How to photograph football: soccer photography tips from Canon Ambassador Eddie Keogh

How to photograph football: soccer photography tips from Canon Ambassador Eddie Keogh

With the World Cup 2018 in full swing, professional sports photographer and Canon Ambassador Eddie Keogh shares his tips on how to photograph football – or soccer, whatever you may call it wherever you may live!

01 Get the right attitude

Many aspiring sports photographers believe they need to attend high-profile sporting events and travel to exotic places to take interesting and great photographs – you don’t.

Despite having attended the Olympics, Wimbledon and World Cup Finals (to name just a few!), some of the best photographs I’ve taken have been during Sunday league football matches held in my local park.

To take great photographs, attitude is key. You need to get out and about as much as you can. If photography isn’t your full-time job but you want to improve, then you need to use your evenings and weekends to build your skills and portfolio.

You need to be open to shooting lots of different sports – don’t restrict and limit your experience.

So, if you’re an avid football photographer, find another sport to keep you busy during the off-season. Local communities have multiple sports clubs that regularly practice and compete – do your research and get out with your camera!

02 Get low

If you can’t immediately spot me on the side-lines of a sporting event, look down – I’m probably crouched down or flat on my stomach! The lower you get to the ground the better the sense of drama.

This is true for almost every sport as at this angle you can see the athlete’s feet are off the ground and that portrays a sense of movement and speed. Photographs shot beneath the subject, looking up, offer a truly unique perspective because they’re taken from an angle that fans are unfamiliar with.

It might feel a bit odd, but next time you’re photographing a sport, lay on the grass, court or track and you will notice that everything looks more dramatic.

03 Get ready

As a sports photographer, there are some factors you can’t control on game day – such as the weather, lighting or even the spot you’re allocated on the side-lines of the pitch (I often don’t get the choice). But there are several things you can prepare for to help get the best photographs possible on the day.

Have you charged all your batteries? Have you packed your wet weather gear? Do you need something to sit on? Are all your cards formatted and ready to go? These are a couple of basics.

But making sure you’ve packed the right kit to deal with the conditions you’re up against is a good place to start!

For example, if you know you’re shooting a football match at night where there’s no natural light and the pitch is flood lit, it’s useful to pack a lens with an ASC lens coating as it decreases light flares that can impact the sharpness of a shot and therefore improves the overall quality of your images.

In addition to this, if you can it’s a good idea to use multiple cameras with different sized lenses attached. By doing this you’ll reduce the risk of missing a shot whilst changing lenses. For example, I take two or three cameras with me to a match – all with various lenses attached.

This allows me to switch smoothly from a 70-200mm lens like the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM (perfect for photographing something like a tackle that’s taking place close to me) to a 400mm lens (for when activity is happening mid-pitch that I am further away from).

04 Get in the know

In addition to technical preparations, it’s essential to come armed to sporting events with an understanding of the ‘side stories’. Knowing you’re at an event where team A and team B have made it to the final is not good enough – it’s too obvious.

Sports photographers looking to ‘up their game’ need to know the stories that are happening around them, both on and off the pitch.

For example, when photographing the FA Cup Final last month, if I hadn’t been aware that Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, the managers of Manchester United F.C. and Chelsea F.C. respectively, don’t have a good relationship, I’d have missed important shots that were later published.

The industry refers to our profession as visual storytelling for a reason. Often the most used photographs in sport are moments captured that tell us these side stories – the fans and newspapers can’t get enough of them!

05 Get the best kit for you

Every professional or aspiring professional wants to take the best photographs possible, that’s a given. However, it’s not always possible to fill your kit bag with the latest products.

My advice to photographers looking to improve their sports photography would be to invest in the best equipment you can afford – as it will pay off in the long run.

A 70-200mm lens is a perfect size for sport because you can’t guarantee you’ll be close to the subject you are trying to capture. With the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM you can get close to the action and capture the detail needed and this lens will give you the very best chance of that special moment being sharp.

Eddie’s full kit bag on site

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 III USM
Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 II USM
EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM (new)
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS II USM
Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT
Canon WFT-E8B Wireless File Transmitter
Mini tripod
Transmitter cameras placed in the go