Shooting the Atlanta Falcons vs Minnesota Vikings Game

Hi Gang: I got invited to shoot the Atlanta Falcons game on Sunday so I shot up to the Georgia Dome for the 1:00 pm game on Sunday and was back the same night, so it was kind of a whirlwind trip, but I really had a ball! (no pun intended). [NOTE: Click on the photos for a larger view—-they look much better bigger. Well, except the iPhone photos. Kidding].

(Above: Here’s my remote rig in an iPhone photo. It’s not fully aimed yet, because they roll this rig out onto the corner of the field about 10 minutes before the players are announced). 

The very cool Mike Benford from the Falcons organization arranged it so I would be able set up a remote camera rig and attach it to the truss archway that the players run through when they enter the field, and a couple of hours before the game we met with the Pyrotechnics team that runs the smoke jets and fire plumes that shoot out as the players come out, and they were incredibly helpful. My original plan was to mount the rig to the top of the semi-circular truss, but that would have my camera aiming directly into four smoke jets, so instead I mounted it down low (using two Manfrotto Magic Arms) with a 14-24mm wide angle lens (zoomed out to 14mm) aiming upward.

(Above: Here’s an iPhone photo of the rig to give you a closer view. The camera is mounted on one Manfrotto Magic Arm, and then I attach a second arm just to make doubly sure it doesn’t move. Lastly I attach a steel safety cable, which isn’t fully secured yet because I’m going to have to re-aim this puppy in a just a few minutes. Also, I’m triggering all this with a Pocket Wizard on top with a short patch cable that connects into the camera’s cable release port).

(Above: This is me in a manly-like football player ready to take the field pose, but I’m actually acting as a warm body for the auto focus to lock onto. A stunning specimen, aren’t I? ;-)

Hocus Focus
Of course, mounting a camera down low at “Maggie the Wonderdog” level makes focusing part fun, especially since once it’s all in place, they’re going to move the whole rig about out  20 or 30 feet anyway, so you have to refocus again. I start by letting the Auto Focus do its thing, then I switch to Manual focus so it doesn’t change while I’m pressing the remote.

(Above: Here’s the remote shot [somehow he looks bigger and meaner than me]. The hugh fire plumes make everything turn red for a few moments, and then the color is gone just as quick as it came. I’m out on the field, about 30 yards or so away, triggering this remote shot with my Pocket Wizard in one hand, and my camera [with a 24-70mm] in the other. I was short the cable I would need to trigger both the remote and my handheld camera at the exact same time).

(Above: Here’s the view from the field, taken with my other camera. As the fire stops, the color changes back to normal, and the players come through the smoke jets. Note my camera rig on the far right side of the frame down low. Nobody came anywhere close to hitting it, but that’s always a risk with pumped up athletes and a lot of smoke). 

(Above: Once the player emerges from the smoke, you can see my rig on the right a lot clearer. I wish the rig had been mounted about five feet farther out in front, and even lower). 

Shots from the Game
Now that I’ve done this particular set-up, I think I would do it differently next time, but at least I got that one shot (which did receive some Photoshop magic, and if I have time in the next week or so, I’ll do a short tutorial on that as well).

As for camera settings; pretty much the same as always: two bodies: Nikon D3s with a 400mm at f/2.8 all day on a Gitzo monopod, and a Nikon D3 with a 24-70mm at f/2.8 all day, both at 2,500 ISO (the lighting in the dome is surprisingly low).

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few shots from the game (Atlanta won 24-14 by the way), and I’m going to start with some detail shots first, then onto the game action:

(Above: I wanted to get a detail shot of the player’s gloves and when I saw the incredible tats this player had, I knew I had the subject I was looking for).

(Above: I always try to get a nice shot or two of each team’s helmets. They’re usually sitting up high on an equipment case, but I saw this one on the ground with such a great reflection of the stadium’s dome and sidelines, I went with it instead).

(Above: Another detail shot: this time of the large duffle bag the officials have on the sidelines where they keep footballs used during the game). I just like the way the light gleaned off the NFL logo. OK, enough detail, let’s get to some action shots).

