Its that time of year again, the time when temperatures drop, school starts back up and the underpowered lights of familiar battle grounds are fired up on Friday nights. With the available light fading fast, its time to fine tune our technique for shooting high school football. Many photographers dread this time of year while others thoroughly enjoy it. I for one have mixed feelings on “Friday Night Lights”.
While its nice to be shooting organized sports again, it’s also a lot of work. I usually try to show up more than an hour before the game. This gives me an opportunity to shoot some “fan art” and hopefully track down a copy of each teams roster and figure out what equipment I am going to need for the rest of the game.
The equipment I use is pretty straight forward for football. I usually carry 2 bodies and 3 lenses. The lenses I carry are a 300mm, 70-200mm and usually a wide angle zoom such as a 24-70mm or 16-35mm. With night football I will carry 2 strobes and at least 1 battery pack.
Night football is not easy, anyone who says so probably has the luxury of ISO6400. I do not. So I will be covering how you can end up with enough publishable images for a gallery and always 1 for the sports page.
The fields that I regularly shoot at are dark and the available lighting (read darkness) is around ISO3200, f2.8 at 1/125 or 1/250. This is pretty unacceptable for action sports. 1/250th is not fast enough to stop football players in motion (well technically it is but I will go over that in more detail below). The only other option is to use a flash.
I use the flash to fill and stop the action. I set my ISO to 1250, set my shutter speed to 1/250 (which happens to be the max sync speed for my camera bodies without using a high speed sync in TTL) and set my f stop to f4. The flash is set to 1/4 power output and the strobe head is zoomed to 105mm. I basically underexpose by about 3 stops and use the flash to fill and stop the action. The result is what you see above. Nice exposure, low noise and sometimes a nice image if your timing is right. With the flash, you will only get about 2 frames per second and only in short durations even with a battery pack.
Another thing that will help is to attach the strobe to your monopod below the camera to fill in under the helmet. I attach mine about 6 to 8 inches above the ground. In this configuration you have to be careful with what is in your background to avoid strange shadows. I try to stick to the end zones and wait for the action to come to me.
Above all, practicing with this setup is what will bring great results. This is at least a good starting point. You may have to adapt your ISO, F Stop or flash power output depending on where the action is in relation to how long of a lens you are using. Good luck.