We learn as much from your great shots as from knowing that you, too, get some of those “gems”. Cheers — and thanks for the gift of ROFL.

  55. Scott, it is impressive that you can share such shots with us but above that even, your comments were hilarious. I was laughing so hard I nearly fell off my chair a couple of times. Thank you for nailing the humour and making my day!

    (It’s easy to see why your group enjoys working with you.)

    Happy New Year to all.

  56. Wow, I loved this Hall of Shame! I’m crazy for dry humor so I was cracking up. Thanks for the lessons in what not to do and for giving me hope; if Scott Kelby is human than I can do this too, lol.
    I love your book on Digital Photography and am a daily reader of your blog. Between the two and a lot of practice I’m learning a lot.
    Keep it coming and Thanks!

  57. You’re a teacher in the finest traditions- and more. Not only do you share your ‘weaknessess’ -which is your strenght, but you add an amazing, incredible humour to it all !!!!
    I learn much about you from your ‘unintended’ sharing then from the ‘official’ ones.
    Just want to say you have a great admirer and a fan here in me.

  58. Scott,

    As many have said before, thank you for showing some of your “less than perfect” shots. It helps me to see the proof that I’m not the only one taking some real stinkers. However, your captions were priceless. Again, thank you for your good humor.

  59. “The magic that sets me apart” “double truck” lol (means two page magazine spread guys)

    Scott if you are this funny you might actually not be a Nerd like most of us photographers

  60. When someone you look up to reminds you we’re all human, it’s definitely lightens the mood :) We tend to forget that our photog heros make mistakes, when we tend to see only their finished products… thanks for reminding us mate!

  61. I was out on the ledge about to jump, when my wife lured me back indoors with this blog post. You’ve restored my hope. If you can take so many bad photos maybe there’s still hope for me. Now you can return to telling us all how to take better photos and how to make them look better.

    I owe you my life.

  62. I have not had so much lough reading a blog post for w while! I can understand the regret of not catching the great image, but coming up with excuses for the lost ones? It is hilarious. Thanks for putting it together!

  63. Thanks for sharing the oops photos! I shoot a lot of high school sports for the newspaper where I work and I get so frustrated when my focus goes or the action is too close. It makes me feel better to know people way better than me have the same problems sometimes!

    1. I love shooting candids and was driving myself nuts over missed focus.. so many times when the subject moves. I guess my equipment isn’t the problem.. its just the nature of the beast.

      Thank you so much for posting this and making me stop pulling my hair out!

  64. Yay.  So you don’t always grab the perfect shot, and sometimes they’re out of focus.  Join the crowd.

    The only thing worse than a salesman disguised as a photographer is the attempt at humor in the post.  Really?  Must we find 50 barely-different ways to sarcastically say, “Ha, ha!  This image is out of focus, silly me!”?

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