Shootings the Dolphins vs. Bears game in Miami

And yeah baby, my Bears won 16-0!!!!! (That makes the Bears 7 and 3 this season, and puts them in first place baby, yeah!!!). OK, I had to get that out of my system first. Now, onto the shoot (and my near freak out!):

The game was a week ago Thursday night in Miami at Sun Life Stadium. The shot above was just a glimpse of the really tough night Miami back-up quarterback Tyler Thigpen had, as he gets sacked and fumbles (he was sacked numerous times and flushed out of the pocket and had to scramble all night long). He actually played fairly well, but their offense could never put enough together to really get in the game.

(Above: I love this shot because you can see the Dolphins Wide Receiver Davone Bess literally running right over his own Center, Cory Procter).

I got to the shoot the game from the sidelines alongside my buddy, Bears Chairman Mike McCaskey (who snagged some awesome shots, as usual), and we had a ball. I even had more than usual, because I got to ride from the team hotel to the Stadium on the Team Bus (which included a full police escort all the way, and then I got to hang out with the team in the Bears Locker room before and after the game.

It was all I Could Do To Keep From Freaking Out!
About two hours before the game, Mike and I are in the locker room, and we’re getting out our gear, and I attach my 400mm f/2.8 and this one guy starts asking me about it, and when I use my other lenses, and we’re talking about stuff (he wasn’t a photographer—just a guy being curious), and the whole time I’m talking to him, inside I’m thinking: “Oh My God!!!! You’re Greg Olson!!! You’re on my Fantasy Football Team!!!!” but you’ll be proud to know that I didn’t do that, or squeal like a 12-year-old girl, but I sure wanted to.

I’m driving Mike crazy the whole time, because I’m standing like three feet from Julius Peppers, and I’m telling Mike, “Dude, that’s Julius Peppers!!!! Do you know how good that guy is?” (of course, Mike just nods and laughs at me). It was wild being just a few feet from Brian Urlacher, and Jay Cutler, and Devin Hester, and well…it was all I could do to keep from freaking out, but I managed to hold it together. A very memorable experience already and we hadn’t even stepped on the field yet.

(Above: Not an action shot, but I like this shot of Bears Linebacker Brian Urlacher because I liked the ray the stadium lights provided a rim-light effect behind him. Plus, he just looks like somebody you wouldn’t want to mess with).

Camera Settings
Being able to shoot at f/2.8 (with my 400mm and my 70-200mm) rather than at f/4, even though it’s just a one-stop difference, allows me to shoot at ISO 1600 for a night game like this, rather than at 4,000 ISO. It’s not just the lower noise—the contrast and color are dramatically better at 1,600 than at 4,000. As always, I shot in Aperture Priority mode on both cameras, and in JPEG mode (gasp!) on both cameras.

A Few To Take Us Out
I’ve got a lot of other stuff today to cover today, being Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year in US), and all, so I’ll just show a few more shots to wrap thing up.

An incredibly memorable shoot
I won’t soon forget this one, because it was the first time Mike and I got to shoot an entire game together, and of course, riding over on the team bus, hanging out in the locker room, and getting to see the Bears, my adopted team, get another win in a great season, was just a ton of fun. I’m going to hate to see football season end.

  1. Scott,
    I have rented a 400 2.8 for the Shrine Bowl and looking forward to lugging it around! Thanks for these settings, etc. I’ve never shot with that lens, I guess I’ll have my 70-200 on the D3 and 400 on D3s. I have a Gitzo mono and the Rapid for the other body. If there is any other advice for using that “big one” please share.
    Thanks for all the info you share.

  2. Hiya Scott, I luv your football posts! and I am impressed you did not freak out. I am Dutch and used to play ‘your’ football back in the late 80tees being an Offensive Guard. It still thrills me to see a game every once in a while (if you can get it here in Spain) and it certainly brightens my day to see your coverages and enthusiasm (me being very jalouse of course). Keep goin strong!!! Thanks Vincent

    1. Hi Michael: I totally, totally realize it, and I still can’t believe I get to do some of the things I get to do. I’m very blessed, I surely know it, I don’t deserve it, but I’m very, very thankful. :)


  3. I’m curious, how do you avoid blurry pictures if you don’t specify a short exposure? Or do F2.8 and 1600 iso “guarantee” short enough exposure times even at night regardless?

    How short exposure is needed to freeze action for american football?

