Tips for Improving Your Football Shots You’re Not Likely To See Anywhere Else!

I haven’t had a chance to really go through my shots from the 49ers/Giants game on Sunday quite yet, so instead, I thought I’d turn this into a teaching moment and share some tips on shooting football—the kind of tips  you’re not likely to find anywhere else. ;-)

TIP #1: What this shot needs is….more goal post (see photo above right).
Without the goal post clearly visible in the shot, how does the viewer really even know what sport they’re seeing? Is it ice hockey? The 100mm Men’s Freestyle? Doubles Tennis? Who knows without a strong visual cue like that icon of football, the venerable Goal Post. Seeing it lets you know in an instant that this is football, and a four-point touchback is just moments away.

“I’ve got a fever. And the only prescription…is More Goal Post.”
— Legendary football photographer Bruce Dickinson

“If Bruce Dickinson wants more goal posts, we should probably give him more goal posts. And maybe I am being selfish, but last time I checked, SI doesn’t have a lot of pictures that feature the goal post!”
— Legendary G+ commenter  Nicholas Boivin


Tip #2: Use the Ref as a Graphic Element Whenever Possible
Timing is everything when shooting football, and if you can time it to where a referee walks into the frame at the peak moment of action (as seen above right), it will add a level of depth that is missing in so many sports photos today. Look at the flat-looking, one dimensional image on the left. Now compare that with the one on the right. The ref adds the depth and dimension it needs to take this shot to the pro level. I call this technique “Reverse Shallow Depth of Field.” or RSDOF

Tip #3: Use assistant coaches and other random people on the sidelines to help “frame” your subject (as seen above right).
In the shot on the left, you don’t know where to look first, but in the shot on the right, your eyes are drawn right into the player carrying ball (someone you might otherwise overlook). This is a tried and true compositional technique that is usually applied to travel and landscape images, but if you’ve got team assistants, and video crew, and the guy holding that big blue parabolic mic right there beside you on the sidelines, why not use them to apply that same technique to football shots? You won’t see this type of framing on, and that’s precisely what will make your images stand out!

Well, there you have it folks, three solid tips designed to add the element of surprise and shallow depth of field to your foreground like never before. Now, it’s off to shoot the second period of play and take a few snaps of that running guard right before the buzzer! ;-)

  1. The ultimate solution would be transparent refs, but until that happens I’ll work hard at putting these tips to good use. Location, location, location… goal post.

  2. Great tips! Its refreshing to discover that I am actually a ‘natural’ at these techniques! Its seems I was applying these from day one of shooting football! And to think, I’ve been struggling to remove this “gift” with tutorials, advice and actually throwing these gems away. Scott Kelby is a revolutionary- nobody is pushing these concepts!

    As I consider it I’m losing my fever, I need MORE GOALPOST!!

  3. Guess that your way of saying you won’t be posting real tips anytime soon? I know you are too humble to think it, but you are a great sports photographer and some of us would love to learn from you. Either way Kelbytraining still rocks

  4. rofl….these are some of the best tips concerning football that I have ever read!!! I’ll be using these everytime I go out to shoot the game in the future. Thanks Scott for your brilliant and skillful guidance.

  5. Ah, reverse shallow depth of field, I know that technique well only I always called it reverse focal point. This list is a good start, but could easily be expanded upon. You should try the finger in frame technique (harder to execute with longer lenses). And it looks like on the above shots you forgot to set your camera to “decapitate”.

    Nice post, but if you could get Christopher Walken on here saying he needs more goal post that would put it over the top.

    The Vikings looked like they could have used a little more Cow Bell last night if they wanted to stop Aaron Rodgers. That guys been on a roll ever since he broke your monopod.

  6. Too funny! I’ve spent many a Saturday morning at the local High School mud pit getting those same shots. I guess it’s a right of passage in some way. For a while I thought that the coaches would scan the field to see where I was, just so they could run the play to the opposite side. LOL! Love all your tips – they’ve made me a better photog. Thanks!

