Some Shots from my Titans / Bengals NFL Shoot (click on them for larger views)

I thought after yesterday’s “Hall of Shame” shots, I’d better post a few that didn’t feature shots of the goal post (as epic as those were). This was a late afternoon game, and with the rolling back of Daylight Savings Time, by the time kick-off came around the entire field was already covered in shade, and a hour or so later, it was starting to get dark and I had to crank up the ISO nearly right off the bat.

(Above: He just scored—why is he so angry at the ball?). ;-)

Finding Out After The Fact
It’s rare for me to shoot a late-afternoon game. Most of the games I shoot are at 1:15 or at night, so I wasn’t used to planning for the light to change to drastically, and I lost a lot of shots due to not watching my ISO as closely as I should have been. I had a number of shots with shutter speeds as low as 1/640 so a lot of images I had just didn’t make the cut —- of course, I didn’t realize this until it was too late. I did adjust and raised my ISO when I caught a glimpse of how low my shutter speed had fallen, but the shots I had taken like that had just enough movement to make them pretty unusable. If I had thought to turn on Auto ISO at the beginning of the game, I wouldn’t have had to even think about it again. Sigh.

Wait….Don’t Take My Cards!
Usually when I’m assignment, at halftime I race to the Photographer’s workroom (a luxurious well-appointed suite serving a champagne brunch. No wait…picture the exact opposite of that….and that’s what it looks like) to find 10 or 12 shots to upload to my wire service. I quickly choose which shots I want to send; then I can edit and crop if necessary in Photoshop. I always sharpen them, and then upload them to the server. Pretty standard stuff.

However, in this case, I was shooting for the Titans as part of Titans Team Photographer Donn Jones’s crew that cover each home game, so I’d be shooting on the field and toward the end of the quarter one of his editors would pop-up beside me on the field and ask me to surrender my card so they can pick the shots they need and do all the uploads. I was SO not used to that (I have done that during College Bowl Games, but I still got to make the final call on what got uploaded), so it did freak me out a little bit (and you needed to have lots of back-up cards handy), but by the third quarter, I’d see the editor coming and just I’d go run and hide near the Bengals bench. ;-)

(Above: Sharing his touchdown celebration with The Man upstairs! No, not the guy in the pressbox)

Working on things I need to fix
One thing I really need to work on is making the switch to my second body, with a wider lens, at the right time. When you’re shooting that 400mm, and the line of scrimmage is 30 or 40 yards away, the focal length is awesome, but if a receiver makes a catch and breaks for it down the sideline, all of a sudden he’s too close for you to focus on, but yet—-I still keep shooting. At least I did about three times where I absolutely, positively should have switched to my 2nd body, and that just drives me crazy. I missed some great opportunities that unfolded right in front of me, because I didn’t take my eye off  that 400mm. Uggh!

Another thing I caught myself doing yesterday was letting from framing creep up on me, to where I was composing shots with lots of grass below, and my players squashed up at the top of frame—sometimes even cutting them off. I didn’t realize I was doing that until I looked at some of the images on my LCD. I did adjust by moving my center focus point down, so I would have to reframe the shot with a little more headroom above the players and that helped, but I lost a whole series of shots due to me not really being aware of the problem like I should have been.

My wife thinks my problem was something entirely different
I called my wife after the game to tell her:

(a) How much fun I was having with Donn and his crew. For most of the games I shoot, it’s a pretty solitary experience, and the football photographers aren’t exactly what you’d call “Chatty.” But Donn and his crew were some of the nicest, most fun, down-to-earth guys you’d ever want to meet. They had me laughing the whole day (and afterward—more on that in a moment), and…

(b) How upset I was with how I shot the game. I really felt totally into it at the start, and that, along with perfect football weather, and an all access pass form Donn, and I really had high hopes that I would come back with some great shots, but I was just totally bummed. My wife joked that the reason I wasn’t in the photo zone, was that I was in the “Fun zone” with Donn and his buddies. She’s probably right. These guys were a riot, and they really made me feel at home, and totally like one of their crew.

