Timing and patience

The high school football season is upon us, and one of the things that sports photographers will tell you about getting a great gridiron shot is timing. Proper timing can be the difference between having the ball out of the frame or in the hands of a wide receiver. It can also difference between a clear shot and someone being blocking your view.

Knowledge of the game helps. Knowing if a team is likely to pass or run the ball can aid you in anticipating where the ball will be. Postioning can help, too. For photos of the offense, you should plan to be 10 to 30 yards ahead of the line of scrimmage, depending on the length of your lens, This will ensure that the action is coming toward you. Defensive pictures can be shot from behind the line.

Practice makes perfect. Shoot and shoot and shoot some more. The more pictures you take, the better you will get. In the pre-digital days, that meant burning through a lot of film. But today you can shoot to your heart’s content and just delete the ones you don’t like.

I shot my first football game of the 2012-13 season at the Grape Bowl in Lodi between the Tokay Tigers and the Bear Creek Bruins. I was a bit rusty, not having shot football for almost an entire year. It took a little while to get my football shooting legs under me.

Refs and players zoomed in and out of the frame, blocking my line of sight. Ball carriers ran down the opposite side of the field too far away to get a decent shot. Situations like these can be frustrating, especially for the novice photographer. The secret is patience and the knowledge that you can’t get a shot on every play. You can’t even get a shot on every significant play. You just have to concentrate on each play, one at a time. Follow the action as best you can and be ready to shoot when a picture presents itself.

Sports Illustrated Magazine can send up to four or five photographers to cover a professional football game, depending on its importance. And even then, each of those shooters will tell you that they won’t get a great shot every time. A photographer friend of mine shot a 49ers game for the first time years ago. He knelt on the sidelines next to an SI photographer. A great play happened down the field. My friend said to the SI shooter: “Did you get that?” The SI photographer said: “No, I’m just covering the quarterback.”

At the Tokay/Bear Creek game, eventually somewhere around the middle of the first quarter, a play developed before me. The football angels sang and the heavens parted, pushed the button and I got my shot.

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