Football frenzy

The world cup has been well covered by sports photographers. Glance away from following the match to the edge of the field and you will catch glimpses of sports photographers by the dozen all waiting for the shot that will make them a considerable amount of cash.

All are equipped with long telephoto lenses that have large apertures. These lenses cost about £7000 each plus a professional camera body and battery pack will bring the total to £12,000. The long telephotos allow closeups to be taken from the distant sides of the field helped by the wide aperture permiting use in poor light. Given that most weekend photographers cannot afford to take on the competition what can be done at more modest level with a pretty standard DSLR and a zoom lens?

A few weeks ago I had the job of photographing a youth football league five and six a side competition that took place over a weekend. The weather ranged from rather cold and very overcast to hot and sunny on the last day. The only lens I had to use was a Canon zoom of 24-105 F4 mounted on a Canon D5 body. This camera has a full frame chip. I set the ISO to 400, the colour to daylight, switched on the motor drive, and set the files to large J pegs. With this set up I found that I could just about cope with most of the matches. Remember the kids were playing on half sized pitches. Anyone trying to work on a full sized pitch with a lens like mine would difficulty in covering the whole field. Even with a 500mm lens I suspect that there would be problems in the time lag caused by focusing in a very fast moving match. You certainly don’t have time to pick up a second camera during play though you might have one to hand in case the batteries failed. You also have to take care where you position yourself around the field in relation to the sunlight. Back lit pictures can be very attractive but they are risky to set up in these conditions. The sun can change very quickly and you really need to keep your mind and focusing on the ball.
Another major problem was that two games were going on simultaneously next to each other . This made it very difficult to visually separate one match from the adjacent match. They were divided by a large net that looked more substantial in real life than it did in the enlarged photographs. This was village football so it would be wholly unreasonable to complain. The games had a sense of fun not always found in professional matches where the future of the nation is claimed to be at stake. Photographically it would have been more interesting to have spent more tome working on the fringe activities around the game: the presentations, the nine year old who was carried off the field and made a remarkable fast recovery when I photographed him, the moms handing out cakes and the earnest coaches urging their teams on.

The quality of work that comes from sports photographers is usually very high. A important game might have 100 photographers ranged around the outfield. Each photographer would submit his best work to a picture agency. The agency would then attempt to sell the best of the best the newspapers at the highest price. It would be interesting to know just how many versions of Lampard’s world cup goal were submitted to all of the agencies for approval. Getting the same quality of work from a single photographer is rare to say the least.