The “Lame @#$ Tailgate Party” is anything but!
Since the team photographers have to be at the stadium four hours before game time, they don’t get to go to any tailgate parties, so it’s a tradition of Donn’s to have their own tailgate party for photographers, in the stadium parking lot, after the game, and after they’re done uploading and adding metatdata to their images (so it’s quite a while after the game). They call it the “Lame @#$ Tailgate Party” and they were kind enough to invite me to join them, and it was really a lot of fun (and the food was insane!). They were grilling out hot dogs, chili, sausage, and they had every football-related snack ever. They had music, games, and even a generator with lights so we weren’t wandering around in the dark. Hanging out with the guys was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip (maybe my wife was right). ;-)

Anyway, here’s a few more shots from the game (they all look better bigger, so make sure you click on them for a larger view):

Good News/Bad News
We’re just coming back from halftime and I walk straight into my buddy, Atlanta-based sports photographer Paul Abell (former team photographers for the Bucs, and the Atlanta Braves baseball team), who was shooting the game for AP. Neither of us knew the other would be there, so it was really a treat seeing him and catching up. He’s taught me a lot about shooting sports, and he’s a terrific guy (and one hell of a shooter). That’s the good news. The bad news is: I was in the end zone and I saw Paul get hit by a receiver at the goal line in the third quarter. He popped right back up like nothing, so I figured he was OK, but I got a text from him a little later that he was really hurting, he was pretty dizzy, and had to leave the game early. We texted later that night, and he was feeling better, but he really took a whack, and was still sore from the hit. Here’s hoping Paul feels 100% soon.

There are worse ways to spend a day
Even though I made a lot of mistakes, I learned some things, too (plus I got to try out some new things I learned from taping that online class with Dave Black on Friday), so all in all, it was a really great day, and I got to meet some really great people, and see my buddy Paul to boot. My thanks to the amazing Donn Jones, and to Al, Will, Richard, Charles and the gang (also Mike, and Eric), who treated like I was family. You guys are the best, and I hope we get to shoot together again real soon (I promise to bring my “A” game!). :)

(Above: Richard got this shot of me with a 12-16 fisheye [cropped down here] right before kickoff. You know it’s before kick-off because I’m still smiling). ;-)

  1. Hey Scott, everone can have a bad day! But I know that it is frustrating all the same.
    I think you wife is right about having “too much” fun. I also notice that am missing things or have the wrong settings and so on when I have that kind of distraction.
    I think there is only one thing to do, as you are showing us here…
    Look back, learn and move on to the game…. Ohh and still have fun… But not too much.
    Have a great day
    – Mark

  2. Everytime you tell us that you had a bad game shooting, you always show lots of incredible shots that you got during your “bad” game. True, you probably know that there were other good shot opportunities that you could have gotten but missed, but if you didn’t tell us that and just showed us what you did get we’d never realize that it was a “bad” game for you. I love every one of these shots that you posted here. You always have to be humble and point out your flaws though, and I can respect that. On another note, I sure would like to see you shoot the Houston Texans again now that they’re finally good enough to win their division and make the playoffs (it would seem).

  3. Wow, i really really like the first one. Top class in every way. Straight forward, nice and tight composition, a really cool “portrait”. Don´t get me wrong, the other ones are good as well, but the first one is really good.
    I do tend to like the pictures that aren´t typical for the sport, i actually tend to like pictures that stand out in general. :)
    Perhaps bookmaterial for the future? I´m thinking about doing that with my racepictures some day.
    It´s always a pleasure to scroll down and look for favorites, and this time number one is the winner! Keep take these “not so ordinary pictures” which are like candy for my eyes.

  4. Hi Scott,I love these last two posts, hearing about a day that most of us couldn’t ever be able to experience is great, have you stopped using the auto ISO setting you showed us in episode 14 of D-Town TV?, would this not have overcome your problem?..

