I finally got a chance to process some of my images from last week’s game between the San Francisco, 49ers and the New York Giants. Anyway, I thought I share a few of my favorites from the shoot below (click on them for much larger views):

Above: I dig the sweat flying and the fact that the defender’s helmet is up so high his chin guard looks like it’s covering his eyes. 

I had dinner a few days before the game with sports photography legend Dave Black and his lovely wife Susan. During dinner I mentioned to Dave that I’d be shooting the game this weekend, and Dave said:

“Here’s what you need to do: put a 1.4 tele-extender on your 400mm f/2.8 and get a super tight shot of Eli Manning—so tight that you cut off the top of his helmet and part of the ball. I want to see his face and the reflection in his helmet. Start the game shooting this and don’t stop until you get it.”

Well, I took his advice and shot in tight on Manning (like the shot you see at the very top of this post) for the entire first quarter. I have a lot of tries that didn’t hit the mark, but I did catch this one. Thanks Dave! (I did the same thing with 49ers QB Alex Smith, as seen as the end of this post). :)

Camera Specs:
Pretty much the same as usual, but besides the 1.4 tele-extender, I did try a different lens on my second body; my 28-300mm f/2.5 to f/5.6. So why this one? Well, I wasn’t happy with the 24-70mm, because 70mm isn’t close enough most of the time, and 24mm is a little too wide, so I thought I’d try something different since this was a day game. I wouldn’t have tried this at night). My main lens was a 400mm f/2.8, and I shot at f/2.8 the whole time (of course, when I put the tele-extender on, it dropped the f/stop to f/4.

Above: This is one of my favorite shots from the game. The fact that later in the game part of the field went into shadows did make things a little tricky, but I switched my White Balance to Cloudy and that pretty much took care of the color shift.

Above: I know you can’t see the ball in this shot, but I loved Manning’s face in this shot.

Above: In the frame before this shot, the defensive tackle had his hands firmly on the running back’s face mask, but the shot just wasn’t as interesting. 

Above: This one’s taken with a 10.5mm fisheye, from down on one knee.

Above: That’s me posing with my 400mm f/2.8. Of course, it’s closer to the lens than my head, so it looks larger than life (photo by Vinny).

It truly was a blast to shoot the game—-absolutely perfect weather, two teams at the top of their game, and San Francisco enjoying their best season in years, and a stadium full of fans enjoying every minute of it. It doesn’t get much better. Thanks to 49ers Team Photographer Terrell Lloyd (A really great guy, who was really helpful and fun), and my personal thanks to Anne Cahill who is just too cool for everything she did.

One Last Thing…
Dave Black told me that once I shot with that 1.4 tele on the 400mm, that it would feel so tight, that when I removed it, the regular 400mm would actually feel loose. He was absolutely right. When I took it off, I felt like I was using a 200mm, and actually, that was a good thing. Thanks Dave—-once again, you were right.


About The Author

Scott is a Photographer, bestselling Author, Host of "The Grid" weekly photography show; Editor of Photoshop User magazine; Lightroom Guy; KelbyOne.com CEO; struggling guitarist. Loves Classic Rock and his arch-enemy is Cilantro. Devoted husband, dad to two super awesome kids, and pro-level babysitter to two crazy doggos.


  1. Awesome shots Scott, I knew you got some great ones!

  2. I know that the saying is “gear is good, vision is better”, but was wondering if you would ever shoot a professional event like this with anything but the fastest longest glass? For the 400 f.28 it’s $8000 to play. Whereas the 300 f2.8 is $3000 less. Is it really worth the extra price tag for an additional 100mm of reach?

    • Hi Jason:
      You don’t need all that gear unless you want to be competitive, because the gear you listed is what most every other photographer is using out there, and everybody wants those tight-in shots. Also, if you want to shoot at night or in an indoor arena, you’re going to need that f/2.8. While you can shoot with a 200mm f/2.8, you wouldn’t be very competitive with the other shooters standing beside you, and a wire service or newspaper probably wouldn’t consider you (when I applied for the wire service I shoot for, they had minimum gear requirements, and you had to list your gear in the application).

  3. Great shots. I miss the close up shot of Alex Smith you mention.

  4. Fantastic shots Scott!:D i know how tight a 400mm is but adding a 1.4x TC should be off the hook!

  5. Also like the Zildjean cap. In the 1970’s I was a bank manger trainee in Quincy, MA. Some of the family members were my customers there. This was also the branch where Howard Johnson started. His widow came in occasionally to get to her safe deposit box. Living vicariously through your gear and editing. I volunteer and do the sports photography for a local high school. Their poor lights aren’t enough for my lowly D300 and 2.8 70-200, but I try. One game was postponed to a Saturday daytime and it was so much fun to shoot at proper speed without the high ISO noise of the D300.

