Monday, October 6, 2008

High School Football & Camera Gear

Shooting the Boerne-Champion varsity football games has been a blast, I'm just sorry there are so few home games this year. (Yes, it's hard to get field access at away stadiums.) While nothing beats the energy of Friday night football, I found shooting JV on Thursdays was just as much fun and since they start at 5PM the light is great.

Since I had a few folks ask about the gear I've been using, including one of the players as I was jostling for position on the sideline (he won), I thought I'd talk about equipment a bit.

My primary kit: Nikon D300, Nikon 70-200/f2.8 lens, Nikon SB-900 strobe and assorted hardware to hold it all together.  I've been experimenting with flash above the camera and on a monopod below the camera, all in an effort to limit red-eye/demon-eye.  Nothing like coming home and looking at a field of vampires on your monitor to really get depressed.

Yes, you can shoot Friday Night football without flash, but unless you're willing to invest in a $3000-5000 camera body like the Nikon D3, D700 or Canon MkIII you are going to be hard-pressed to get crisp, in-focus, low-noise images with the usual stadium lighting, at least images that look good at 5x7 on up.  I know, I've got good equipment and would shoot without flash if I could, just watch me during that magic hour from 6-7PM before the game. The golden lighting is awesome as the players are warming up.

I'll admit I still struggle with shooting football with a strobe light, but if you want sharp, in focus photos you have to have light and strobes are less expensive than the above. ;-)  The downside of using flash is the unevenness of the light, the ongoing battle with red-eye and the need to wait for the flash to recharge for the second shot.  A bit of trivia, but did you know that it's the strobe that stops the action and not the shutter speed?  All this probably explains why I may shoot 400-500 images in a game, but feel lucky to publish 200-300 for consideration...and spend at least four-six hours editing and color correcting the selects.

While the purpose of my business is to provide you with the best sports photos I can there are a couple of things you can do if you are interested in shooting a low-light  game yourself, be it football, soccer or volleyball.  While a good photographer can create great images with most anything, low-light shooting comes with a price tag.

A medium quality non-SLR with a f2.8 lens can do a pretty decent job, particularly with an external flash. If you don't have a flash, try and shoot for peak moments of action, e.g., at the top of the jump when spiking. When I say flash I'm talking external strobe units, not the little on-camera pop-ups that throw the light 12 feet if you are lucky.

If you can't or don't want to use flash and are willing to move into the $1000-1500 price range something like the new Nikon D90 ($1000) and 70-300VR ($600) lens is a great combo.  The new D90 body uses a light sensor giving performance similar to the D300 I shoot.  Camera bodies are becoming like computers, buy what you need now because in a year you'll get more for less.  A quality lens is a bit different, you'll upgrade you body long before your lens. A pro level Canon or Nikon 70-200/f2.8 is a staple of the profession and sells for around $1600-2000, but will last for decades and makes really pretty pictures. ;-)

What's next? I really need to get into the new gym and see how the lighting is for volleyball and basketball.  I wonder if there's any interest?   ;-)

If you have any questions about how I shoot or anything I've discussed feel free to drop me an email, post a comment or check out the sportsshooter links on the right and I'll do my best to help you out.


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