    1. Good job David I was going to post the same comment, especially
      since I just watched the first 20 episodes over again.
      I get to go on the field with the Jets at least 3 times a season,
      and thats how I set my d300 before game time. How ever
      I have a great collection of hall of shame shots also.

      1. OK, I wrote about Auto ISO in the post. I’m going to stop writing and just show the pictures, because nobody reads the dang post. There are no less than FIVE people with comments asking if I considered Auto ISO. I could have gone to bed an hour earlier if I just posted the photos (like I do on Google+ and Facebook). Lesson learned.

  5. Hey Scott

    Some great shots. Couple things…

    1) Why do you not use Auto ISO? Seems it would have been ideal in this situation and would have helped deal with the changing light while ensuring you kept your shutter speed and aperture locked in. Really works well.

    2) You DEFINITELY need to do a course on KT about sports shooting like this. Dave Black’s was of course amazing but also very specialized with off-camera flash. Shooting at the sidelines, particularly with multiple sports, would be a huge hit.

    Take care. Don’t get tackled.

  6. Is that a Leprechaun in your lens on that last shot ;) ???? Thanks for sharing. Nice follow up to yesterday’s post. I was so keen to see them I made quite a bit of a mess making my coffee this morning. Reading my Ipad and frothing coffee at the same time definitely not a good mix!
    Have a great day Scott and readers :)!

  7. I enjoyed looking at your pictures.

    Is there a reason you don’t use auto ISO? I set the minium ISO and shoot in aperture priority. As the light changes the ISO changes to maintain the minium. Thanks for the blog.

  8. LOL! I wish I could “Like” comments on here Scott! I would have totally liked the one about “not reading the dang post!” It’s kinda irritating when people do that.

    Anyway, these shots are much better than your post yesterday would have suggested! Hopefully you’ll be back in the zone by the next game! Hope your friend Paul’s doing better!

  9. If I had thought to turn on ISO at the beginning of the game, I wouldn’t have had to even think about it again. Sigh.

    Actually Scott, you never said anything about auto ISO. You just said you “…turn on ISO”. I tend to keep my ISO on at all times, you should too.


    1. Put 2 and 2 together and fill in the blank. I read the post before it was changed and quickly figured out what “…turn on ISO” meant. Thanks Scott for the story. Please don’t quit telling the story; that’s half the greatness of your posts.

  10. LOL, yeah, I’m with Johnny’s comment above. I did read the article all the way through, saw the comments and then went back. True, true, you did leave out the word “auto”. But regardless, I missed that episode of D-Town and had no idea about auto ISO so, thanks, for putting up with everyone’s comments about it! :-) Since I take high school football photos sometimes, I may need to check out this auto ISO stuff. However, our fields are SO dark that my poor Canon 7D is having to work on 5000 ISO to give me enough light for some sharp enough photos. LOL!

    As always, thanks for sharing your experiences on the job! It reminds me how so often I get caught up in a photo shoot, get all excited about the frames I’m shooting off, and then realize that I forgot to change a setting or adjust the composition. It happens!

    Thanks again for what you do and for what you share with the readers!

    1. Hi Matt: Keep both eyes open when you’re shooting—it helps to see if the play is going in a different direction (I get fooled a decent amount by fake handoffs), but if you keep both eyes open, sometimes you can see a receiver open, or a pass going off in a different direction. Also, I know some shooters who key on the quarterback; set their focus on him, the peek over the top of the camera (instead of looking thru the viewfinder) to see where the play is going–that way they can swing around to the receiver if it’s a pass play, and catch it right before the ball reaches the receiver’s hands. Hope that helps. :)

  11. Thanks Scott, there are some great pictures there. Great shot of Domata Peko (330 lbs.) tackling Chris Johnson. I’ve been paying more attention to the side line photographers and one thing that is obvious is that they all miss shots, whether out of position or wrong lens, etc. I also saw a photographer get taken out in the end zone by a player in another game, those guys risk a lot being down there. The players are so fast and big, that it has to hurt when they run over you…much respect to those guys. Thanks for sharing. Let’s get some soccer shots for all the soccer moms/dads :).