    1. Hi Michael,
      The speed that Scott usually recommends people use is 1/1000 and absolutely no slower than 1/500. And yes shooting f2.8 and iso 1600 will guarantee you a fast enough speed when shooting at night in a well lit stadium. I have shot football and soccer at shutter speeds as slow as 1/125 sec and still been able to freeze the action quite well, part of that can be attributed to using a monopod to reduce camera shake. But for best results get a lens with an f2.8 aperture and shoot as fast as possible. -Kevin

      1. Scott can also tell you that when you are in a situation with lower light where the speed drops to 1/125, you can still get some great shots when panning the player, especially for the ball handlers to show the motion the same way you would for a race car shoot.

  4. Scott, it never seems to amaze me how sharp and noiseless your shots are! Nicely done … again! Looking forward to DTown in NY on Monday also! One of these days, I might be able to afford a f2.8 70-200mm! I also like the picture of the running back running over the center … Wow nice capture! Hope you had a GREAT Thanksgiving!


    1. Hi O: I processed them all the same. I add extra contrast to just their jerseys, helmets, and shoes using Nik Software’s Tonal Contrast (Part of Color Efex Pro 3). Other than that, just some good old fashioned sharpening. :)

      Hope that helps. :)


      1. I (we) appreciate your willingness to share your adventures. Things like the camera settings or post processing are very helpful. Yea… we may be only shooting our grandkids soccer game. But is just as important to us. Thanks again for sharing.


  5. WOW! You sir , are a lucky guy! Not sure which was better hanging with the Bears players or Mr. McCaskey! Either way , great shots and I can see you know as giddy as a school girl on her first date!

  6. Scott, great shots, i loke them even though i am a packer fan. One question, I have heard you say several times now that using an F2.8 lens instead of an F4 lens let’s you shoot at ISO 1600 instead of 4000. Why do you say this and not 3200?

      1. Because ISO 3,200 wouldn’t get me 1/1000 of a second shutter speed under that lighting situation, and for most large stadiums.

        I try and use the lowest ISO I can and still get 1/1000 of a second shutter speed or higher. At f/4 it’s 4,000 ISO. At f/2.8 it’s 1,600 ISO. :)


  7. Scott,
    I was checking the shutter speed and other details of your Bears-‘Fins pics (which, by the way, are awesome) using the Exif data that you kindly make available, and I noticed something unusual. The title and tags of those images are still those of the 70.3 triathlon competition you shot a few days ago.

  8. Yeah Scott, those are awesome sports pics, but… I’m not into sports photography, and particularly american football, at all (yurp guy here :) )!
    Is this becoming a pure sports photography thing? :/

    1. taurui, I too am NO football fan, but there is a whole lot of photography to be absorbed within these writings! Look beyond the football, focus on the photography, not the sport, and keep reading!

  9. Airport question for any and all willing to answer…. First, Scott, amazing photos. The images are as if you shot them them in a studio, amazing. Question, I need to fly this week–I hate flying–and I need to take a Manfrotto 244N Magic arm and 2 bites. Is there any danger of the arm being taken at security screening at the airport. I will not be checking any luggage. Thanks Scott for all you do. Blessings, Craig

  10. I am looking for a little bit of full proof recipe for shooting high speed sports like football.

    (1) Set your focus to Continuous
    (2) Change your release time from Normal to Short (in the Custom Settings menu)
    (3) Use the lowest ISO and get 1/1000 of a second shutter speed or higher. For example that’s f/4 it’s 4,000 ISO. At f/2.8 it’s 1,600 ISO
    (4) What’s next. Other than factoring settings

  11. Kind of (repsectfully) tired of the football posts, the action captured is ok but the color depth and backgrounds are major distractions to many of the images. Getting lower might help. This is telling of how hard it is to get a great sports shot. Even though the background is out of focus it still affects the impact on the image. Look at the Urlacker photo and how uncluttered the background is AND the background is orange picking up his uniform. That is how it is done but with the action too. Think Like Jay Maisel when he did that shot with the yellow taxi cabs reflecting behind the subject same thing. So hard in sports photography to get all that so fast. No one does black and white sports photography hmmmmm bet they would look way better in a fine art way but people would not grasp the team fast enough.

  12. Scott,
    I’m from Chicago and also flew to Miami to attend that game. I was sitting on the Dophins side at the 20 yard line. Somehow I figured you’d be on the sideline at that game. I was 12 rows up and was watching the photographers, wishing I’d was down there. At one point I was looking at them and thinking you might be there. So after hitting the blog and seeing this…..I just smiled. As usual great shots and a great story line. Thanks for sharing.

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