(Above: Here’s Viking’s QB Christian Ponder getting sacked [not his first on the day], and although I was rooting for the Falcons, I like Ponder from his days at Florida State University—I’m a Seminole fan from way back, and despite their loss I think he’s got a lot of potential).

(Above: This is a little later in the game).

(Above: #7 scrambling out of the backfield once again. It was a long day for Ponder).

(Above: Talk about “leading lines!” I had this shot straight down the hashmark from the end zone, and although it’s a pre-action shot and not normally the kind I take, I just kinda liked the symmetry of it all).

(Above: Love the intensity on both their faces).

(Above: Of course, it wouldn’t be football unless a ref, suddenly realizing that you might have a clear unobstructed view of Falcon’s WR Roddy White jumping up for a pass, suddenly darts into the frame as he winks to the Side Judge, and mouthes, “Don’t worry, I blocked him.”).



Best thing about the day….
…had to be the great folks I met at the game. Michael Benford was just a prince (incredibly gracious, helpful, and just fun), and while I was there I got to meet, and shoot alongside, the Falcon’s team photographer, Jimmy Cribb, who is a real veteran of the league, and one of those guys you meet and you feel like you’ve known him forever. A real gentleman with a great sense of humor (and of course, one hell of a shooter). Thanks to everybody in the Falcons organization, and to Michael, Jimmy, and the other great photographers I met and chatted with on the sidelines. What a great day for a game! :)

  1. Not that I would ever have this opportunity to mount a rig like that, but I’m curious nonetheless. You’re firing this thing with a Pocket Wizard while you are shooting with another body, simultaneously? So the PW was in your left hand, maybe under the lens of your primary, while your framing and shooting with the right hand? I can’t imagine trying to time two photos at once from two totally different angles.

  2. Some amazing photography as usual, Scott. It’s always a treat to see your work and the explanations as to why you did or didn’t do things a certain way. Just following your blog posts is an education in photography itself. Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge and experience with us. Take care, PC.

  3. Great shots this go around from the “Maggie Cam”! Of course my dog is named Maggie, so I totally was digging it regardless, but still… Looking forward to seeing your Tampa Bay vs Dallas game on the 17th! :)

  4. Amazing shots scott! When i read you shot all that at 2500 iso i was amazed. How do you end up with images that really don’t look like 2500 iso? Is that just the nikon being really good or some other secret?

  5. Great shots as always. I love the remote gig idea and 2-3 photographs you got with the wide angle. The leading lines photograph is different that what we normally see, but definitely a good one to get those 3 guys in a line.

  6. I haven’t been here in a bit. Scott your getting much better at shooting football.

    Those remote rigs are used a lot in horse racing, leading to great temptation when looking at the SLR tree, or the SLR sprouts coming out of the ground on the first straightaway. I always want to pick a few..

  7. Ok Scott you have caught all of us with our mouths wide open in amazement in how you do all these things in sports photography. We think it’s time you do a tutorial on sports photography of shooting a football and perhaps a basketball game. Alot of the folks out here in Kelbyland would just a least like to try to do 1/10 of what you do, but are not able to. I feel there is a solution and that would be a tutorial with step by step examples from setting up, taking photos, and finally processing them. I know you have been tutored in last couple of years from some really great sports photographers in the business. Some of us are not able to get that help that you have. It’s time you share with all of us in Kelbyland what you have learned because your shots are actually magazine quality photos and alot of us would like to have that same magazine quality for our own photos.

  8. Scott,
    I’m disappointed, only ONE ref shot and NO goalpost?!?!! You go all the way up to ATL and all we get from you is a bunch of those those sharp, tight action shots?
    You’re slipping already!! Say it ain’t so, Scott! Say it ain’t so!

    I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is MORE GOALPOST!


  9. okay, seriousy….