  12. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your mistakes in writing while posting such amazing images. There is an illusion that is created in the online photography world that everyone else is having great days every day, and that every image they take and session they produce is perfect. It’s a relief to read that even highly-skilled and knowledgeable photographers can forget to change ISO or switch lenses in order to get the right shot at the right time. In truth, I don’t need to actually see the mistakes (though you write about them in a funny & self-effacing way), but I do love reading the details as you’ve written them here.

  13. Hey Scott, first I’m not going to mention Auto ISO… sorry, I said I wasn’t going to mention Auto ISO and there I mentioning Auto ISO…

    Grade on these photos definitely A+… and the writing is still up there, too.



  14. Can you share how you manage white balance for shoots like this with changing light? Are you getting it right in camera or in post? The color looks great.

    Your football shoots are great, but if you want a popular post, set down your D3 for a body with a bit worse high iso performance and head to a poorly lit gym or indoor track and teach us how to cope!

    1. Hi Jack. I use the ol’ “Live View” white balance trick, where I set my camera to live view (so I can see a preview of the shot through the LCD monitor on the back of my camera) then I toggle through all the white balance settings until one looks good to me. That way, I don’t have to mess with the color in post. :)

  15. Scott, I wish I knew you were at the game Sunday, I would have watched you work the sideline and then, after the game, I would have walked down to the front row to meet you.

    I have a question about the shooting conditions you encountered and how you worked through it. As you know, the visitor side (stands and thus background for most of your first quarter shots, was in the sun while the field was in the shade. How did you work through these conditions.

    Really like some/most of your shots.


  16. Ah — Book 3, page 170 — I missed that on 1st reading but find it now looking through the indexes. Time for a review and perhaps to invest in a Hoodman. I’m excited to give this a try — thank you!

  17. Amazing images Mr. Kelby. It doesn’t matter what you missed – it matters what you got. I know how hard this is and your shots make it look easy. Is there anything that you’re simply not great at? :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. Scott – great stuff. I am the Manager of Creative services for the Atlanta Falcons and had a rough game shooting in Indy this past weekend cause they opened the roof and windows. The first quarter the light/shadow differences on the field were so drastic it was about a 3 stop difference every 15 yards! We’d love to have you come to ATL to shoot a Falcons game with us sometime.

  19. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences with us. I only photograph youth sports, mainly of my own children and their teammates. But I’ve had many of the same mistakes and frustrations that you had at this game. It’s good to know the pros have their days too. I found your comment about the 1/640 shutter speed so funny. I’m happy and lucky when I can get that fast (without having to go to ISO 3200 – which gives me more grain than I really care care for) for evening football games and anything indoors with the poor lighting I face. Thanks again.

  20. Scott,

    Football season is so enhanced by your work… I love this time of year when you are able to be on the sidelines! Thanks for sharing these with all of us who have to watch at home or in the cheap seats!

  21. When I read that you wished you’d turned on Auto ISO my jaw hit the floor. Why would you want to turn it on? Check it out – all season, i’d had Auto ISO turned on and couldn’t figure out why in 10 frames shot in a row (D700, my buffer holds 13 but I shoot 10 for some reason :)) I’d get different temperatures, sometimes wildly different. The camera didn’t seem to meter correctly at all; sometimes the whites were way too white, then too dark; turning OFF Auto ISO solved this problem. Yes, it comes with the downside of “ahh crap, it’s now 4pm in November, the light just ain’t the same as at 2pm” but… you get that crispness you were saying that the NFL requires; you get to read the letters on their clothes and labels and sharpness too.

    Could you elaborate more on the technical details? I notice the EXIF info missing from the photos you post so it’s a little hard to snoop :)

    Thanks! And thanks for sharing your shoot info and photos!

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