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|| News Item: Posted 2004-07-28

Everything you need to know about shooting football I learned in Boy Scouts
How to get along with your fellow shooters, make your editor happy and have a great overall shoot

By Tim Clark, Athlon Sports Magazine

Photo by Tim Clark / Athlon Sports

Photo by Tim Clark / Athlon Sports

Portrait of Kevin Simon and Kevin Burnett for Athlon Sports college FB preview.
I spent the early '70's in the Boy Scouts of America. I learned how to start a fire with two sticks, and I still can if one of them is a match. More important, I learned the scout law and the scout motto. I use them in my sports photography on every shoot.

Scout Motto: Be Prepared
There are three steps to "Be Prepared" - pre-planning, equipment and getting to the stadium early. Let's break them down.

Pre-Planning - Know where you are going and how to get there. Do you know where the media parking is? Where the pass gate is? Where the media 'Will Call' window is? Call the sports information director at the school or the media relations contact of the team to find out. You can also check the guide on - the information is there for most teams.

Know the teams and players you are going to shoot. Do you know who they like to go to on third down? Do they run mostly to the left or right side? Do they usually run on first down? Who has the most receptions? Most rushes? Most tackles? Do they blitz a lot? Research your teams and you will have a much better chance to be in the right place at the right time, which is the key to getting that great image. Don't just follow the ball on every play; you'll miss a lot of the real action.

Equipment - All of your equipment should be checked the night before the game. Equipment not used often should be checked days before, allowing for time to repair or replace. Make sure everything is in good working order and everything you will need is packed up and ready to go. Some people make a checklist. You wouldn't want to get to the game only to find that you left your extra batteries at home. Bring backups for everything; you never know when something will fail. Have more than enough cards or film. I suggest bringing twice as much film or card space as you think you will need.

Get there early - About three hours before kickoff is good. You can avoid traffic tie-ups that come with most college and pro football games. Get the game notes and flip cards for the game from the press box or photo room. If you didn't do your research before, it's all there in the game notes, so read them. After you have read the game notes and checked the starting line-up, instead of sitting around in the press box eating and chatting with the other photographers, go down on the field and check out the shooting positions. You can also take photos of key players without their helmets on, head coaches from both teams, etc. Most important, check the light and figure out where it will be during the game. Any Boy Scout can tell you the sun moves from east to west.

Scout Law: A scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.

How does this apply to shooting football?

Trustworthy, Loyal - Show up early and be ready to work. Give first choice of all your images to the publication that sent you to the game. Yes, even that really cool shot you just know SI or ESPN would love to run as a double truck. Don't badmouth other photographers or editors. It's a small community and they will hear about it. Also, don't touch anybody else's equipment.

Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind - Be nice to everyone, from the person checking your bags at the gate, to the cheerleaders, to your fellow shooters - yes even to the cable pullers and dish holders that are always in the way. Don't step over the line to shoot a play downfield from you and block the view of all the shooters behind you. Try saying 'Could you please move or kneel down' to the ball boys instead of yelling, 'Get out of the way.' If a shooter didn't get a flip card because they came too late (I know this wouldn't be you because you got there early!) give them the extra one you have because you were prepared.

Obedient - Shoot what was asked for by your editor, and more. What more you say? How about a cool overview from the top of the stadium. Of course you planned this out so that you could go up at halftime and shoot right at the start of the third quarter. You know the best way up and how to get back to the field fast so that you don't miss much game action because you were there early and made a plan. And because you were friendly and courteous, a security person has told you how to access the service elevator to make it happen.

Cheerful - No one wants to listen to a whiner. Be happy you are working in your chosen field. This makes for a better day for you and everyone you come in contact with.

Thrifty - Think quality, not quantity. Don't try to set a record for how many images you can take at one game. A hundred images of one cheerleader is overkill. Clients don't like photographers who have $35 lunches and those who cheat on their mileage. We know how far you had to drive. Photo budgets are always tight, and we like to spend the money on photos and photographers' fees, not on chicken marsala lunches.

Brave - Get the required peak action shots of the key players first, then be brave and try something different like shooting from the high positions (you know where they are because you got there early and asked about them). Try a few panning shots or a really wide shot. Make some extreme close-ups, use a slow shutter speed for a few frames, etc. Just be creative. Try something new at every game.

Clean and Reverent - Keep your equipment clean and you will have better images. A little dust on the sensor of your digital camera can create time-consuming retouching later. A dirty lens makes for low contrast images. A clean background always makes a better photo than one with a busy background. Think clean, tight and pray for good light. You'll do alright.

(Tim Clark made the rank of Eagle Scout in 1974. He is currently photo editor and photographer for Athlon Sports magazine.)

Related Links:
Tim's member page

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