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10 Best Soccer Photography Tips (Football Photography)

Last updated: March 22, 2024 - 8 min read
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Soccer (or football, depending on your location) isn’t known as the ‘beautiful game’ for nothing. It combines action and skill to delight or exasperate the viewer. For sports photographers, it can present a challenge.

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10 Best Soccer Photography Tips

Here are 10 soccer photography tips to ensure your next sports photography photoshoot is successful.

1. Use a Long Telephoto Lens

In sports photography, the longer the camera lens, the better. It isn’t impossible to shoot soccer games with a shorter lens. But chasing the ball or relying on soccer players to bring the game closer to you can result in missed opportunities.

A 70-200mm telephoto lens is a good start. Super-telephoto lenses in the 400mm range can prove even more useful. A teleconverter (an extender or multiplier) is another way to extend a lens’s reach.

But keep in mind that teleconverters tend to magnify lens aberrations. They can also compromise your fastest apertures and focus speeds.

Group of kids playing a game as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Nikon D500. 150mm, f/3.2, 1/2,000 s, ISO 125. Lars Bo Nielsen (Unsplash)
 

2. Use a Fast Shutter Speed to Minimize Blur

Soccer is a fast-moving sport with many components. To capture players in action and minimize motion blur, it’s best to use a fast shutter speed.

Ensure you’re in manual mode (or shutter priority with auto ISO for beginners). Start with a shutter speed of at least 1/800 s (seconds). This reduces the effects of hand-held camera shake and freezes movement in a photo.

But you may be looking for a more artistic rendering of a soccer match. Experimenting with a slower shutter speed can produce interesting and unique results with blur.

Panning involves dialing down the shutter speed. It can go as low as anything between 1/30 and 1/125 s. The faster the subject, the faster the required shutter speed. Incorporating subject motion can also emphasize the fast pace of the game.

A player stretching out to kick a ball with another looking on as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Sony a7 III. 135mm, f/2.0, 1/2,500 s, ISO 160. Omar Ran (Unsplash)
 

3. Adjust Aperture and ISO to Best Highlight Subjects

The aperture setting regulates the amount of light that reaches a camera sensor and the depth of field in each image.

If possible, shift to f/2.8 to shoot a single-player. This isolates the lone player from the background noise of the surrounding soccer field. To maintain the sharpness of multiple players in one frame, use a smaller aperture (bigger f-number).

After your aperture is set, use ISO to adjust the brightness of your exposure. If your images are too dark, increase the ISO to increase the sensor’s light sensitivity. Remember that the ISO value degrades images with digital noise if set too high.

A ball going past a goalkeeper as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Nikon D500. 200mm, f/2.8, 1/250 s, ISO 3,600. Lars Bo Nielsen (Unsplash)
 

4. Use Continuous Autofocus to Track Players

The correct autofocus mode is an important aspect of all sports photography. Subjects in motion need autofocus that tracks movement to maintain sharpness.

Switch your camera to settings like AI-Servo on a Canon camera or AF-C on a Nikon or Sony camera. Then, half-depress the shutter button while aiming the camera lens at a moving subject.

The autofocus keeps adjusting to maintain the focus on the subject in the viewfinder. After you have lined up your shot, depress the shutter button to take the photo.

A player making a sliding tackle by a net as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Canon EOS 6D. 200mm, f/7.1, 1/1,000 s, ISO 320. Max Titov (Unsplash)
 

5. Use Burst Mode for Peak Action Shots

During soccer photography, a lot happens between each shutter button click. Burst mode is a camera setting where several photographs are made quickly.

Burst mode is also known as continuous shooting mode, sports mode, or continuous high-speed mode. Cameras with high continuous shooting rates increase the chance of capturing great action shots.

With continuous shooting mode, you can depress the shutter button in anticipation of potential action peaks. This way, you won’t have to rely on reflexes alone to capture an image the moment it occurs.