  7. Great information Scott. I’m feel so much better about my football shots. I thought I was doing something wrong. Thanks for affirming that goal posts, refs and coaches add so much to the photo. :)

  8. You are quite a funny chap Scott! When are you coming back to Swingin’ London Baby!

    PROBLEM: I was recently looking through my Lightroom 3 library and noticed that I have a load of duplicate images in there that have a different file name. I think I must have imported some files in from another hard drive where “A Better Finder Rename” had used the EXIF data time to rename the file and I must also have the same images that are 1 hour or so out due to Daylight Savings Time

    QUESTION: Can anyone recommend a GOOD tool for finding and removing duplicated images even where the file name is different? I’ve tried Duplicate Detector but have great troubles deleting the images as there is some file access restrictions on by DROBO that seem to give me a headache. Is there a LR3 plug-in that can help?

    I know this is not necessarily the best place to post this question but I didn’t know where else to try.

    Thanks, Stephen Halliday (UK)

  9. The goal is really what its all about. Both in terms of football and you photo. Without the goal, no one wins the game, and this isn’t soccer, so that is unacceptable. Your photo’s goal was to show football, but you captured the essence, the driving force. We must set goals for everything we do. I think you have a new book idea Scott, “Goal Posts of the NFL” It will outsell every other book you have ever written.

    Floof and run

  10. Those tips somehow don’t work for me. Maybe it has to do with another tip that I keep following: “Leave the lens cap on.” Mind you, since I started that I never had any unwanted motion blur, chromatic aberrations, white (ha!) balance issues…

  11. You don’t know where to look? Really? The ball carrier is the center of attention and sticks out like a sore thumb. If anything, the image should have been shot with a longer lens or cropped to eliminate the unnecessary portions of the image.

    The practical impact of attempting to “frame” the image will almost certainly be missing important opportunities to capture action which occurs when the view is blocked or simply missed because of looking for opportunities to “frame” an image instead of following the action and anticipating where the play is going.

    This is not to say that there is not a place for images with game officials included, but I see those as being either set shots before the snap of the ball or when they happen to be in the frame of the center of attention

    1. Richard: Thank you for taking the time to explain the basics of football composition. I particularly enjoyed the “Really?” part. While you’re at it, perhaps you could explain why every other commenter here totally “got” that this post was an obvious joke, written just for fun. For example—-Adding a goal post to the shot. You thought that was a serious tip? Really? ;-)

      1. I think Richard needs an aggressive series of cowbell infusions, thrice daily for a fortnight. Only then might he be ready to absorb such advanced techniques. This us your brain – 8
        This is your brain on goalpost – l__l

  12. Thanks for the chuckle, Scott. I’ve photographed a few South Florida Bulls Football games, but never thought to use the referees to such great advantage! That said, I am a little saddened that you failed to share the 500 or so shots of the NFL cheerleaders you took, though. ;)

  13. Wait a minute, Scott….is there a new Referee Brush and a Goalpost Filter added into CS5? I can’t find them anywhere. Maybe you got the new Photoshop Elements 10 and they added them there???? Please help me….. :)


      1. Ken, have you tried the one where you cut off the players head and have the grass take half the picture? I’ve heard somewhere that the pros keep those to hang in their house since it’s a technique far too advanced for “the masses”. ;)

  14. Love it! I’ve been long waiting for PhotoShop functions or actions like:
    “Alt>Delete>Video_Camera_Operator_Who_Steps_onto_the_Field,” and at pro games,


  15. I carry a set of goal posts to every shoot. They are inflatable, so don’t add extra weight to the photo bag. I set them up on each corner of the tennis court or use them as floating devices in a swimming competition. Amazing results.

  16. Scott, your a sport shooting pro. You have your own online training program at Kelby Training.

    I think it’s time for “Kelby Training Presents – “sideline / court side / rink side sport photography”, starring the one, the only Scott Kelby.

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