Are You Getting Great Photos at Your Kid’s Soccer Games?

This is my son’s first year playing soccer. It’s been an entertaining couple of weeks. I’m fired up about the next month or so of soccer matches for a couple of reasons: (1) seeing my son experience team sports for the first time; and (2) great photo opportunities. It’s the latter reason that inspired this post.

So, are you getting great photos at your kid’s soccer games? If not, you should be. We’re going to look into some of the problems that could be keeping you from getting those memorable photos from every game.

Your Gear

First, let’s evaluate the camera and other gear that you’re using. If you’re you’ve got a point & shoot camera (I’ll call it a “P&S” for the sake of brevity), then you may be dealing with shutter lag, which can cause you to miss the moment. Shutter lag is the term used to describe the delay between the moment you press the shutter and the moment the camera captures the image.

If you’re using a SLR, then you know that when you press the shutter, the camera captures the image practically instantaneous. If you’re not familiar with these terms, a SLR (or DSLR) is a digital camera that uses an automatic mirror system placed between the lens and the image sensor to direct the image from the lens through the viewfinder where it can be viewed by the photographer. (Read more about it on Wikipedia); and a P&S camera is a still camera designed primarily for simple operation. Most of them use autofocus or focus free lenses for focusing and automatic systems for exposure as well. (Again, Wikipedia)

Whatever the camera is that you’re using, you can make it work for you on the sidelines. Obviously, a DSLR camera is going to make your job easier, but you can make a P&S camera work too (we’ll talk about technique here in a minute). A DSLR allows you to avail yourself to a variety of lenses that are more tailored to your specific subjects – in our case, little 2-legged monsters chasing after a ball. If you’re in shopping mode, consider the following options:

If you’re using a P&S, then there are some things that you could be doing to capture the action that you really wanted instead of a not-so-exciting image a few seconds later. I could tell you all about it; however, I’ll direct your attention to Ken Rockwell’s article that should get you up to speed on Preventing Shutter Lag.

Your Camera Settings

Moving on camera settings, let’s look at Sports Photography 101: Shutter Priority. Shutter Priority is a setting on your camera. You’ll find it on all DSLRs and on almost all P&S cameras now. The Shutter Priority setting allows you to take control of one variable that goes into the exposure and the camera will take care of the rest. On a nice sunny day, set your shutter priority to 1/500s (that’s 1/500 of a second). This is a relatively fast shutter speed – usually enough to “freeze” the action in a kids soccer game. If you’re shooting bigger kids or adults, you might want to bump that up to 1/800 or 1/1000 if you get some motion blur at 1/500s. Motion blur can be aesthetically pleasing in some circumstances too, so you have to make the call here.

If you’re having trouble figuring this setting out, then it’s time to dig out your manual and figure it out. Go ahead. Most manuals are fairly well written nowadays and, chances are, you can open up the table of contents and figure this out in 2 or 3 steps. Still have trouble? Ok, try turning the settings wheel to the symbol of the guy running . . . that’s “Sports Mode” (read: fast shutter speed) and will suffice if you need it to.

Your Technique

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Now that we’ve got the camera set to a high shutter speed, let’s look at technique. This is where great photos are made. Follow these three points and your photos will be better the next game:

  1. Use Both Hands. Seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many moms and dads are trying to use their digital P&S at arms length with one hand while cheering their kid on. Put your right hand along the right side of the camera with your index finger on the shutter release. Place your left hand underneath the camera and use it to “cup” the lens (obviously, this is easier form with a DSLR).
  2. Use the Optical Viewfinder. Remember what the world was like before digital cameras? Take a trip through time back to those days and put your eye up to the viewfinder (heck, even turn the LCD off). This, along with #1, will help you keep the camera steadier, which will result in prettier pictures.
  3. Pan. Huh? “Peter or frying?,” you say. Neither. You need to pan your camera with the action on the field. That is, follow your subject in the viewfinder. Once you get the hang of this, you can start monkeying with the shutter speed a bit for some cool panning effects.

Put #1, #2 and #3 together and you’re holding the camera up to your eye, with both hands, and following the action through the viewfinder only. Now when that great action moment arises, you’re anticipating it through the viewfinder and you aren’t rushing to get your camera out and snapping at who-knows-what. You end up with a great shot of your little soccer star because you knew how to use your camera and you exercised proper technique in capturing the moment.

Your Location on the Field

Setup locations are also important. As spectators, we are almost always on the sidelines with all of the parents. I have found that moving around the field can be very effective at getting different shots.

Seriously, there are only so many angles that you can get from a single seat. So, get up! Move behind the goal that your kid’s team in shooting at. Better yet, move behind the goal that your kid’s team is practicing at before the game. Everybody gets to take a shot at the goal before the game. And that’s the shot we all want anyway . . . right? I like sitting on the ground off to the side and behind the goal for a couple of reasons:

1. Staying low doesn’t draw as much attention as a goofy-looking dad standing where no other parents are at; and

2. Shooting from a point lower than your kid’s eye level, keeps the shots interesting and reveals features and expressions that you wouldn’t otherwise see on your kid’s face.

Additionally, look at what’s going on when stuff isn’t going on. Sometimes a lull in the action or a kid that’s not really “into” the game make for the best photo opportunities.

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Ok, that’s all I’ve got for now. Now go get some great photos and share them with the rest of us. Post’em on flickr, Zooomr or wherever and email me the link. If you do, I’ll feature some here on Photography Bay.

Extra Credit

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Finally, if all of this photography jargon still seems foreign to you, consider purchasing a good book for beginners like Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Bryan is an excellent teacher. He’s great at breaking down intimidating concepts for the novice and explaining them on your level. The book breaks up exposure into the three fundamental elements that go into properly exposing a photo: aperture; shutter speed; and ISO (or, film speed). This is the book to buy for those who have only ever used a point and shoot camera or who always shoot their SLR on full auto mode (the little green rectangle setting). Simply reading this book will make you a better photographer overnight if you fall into these categories.

If you’ve got a basic handle on these concepts but not sure you really grasp the significance of one or all of them then you should consider adding this book to your library as well. Aside from the technical basics, Bryan teaches you how to look at a scene and capture a creative photo in addition to a properly exposed one.

Before you buy another camera, lens, flash, or any other gear, buy this book. It’ll be the best $15 you ever spend on your photography gear.

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[tags]photography, sports, soccer, diy, learn, how to, technique[/tags]

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Comments

  1. Kassie Allen says

    We just signed up our daughter for soccer and I want to get some really great pics. I have done a little research on the camera I want to buy.

    Canon PowerShot 12.1-Megapixel Digital Camera Black from Best Buy

    I really love this camera and have been wanting one like this for a long time but was a little scared not really knowing anything about how to take great pics, but you have given me the information I was looking for as to how to take good pics. Thanks.

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