A goalkeeper diving across to try and stop a ball from entering the net as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Canon EOS 7D. 50mm, f/2.5, 1/1,600 s, ISO 200. Álvaro Mendoza (Unsplash)
 

6. Get to Know the Game to Anticipate Key Moments

If you aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of soccer, try watching a few matches. Research is critical in figuring out the important parts of the game. Here are a few examples of dramatic moments to capture in a soccer match:

  • Pre-game warm-ups on the field
  • Tackles, headers, and dives
  • Goals and goal deflections
  • Real injuries and fake injuries
  • The moments after the final whistle

Being familiar with soccer lets you intuit key moments in the match to photograph. Knowing the game increases your ratio of successful images.

Two players jostling midair to head a ball as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Canon EOS 7D. 150mm, f/4.0, 1/1,000 s, ISO 400. Kenny Webster (Unsplash)
 

7. Take Pictures of the Crowd

Whether in a stadium at night or at the local pitch on a Sunday afternoon, soccer isn’t only an event for the players. Soccer fans are often boisterous and vocal throughout the game. When it comes to soccer, no one stays on the sidelines!

Take some time to capture the crowd for a well-rounded series of images. Crowd reactions add depth to your narrative of the football match.

Players lined up on the pitch in front of raucous fans as an example of soccer photography
Cropped shot. Nikon D5600, 200mm, f/6.3, 1/250 s, ISO 400. Waldemar (Unsplash)
 

8. Take Environmental Shots to Set the Stage

Soccer is played in various locations. This includes stadiums, dedicated sports ovals, high schools, open fields, and streets. Cosmonauts have even tried their hand at soccer in space!

A fundamental aspect of soccer is that it can be played almost anywhere. You could shoot at a dedicated sports facility or park nearby.

Either way, document the environment in which the game is held—photograph details like the nets, ball, gear, terrain, and location. Doing so conveys the event’s atmosphere, providing context for your photoshoot.

Two kids playing in street as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Nikon D3100. 35mm, f/4.0, 1/800 s, ISO 400. Moosa Moseneke (Unsplash)
 

9. Keep Both Eyes Open When Shooting

If you’re like me, you are probably in the habit of pressing one eye to the viewfinder and shutting the other. There’s an old trick for not missing out on the action in fast-paced games like soccer. Next time you’re shooting, try keeping both eyes open.

It may be a little disorienting at first. But keeping both eyes open while one eye is on the viewfinder is a great way to stay on top of the action on the field.

I’ve also found that this method makes it easier to maintain balance when panning. With both eyes open, you can see what is happening around you. That way, you don’t miss those key moments about to occur just out of the shot.

One player chasing another upfield with the ball as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Sony a6000. 200mm, f/2.8, 1/640 s, ISO 3,200. Jeffrey F Lin (Unsplash)
 

10. Move Around for a Variety of Photos

It’s easy to stay in the same spot while everyone else moves around you. When there is so much action in front of you, staying put seems to make sense. But a series of photographs taken from one spot can be predictable.

Shifting position is crucial for maintaining a good variety of images in your body of work for the day. Don’t worry about physically chasing the soccer ball up and down the field. You’ll get too tired and miss other opportunities!

Instead, try simple techniques like shooting from a low or high angle. This creates a variety of perspectives. Place the camera on the ground to get a worm’s eye view of the game, or stretch up high with the camera in hand for an elevated viewpoint.

You can also walk to different ends of the field to increase the diversity of your images. These simple changes of views give the viewer a sense of physicality and a unique look at the game through your eyes.

Players celebrating in a huddle as an example of soccer photography
Shot with a Sony a6000. 123mm, f/2.8 , 1/1,000 s, ISO 800. Jeffrey F Lin (Unsplash)
 

Conclusion: Soccer Photography

Soccer is challenging and rewarding to photograph. If you can photograph a game, immerse yourself in the event’s culture.

Document the game as if your audience knows nothing about soccer. Capture the emotional intensity of both the players and spectators. Don’t forget to take environmental shots and take some time to enjoy the match yourself!

eBook
Photography Unlocked
Photography Unlocked
Unlock your camera’s full potential with this guide:

  • Master manual mode to capture moments you’re proud of.
  • Overcome the frustration of missed shots with quick exposure settings.
  • Benefit from visuals with hundreds of images and illustrations.