View Full Version : Getting ready for fall soccer shooting - Tips

08-24-2006, 06:51 PM
I'm getting ready for the rapidly approaching fall soccer season and thought I'd get some discussion going on shooting tips.


Outdoor soccer is a field sport and as such you generally need long lenses to cover it. I would say that the absolute bare minimum focal length would be a 200mm lens on a 1.6 crop camera, and that is really going to limit your shooting. If you are shooting youth soccer on smaller fields, it might work better for you. If you can add a 1.4 teleconverter, that would certainly help the situation... but a 300-400mm focal length lens is going to be best. In fact, many 400mm shooters even add a 1.4 teleconverter when shooting on regulation soccer fields. I use two 1DMk2N bodies when I can... one with a 400mm f/2.8 prime, and the other with a 70-200 f/2.8.

Another factor to consider when shooting in the Northeast in the fall is that the days start to get short very quickly. Many high school games take place late in the day and can run right up to dusk. Others actually occur under the lights. In both of these situations, you will need all of f/2.8 and ISO1600 to obtain suitable shutter speeds to stop the action. If you aren't shooting f/2.8, then you'll need to concentrate on the beginning of the games before the sun drops. If you are shooting during the day, then all the faster lenses buy you is that gorgeous bokeh.

Good soccer lens choices include the 70-200 f/2.8 or f/4, the 80-200 f/2.8, the 300mm primes, and the 400mm primes. Autofocus speed is critical, and all of these lenses in the Canon lineup are quick focusing... even the older 80-200 f/2.8 non-USM (aka, "magic drainpipe"). For Nikon, the 80-200 f/2.8 D is not quite as fast as the AF-S version or the 70-200 VR, but it certainly can do the job with soccer, especially if you have a high end body. I used this lens (the D) on a D70 and later on a D2H and got some good catures. It is a bit slow on the D70, but certainly usable. The faster the lens, the sharper your results will be.

I like to shoot soccer with a monopod... its required for the big lenses, but helpful on the shorter ones. The games are very long (80 minutes), and the action sometimes goes for a while on the far end of the field so you could be standing for a while. If you use a monopod, its best to just mount the lens directly to the pod, rather than using any kind of head. This is personal preference, but I find that it is much more stable for the heavier lenses.


I like to shoot manual when shooting soccer, but you can also get by with Aperture Priority. You can meter the grass with the in-camera meter if you don't have an external meter. The grass is pretty neutral and won't give you fluctuations like you get with light and dark uniforms. This variation in uniform color is why its better to shoot Manual if you can. The thing you've got to watch for is if one end of the field is in heavy shade (late in the day this can be a problem), or if the light is rapidly changing. In these situations, Aperture Priority might be best. I tend to stay away from Shutter Priority because I shoot a lot late in the day and tend to want the lens wide open most of the time... taking the fastest shutter speed available. If you go with Shutter Priority, invariably you will end up getting underexposed shots at some point when you bump into the max aperture of the camera.

It certainly helps to know the game of soccer if you are shooting it... just like any other sport... but with a few tips you can get some shots. With soccer, the games go on for a while continuously with few breaks. You will need to stay alert, as there are often long periods of nothing with short bursts of big action. I like to shoot primarily from behind the goal at the end of the field, but close to the corner on one side or the other. Most officials won't let you stand directly behind the goal during the game because it distracts the players. Plus, if you are closer to the corners you can move down the sideline a bit to better cover the far end of the field when the action moves.

If you are at the end of the field, the offensive action will be coming towards you. With a 400mm lens you can cover a large chunk of the field from past midfield down to near the goal. As the players get right on the goal, then they may be too close. This is why its good to have a second body with a shorter lens to switch to. You can also just zoom with your feet if you have a longer lens and back up from the field. Either way, you want to be primarily shooting in portrait mode since you generally want full body shots.

There are many different shots you can get with soccer. When the players are dribbling the ball down the field (running with the ball), you can get shots of them running. It is even better if they are bumping elbows with a defender trying to chase them down. At some point they will take a shot, or pass the ball... so watch for the kick. The wind up with their foot back, and the follow through with the ball just coming off the foot are the best shots. Throw ins are also good easy captures. Get them with the ball extended back before the throw, and then as they just release it. Especially watch for the rare occaision when a player does a full body flip to do the throw-in... very cool shots. In front of the goal, particularly with the older players (and even in other places in the field), watch for the head shots. These are VERY hard to get and it is all timing. The tough part is figuring out who is going to do it and locking focus track on them. As I said, very hard to get. Goal keepers will give you easy shots as well when they block a shot or do a goal kick.

If you have any soccer tips, please post them to help others prepare for the season.