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|Category:||Sports and Action|
British American football photography tips - Dan Aitch shares his top ten tips for shooting British American football.
1. Try to make contact with the team whose home ground you’ll be shooting at and introduce yourself ahead of gameday. Most teams will be very friendly and happy to have you along but you need to observe some basic rules while shooting –
- You are not allowed to shoot from within the team areas on the sidelines – these are from the 25-yard line at one end of the field, across the halfway line, and down to the 25-yard line at the other end of the field. Teams occupy one side of the field each, and so these areas will be out of bounds to photographers for the duration of the warm-ups, pre-game activities and the game itself. The only exception to this is photographers who are registered with one of the teams who are playing so if you see it happening, don’t assume it’s ok for you to join in.
- The team areas will extend to approximately 5 yards away from the field so if you’re walking behind these areas, keep your distance – players are usually big and covered in very dense and hard-wearing armour; if you bang into them it’ll hurt and they might not even realise they’ve done it. It is usual for photographers not to shoot or film players from behind the team boxes without permission, although it’s perfectly acceptable to shoot them from the sides.
- If you want to shoot from on the field for the coin toss, or team introductions (the team players are called out one at a time to ensure their face matches the registration card permitting them to play in the game) you’ll need to seek the permission of the two Head Coaches, and the match officials. It’s worth introducing yourself to the away Head Coach and officials anyway, just out of courtesy and to get your face known.
Also, be ready to make a lot of effort shooting this game – if you’ve shot lots of football or rugby you’ll be used to squatting on a stool and waiting for the action to come to you – if you wait for the action to come to you in this game you could be sitting around with nothing to do for a long time. Be prepared to walk up and down the field many times, just to stay within range of the action.
3. Fast-action sports need a fast shutter speed to freeze what’s going on but don’t fall into the mistake of using shutter priority. Shoot in Aperture Priority, keep your aperture wide open, and manipulate your ISO to keep your shutter speed at at least 1/640th, preferably higher. Not only will this freeze your action but the wide-aperture will give you a shallow depth of field and bring your subject leaping out of the photo at you.
4. Be aware that while the player who’s carrying the ball might seem easy to avoid (even if he’s running straight at you) there will also be eleven defensive players you probably can’t see through your viewfinder who have taken a pursuit angle to tackle the ball-carrier – they may cause you more damage if they ‘blindside’ you when you’re not ready for it. The speed that players move at is enough to take them 8-10 yards off the field before they come to a halt. The energy released by two American football players colliding is enough to cause a non-padded individual a lot of damage.
6. Not unique to British football but worth stating – Know the ‘Down and Distance’. There are numerous websites that explain football rules and it’s worth trying to understand the basic concepts for progressing downfield and scoring. This one is a good example - Talk American Football.
Once you understand the ‘Down and Distance’, you will have a better idea of what sort of play might be coming (a running play or a passing play). The shorter the yardage that remains, especially on 3rd Down, the more likely it is to be a running play, and if a lot of yardage remains, it might be a passing play. Passing plays are usually employed to gain big yardage.
7. Pay attention to what you’re shooting and where from. Try not to ‘chimp’ your images, once you’re happy with your exposure settings because there is always something happening on or around the field e.g. coaches yelling, players off the field shouting at each other, officials making calls and physios repairing players. Just because American football is viewed as a ‘stop/start’ game, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to photograph during the ‘stop’ periods. Most American football squads will contain more then 30 players. With only 11 on-field at any time, there are some great character studies to be made.
Watch the coaches. They can be the most animated and enjoyable subjects to shoot – they shout, scream, jump around and generally make bigger subjects than virtually anyone else on the field. In the heat of the moment you’ll get the true spirit of the game, without the helmet and facemask to obscure the emotions.
British American football is often played in a park or on a remote rugby field. Try to be aware of your backgrounds – there’s nothing worse than a wonderful action shot that has Auntie Mabel in her deckchair, with an ice-cream, in clear shot in the background. Sometimes it’s tough to prevent, but with a little planning you can avoid most distracting backgrounds.
Celebrations can often take place without someone having scored first so try to be aware of ‘big plays’ and the photo potential they offer. Also, at the end of the game the players line-up to shake hands, whatever the score. The field is ‘open’ to all once the game is over so you can get some good shots of post game emotions. If you want to shoot the post-game team huddles, please respect their space and shoot from a distance. The end of each quarter is signified by the referee holding the ball aloft in one hand. The fourth time this happens it means the game is over. Virtually no British football games will have a visible game-clock on display and due to the vagaries of game-clock management, there’s no way of working it out by looking at your watch. ‘Two-minute warnings’ are a good indicator that a half is about to end but if you’re not paying attention, you won’t hear it announced. Besides, it means two minutes of game time and might take ten actual minutes to pass.