    As a budding football photographer I am curious, on how pros shoot. And if you have the time to answer, I’d be very grateful.
    I know, like the game, position is everything. What spots do you like to shoot from?
    Also what’s your “shutter click to keeper ratio” for a game (referees and goal posts notwithstanding)? (i shoot 6fps, and am happy with a 4-1 ratio)

    Thanks and Happy Holidays!

  10. Scott, as I’ve said before I always love to see your sports shots, keep up the good work.

    To those that are amazed about the 2500 ISO thing, I just want to say that if you plan to shoot high school football, you’ll find that if you ever shoot at a field where you can get away with shooting ONLY at 2500 and not higher, then consider yourself very lucky and blessed. Lighting conditions vary, but I’m usually shooting at ISO 6400 (sometimes worse, rarely better) at high school fields, and still not getting the shutter speeds that I’d prefer. The bottom line is that in these conditions if you want to get shots that are even close to not being excessively blurry or excessively noisy, then you’d better be shooting with a camera that can handle shooting at these high ISOs and still look good. I’m not sure how the Canon models compare, but with Nikon you’ll want to at least have a D700 or D3 (which are OK but far from perfect at 6400), or a D3S (which can handle high ISOs with ease). I didn’t mention that you also must be shooting at f/2.8, so at a very minimum you should have a 70-200 f/2.8 if you’re serious about getting good sports shots. On a full frame camera, the reach at 200mm isn’t nearly far enough, so you’ll have to crop a lot. I shoot with a 70-200 on a D700, and I desperately wish I had a 300mm f/2.8 or 400mm f/2.8. As Scott has written before in his Digital Photography books, if you want to shoot sports (and do it well), you’d better be prepared to spend some serious money.

  11. Scott,

    You should have a look at Michael Bass Designs as he makes a “button” which will go around your 70-200 lens and connects to a pocket wizard. I have used this many times to fire a remote cam at baseball. Then one I have has actually two buttons which will fire two cameras via two pocket wizards and works great for a Second and Home camera. I would be happy to send pics of this button to where?

    This button allows me to hold the camera and lens normally with my zoom hands thumb on the button that when I need it I just lightly press and the remote camera is shooting.

    Great Stuff

  12. Hey Scott, i have to give you a tip with the remote camera thing. Put the pocket wizard that you had in your hand on the camera that you are using instead. Then every time you take a picture with the camera in your hands the remote camera will take a picture as well.
    Good stuff ey? And then you´ll have twice as many pictures to sort through, even better. ;)
    I´ve tried that myself and i got to tell you it´s not that easy with motorsports, i guess the best way is to practice.
    Did you buy the motorcable (that´s at least what it´s called here in Sweden) that go between the camera and the PW?
    With a little switch on it, so that the remote camera is ready to go all the time?
    Since it does that it consumes battery all the time, but that´s not really a problem with the big cameras like the D3 and D3s since they have really good and long lasting batteries.

    Looking forward to see more of remote cameras. There are a few out there that are really good at it, you just have to find the right angles and frame it in the right second and so on and so on. :)
    Bill Frakes is very good with remote cameras, he tends to find new angles with this, which is inspiring.

  13. Great post as allways Scott, but what is with the smoke shower? is it some kind of disinfectant spray? is foot and mouth a problem in US football? You crazy

  14. Great work! You have developed quite the eye for shooting sports. I would appreciate a look at the processing you use on these shots. I cannot get the finished look you get. If you have shared this already, please let me know where to find it. Thanks


  15. I see you got at least one shot of one of the Bama Boys (Julio Jones #11 – Alabama and Roddy White #84 – Alabama-B’ham) even if the ref tried to shield you. Looks like Julio did not play due to a hamstring injury. I’ve shot Bama three times and UAB once. Now, I’ve got to figure out a way to get into a pro game next.

  16. Hey Scott,
    It was a great surprise seeing you at the game in Atlanta. I was not aware that you were so passionate about sports photography? I am not surprised, after seeing your sports images, that you are as good with the camera on the field as you are in the studio. Kudos to you and come again and shoot with us in the ATL again soon!

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Cyber Monday Deals from Kelby Training

Next Post

It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring the Help-Portrait Team!