  6. Incredible shots! Enjoyed all the commentary with each photo! (My dream is on the sidelines with my camera in Green Bay…sigh!)

  7. rockin good shots- hey i’ve been watching a bunch of “The Grid” back episodes lately and saw the excellent “Day in the life of Joe Mcnally” on wednesday and i gotta just tell you that i think that you are the most Hilarious yet right-on embassador of photography- thanks for that! someday i hope to afford a napp subscription so i can do some proper Ps learning. Keep it up sir!

    P.s. guitar tip: buy a Parker Fly Deluxe and learn chromatic playing.

    Have a nice day- Nate Parker.

  8. Hi Scott,
    Great Shots…But, where are the Goal Posts & Refs? ;)

  9. I liked the fish eye shot. Does that tell me something?

  10. Scott,
    The comment about white balance jumped out at me. Are you shooting your football games with JPG files and not RAW? Oh and here’s a tip from a nobody amateur to try sometime. Get down low with that 400 and shoot at eye level when the players are lining up to start the play. You can see some pretty cool things from this perspective.

  11. Where’s the goal post, for the photo’s anchor??? Is there ever a time when you shoot sports with a slow shutter, allowing a bit of action blur? Or are you expected (by those buying your photos) to ALWAYS have crisp, action-stopped shots?

  12. I second Mike. Need more GOAL POST! What sport is this again? ;)

    Great shots. What a moment you caught with the sweat flying and the chin strap sleep mask!

  13. Hi Scott,

    Are you doing these shoots for Southcreek Global? My understanding was that they didn’t send their photographers outside of their local area.

    Super, super shots! I suspect your dream of shooting the Super Bowl is becoming less and less of a dream and more of a reality.

    Have a great weekend.
    Trev J.

  14. Beautiful crisp shots Scott. I always shoot the entire games for my sons’ team. I’m just amateur btw. I use a 7D with the 70-300 from the Rebel XSI kit. What is your focus point. I always try the face, but does it matter where the focus point is if it is an entire body shot?
    PS-Love seeing your football images!

  15. I never get tired of seeing NFL shots. Keep shooting them and keep sharing them. :)

  16. I think these r the best football shots you’ve posted. And you r just hitting the mark. Well done

  17. Great stuff Scott. Hey, if you ever decide to make a special book of pics where the helmets are sliced in half, I have a ton from the Lightning games, that I’d love to contribute!


  18. Scott-
    I’m sure you get tired of answering what are probably pretty ignorant questions, but here comes one. Could you please give us your settings regarding the autofocus settings: Dynamic AF area, Focus tracking with lock-on and AF point selection. Also, since you’re shooting jpeg, what picture control setting do you use? Where is your focus point set? One last one: now that high school basketball season has begun, how and which do these settings change? Sorry for being a petty questioner, but you have proven to be a great wealth of information. Thank you.

  19. I know I am a bit biased (I’m a Giants fan) but, the shot of Eli ROCKS! And so does the shot of Brandon Jacobs. Wish I could get on the sidelines to get some of those shots. :)

  20. I love, love, love the shot of Brandon Jacobs running, and the “sweat shot,” too. I know you’ve written about how to focus for sports, but could you provide a link? I have a D300 and can never figure out the focusing for action/sports (those blurry athletes look great against the tack sharp background).
    Thanks again for posting your awesome football pics.

  21. Can we get a lesson on content aware fill on removing the referee from the picture?

  22. I agree you need the goal post for the compositing lines since you can’t see them tripping over the yard stripe when you shoot that low.

  23. Scott — tell us about how you focus. Do you use the 9 point dynamic area for stuff like this? What about A4- focus tracking lock? And, finally, do you use the shutter button to focus, or do you use the AF-ON button?
    Thanks — and great work!

  24. So would this make you the first shooter in NFL history to use a consumer’ish, variable aperture zoom on the field? ;-)

  25. Thanks for the great shots from an avid Niners fan… but regarding the excellent tight shot on Manning, you commented: “(I did the same thing with 49ers QB Alex Smith, as seen as the end of this post)”, but I don’t find that shot on Alex? But thanks again!

  26. Great photos, Scott. Everytime I see your work I’m reminded of what a loser I am. After years of trying, I still get nothing but blurry underexposed photos, even when I using top of the line equipment. Its quite depressing. I think its time for me to give up photography and live vicariously through you and other excellent photographers.

  27. Awesome set of photos! Thanks for sharing them.

  28. Wow….wish I knew you where there…..I was there too but not on the sideline! But I am on the 50 front row behind the Niners. Love the shots!
    Will you be at the Monday night game on Dec 19th… It will be a great game and with the record the Niners have…..who knows maybe I will see you this time!

