I get a lot of queries this time of year about how to best photograph football. Our neighborhood, greater Ada, has many excellent football schools, full of passion and tradition, and it’s always a pleasure to photograph their games.

Football is a large-field sport (vs. basketball, for example), meaning you can’t actually get very close to the action, nor, for safety reasons, should you try. The result is that most lenses don’t have enough reach to fill the frame with the action. I consider 200mm the minimum focal length with enough reach for football, and when circumstance allows, 300mm or longer is always welcome.

Most football in these parts happens at night. It’s challenging, to say the least, to shoot nighttime football with a daytime lens. The 75-300mm lens you got with your Canon Rebel, which shifts its maximum aperture from f/4 to f/5.6 as you zoom in, works fine for summertime soccer, but when the sun goes down, you need a lens with a maximum aperture in the f/2.8 vicinity. F/2.8 lenses get more expensive as they get longer, with many 400mm f/2.8 “big glass” lenses costing thousands of dollars. Your best bet is to buy a used f/2.8 lens in the 200mm range (Canon, Nikon, Tokina, Tamron and Sigma all make 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses.) If the event is big enough, you can even rent lenses.

Even at f/2.8, at night you need to use high ISO settings. ISO determines how sensitive the image sensor is to light. Less light requires more sensitivity. Think ISO 3200, 6400. The combination of a large aperture and a high ISO lets you use fast enough shutter speeds to freeze the action.

Don’t get mad at the officials when they tell you to move back. They’re doing that because they don’t want 600 pounds of players crashing down on you, possibly injuring you, them, or both. They also don’t want you interfering with the game. It’s not your field, it’s theirs, and arguing with them won’t work anyway.

Don’t be shy about running away. It also pays off to put some distance between you and a play that’s coming your way, and sooner is probably better. You and your camera are only rugged until they come in contact with helmets and shoulder pads, and no photograph is worth getting hurt, and I’ve seen people get hurt. I always turn around and move away from the sideline so I don’t back over something and trip. 

Don’t hesitate to move up and down the field with the game. The 20-yard line is only a good place to stand for a couple of plays. The game moves, and so should you. One great place if you’ve got enough lens is the end zone, both for the cleaner backgrounds it often yields, but also because you can see the whole play without players getting in the way.

I always work with at least two cameras, one with a telephoto zoom and one with a wide angle, so I don’t have to change lenses, and the lens on the camera doesn’t dictate what I shoot. Sometimes, I even carry three, the third with a 300mm or a 400mm.

Have a cursory understanding of the sport. It will benefit you if you have an idea what’s coming next and where it will go.

Finally, I know it’s fun and exciting to take lots of pictures, but try not to obsess. I see too many people watch their children grow up on monitors and screens instead of in person. If you would like to enjoy the game without the stress of photographing it, don’t forget that we post all our news and sports images for purchase at https://photos.theadanews.com/.

Chief Photographer

Richard R. Barron is Chief Photographer for The Ada News. Richard has been at the News since October 1988. Prior to coming to Ada, Richard worked as staff photographer for The Shawnee News-Star. Richard attended Oklahoma University.