  29. Scott, I always enjoy reading your blogs and tips. The one from earlier in the week about how to properly shoot a football game were great! I used tips without even thinking about it! I just shot some pictures at the Dolphins/Redskins game from my seats in the lower section with my lowly 70-300 and I need to give all of you sports photogs credit. It’s not easy with changing light conditions and long lenses. I’d love to attend one of your seminars next time you’re in South Florida. Especially the Light It seminar. Cheers and hope to hear from you.

  30. As a long time 49ers fan, I’m stoked you got to shoot one of their games finally. Now you just have to come shoot the Broncos at some point, but preferably when they’re having a better season (although they’re picking it up a bit). :)

  31. Man, have you got noticeably better over time!! You’re sports work leaves me looking like i’m still using a Yashica 35!!

  32. Scott, I’ve been watching your blogs and tips for over two years now and have to tell you that I really appreciate your advise and training that you and your staff provide for ametuers and pros alike. I was using your tips from earlier this week on Sunday when I was shooting pictures at the Dolphins/Redskins game for practice in my seats. Using my el-cheapo 70-300 Sigma I was able to perfect the “framing” technique you spoke of with my cheerleader shots and of the teams. I need to give all of you sports photogs credit with all of the changing light conditions and long lens shake, I think you came out with some phenomenal shots. I hope to see you in the future down here in South Florida, hopefully for your Light It tour. Thanks for all you do for up-and-comers and i hope to hear from you in the future. By the way I dig the Zildjian hat since I play too. Cheers

  33. Great shots Scott! What was the result of your experiment with the 28-300mm? Did you get any keepers out of it? Would you do it again?

  34. Allways look forward to your posts and shots, and in the UK we would say “Back of the net” and maybe in the US of A you would say “Over the bar” you shots rock Kelby and your info is great….frag out!

  35. Hey Scott, as usual…love your post and images and your wit! Question: How much post processing do you do on these pictures that you consider your favs that you post and most likely just keep in your portfolio or drives? Thanks and keep your post coming. BTW…what are you going to shoot and post when football is over and there is no NBA games……..college hoops?

  36. I’m relatively new to your blog, but I am LOVING these NFL lessons. The self-deprecating comments, the incredible pictures, the lesson you’ve learned. Thank you for sharing these.

  37. Fantastic shoot as always. My personal favorite is the below this text

    I know you can’t see the ball in this shot, but I loved Manning’s face in this shot.

    Thanks for camera specs as well.

  38. Where are the cheerleaders?
    I’m sure you are hiding some great shots…

  39. Scott, I’m just a hobbyist playing around with my D90 and kit lens, but I love the NFL how-to posts with your experience and commentary!

    More of business-related question for you. Two weeks ago I went to the Patriots-Giants game and spent a little time eyeing all of the sideline photographers. Just who do they all work for, generally speaking? Are they freelancers competing against each other for customers to buy their work or are they working for someone specific, like a paper or wire service?


    • Hi Dave: The photographers you see on the sidelines are mostly from local newspapers, media outlets, and wire services (like AP, Getty, US Presswire and so on). You’ll also find team photographers from both teams (it’s not unusual for the home team to have four photographers working the game). I don’t usually meet photographers are just there “Freelance” because you generally can’t get access unless you’re with an accredited media outlet. Hope that helps. :)

  40. Just a quick question. During events and such, how do you go about setting the white balance? Do you use custom? A grey card?

  41. Wow! Fantastic work Scott! I’m not a sports shooter but seeing you’re work evolve makes me want to try it! Not that gear makes the photograph but dang that 400 with the tele converter is an awesome tool to have! I remember you mentioning that conversation with Dave Black… glad you took his advice!

    All the best!

  42. Wow Scott, I think these are my favorite football shots you’ve posted yet! Dave seems to have let some of his photo mojo rub off on ya ;) The moments like Mannings snarl and the sweat shot are killer.

  43. Hi Scott! Great post as always and your images are spot on! You mentioned you shot your second body with a 28-300mm f/2.5 to f/5.6. Do you mean f/3.5 to 5.6 VR? Or is this a super secret lens you are testing for Nikon? Way to go!

  44. Great shots! Scott, you are getting so good at content-aware, I see you took all the refs and goal posts out! Way to go !! ;)

  45. Scott, is there any chance that you will be doing a book on sports/action shooting? Or in the alternative, is there one you would recommend? For all the books on wildlife shooting, I’m not aware of any totally devoted to this area.

  46. Ahaa, it’s nice conversation on the subject of this post at this place, I actually have read all that, therefore at this time me additionally commenting at this place. http://www.bedlampaintball.co.uk/paintball/reading

  47. Are you shooting your football games with JPG files and not RAW? Oh and here’s a tip from a nobody amateur to try sometime. Get down low with that 400 and shoot at eye level when the players are lining up to start the play.

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