The difference between a good and a great picture often comes down to the quality of the lighting. Two photographers can take pictures with the same camera but in different lighting and it will look as if they used entirely different cameras.
Interestingly, soccer games often take place at night. Organizers of some major tournaments often schedule soccer games to take place at night for two main reasons.
Firstly, the heat of the day’s sun must have been replaced by the cooler air of the night. Secondly, it allows more people to come and see the games because they would have been done with their daily work. Economically this makes sense because most teams rely on ticket sales for revenue.
While playing soccer at night is good for the soccer players, the teams, and the fans, it presents a unique challenge for photographers, especially sports photojournalists who must take good pictures to earn a living.
When soccer games are played at night, the stadium is lit up by floodlights which are so bright that it often feels like a day. A soccer photographer must have to decide if the floodlights are enough or whether they will need extra lighting.
Also, when taking soccer pictures at night, the photographer will have to make the choice of either keeping the flash on or turning it off. Your choices go a long way in determining how good your pictures will turn out.
If you have been experiencing challenges with taking soccer pictures at night, we are here to help you. This practical guide will give you tips on lighting, camera, and everything else that goes into taking stunning night pictures.
- How to take soccer pictures at night?
- Tips for taking soccer pictures at night
How to take soccer pictures at night?
Taking a picture of moving bodies or objects is hard and this adds to the lighting challenge presented by night photography. To succeed in this herculean task, photographers need to pay attention to several factors.
On the broader scope, it boils down to the quality of your equipment and your initiative or instincts. Below are all you need to take really good soccer pictures at night.
1. Shop for a good equipment
The first and most important step when taking soccer pictures at night is choosing the right camera. Even if you get your lighting, settings, and positioning right, you will still struggle with getting good pictures if you have the wrong camera.
You may find yourself in a situation where you will have to quickly manipulate your settings at intervals and this may prove challenging for budding photographers. For indoor sports, you have to pick the perfect shutter speed for each situation—and there is no other way of knowing the perfect shutter speed than through practice.
When taking soccer pictures at night, some of the features that you should pay attention to while choosing a camera include;
- Shutter speed: you need a camera with a very high shutter speed
- High ISO range without creating negative effects (minimum of 1600)
- High frames per second: the choice camera should take a high number of pictures per second in shutter priority
- Size of the sensor
- Type of lens: fast lens with wider aperture and smaller focal length (1.8 or 1.4)
- Megapixel count: usually above 24 megapixels for sports camera
The main features that you have to constantly pay attention to when taking soccer pictures at night are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Having a really good camera helps but it is the photographer, not the camera, that frames memorable shots.
Since a competitive soccer game may exceed two hours, the camera can start to get really heavy. Getting a monopod will not only help you to keep your shots steady but will also take that weight out of your arms and shoulders.
2. Take a good position
When it comes to taking soccer pictures—and every other picture at that—capturing the spectacular moments like a dribble, a shot towards the goal, or a player’s reaction after scoring or missing a goal is what will get you all the attention.
To be able to achieve this, you need to sit as close to the field as possible. If the soccer officials allow you or you have an ID that gives you special privileges, standing close to the goal line or touchline will help you to get better shots.
Always make sure that you are not standing directly in front of the floodlight or the image will wash out. Just like the soccer players, you may need to constantly be in motion to find a good angle for your shots.
A good angle will make your image more dynamic than just shooting from one upright spot. Interestingly, you will enjoy the game better if you are constantly on the move compared to just standing in one spot.
In addition to your physical pace, you have to be mentally alert too and know when to tweak your camera settings to suit the slightly different lighting of the field. Nevertheless, the last place you should be standing or sitting is directly behind the nets.
Remember, every picture must not look the same. Try different angles to make your collection dynamic.
3. Anticipate the soccer player’s move
Photographers who come out with great shots are usually those that have learned how to anticipate the next move a soccer player is about to make. For example, if a striker is facing the goalkeeper, instincts should tell you that the striker will either shoot or try to dribble the goalie.
Either way, you need to ready your camera and find the perfect angle to capture what comes next. As a soccer photographer, it pays to think like the soccer player because that allows you to anticipate their movements.
Capturing soccer players when they are sprinting can be just as difficult as capturing a speeding race car. By anticipating their move, you can predict when they will turn in your direction or turn away from the camera—and you optimize those opportunity windows.
4. Capture the atmosphere
When we hear soccer, the focus is mostly on the players. However, we know that the fans are the ones that bring the game to life.
If you doubt this fact, cast your mind back to Covid-19 lockdown when matches were played behind closed doors. Remember how empty the game felt—as if the soul was missing.
Angling your shot to capture a section of the fans and the dark night sky is enough to show the passion of the game. Without saying a word, a viewer will see how much sleep the fans sacrificed to be in the stadium at such an odd hour.
Tips for taking soccer pictures at night
Now that you know how to take better soccer pictures at night, we feel it is paramount to zoom in on the camera requirements which is the only non-human factor in all the points we mentioned above. Here are great tips for setting up your camera for those elegant night shots.
1. Choose a superfast shutter
Ask any professional photographer and they will tell you that shutter speed is arguably the most important feature when it comes to taking action pictures. If your shutter is slow, you will end up with blurry images.
In other words, the longer the shutter stays open, the more likely you will end up with a blurry photo. That is why you need a shutter that opens for the least time possible.
For soccer, it is recommended that you use a camera with a shutter speed of at least 500th of a second or the maximum that the lighting of the soccer field will allow. If you end up with blurry images, not even a good post-production using the best image editing software can salvage it.
2. Increase the ISO
Increasing the ISO of your camera will make it possible to shoot at a higher shutter speed. Professional sports photographers use cameras with a shutter speed as fast as 1/1000.
This is easy to pull off during the day but at night, a faster F Stop may be inevitable—and your lens may not be able to handle it. Raising the ISO of the camera allows it to see more light.
While raising the ISO, you have to pay attention to the noise on the image which tells you how high you can go. This differs depending on the type of camera but 1600 should be a safe number.
You can try 3200 or 6400 and see how the camera responds. The higher you push your ISO the faster your shutter will be.
3. Open your lens aperture
The smaller the number the larger the opening thereby allowing more light into your camera. Set your aperture to the smaller number your lens will allow—which will also depend on the quality of the lighting of the field.
Expensive lenses can be set at f2.8 or less. For lenses with an aperture of f5.6 or bigger, the best you can do is to open the lens as wide as possible to let in the most possible light.
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4. Invest in a telephoto lens
A telephoto lens is the best for night soccer photography. The longer the lens the better you will be able to capture shots from further out the pitch.
Professionals recommend a 200 mm lens or the one that zooms x200 to be able to capture the action.
5. Set your camera to burst mode
Actions in soccer often take only a fraction of a second—especially when a team is orchestrating a quick counterattack. If you rely on your clicking speed alone, you may find it difficult to keep up.
When you anticipate important action in soccer, set your camera to the continuous shooting mode (burst mode) which allows the camera to take up to six shots at a time. This increases your chance of capturing good images.
If you must use this mode, bear in mind that the pictures can quickly fill up your memory space. If you are low on memory, switching your camera to JPEG will allow you to capture more images using a smaller space.
However, the image quality will not be as good as capturing in RAW. Consequently, this may hamper your post-production and editing.
6. Switch to single-point focus
When you keep your camera on multi-point focus, it will try to keep everything within its view sharp and may end up doing a bad job of perfecting any.
However, when you tweak the setting to single-point focus and keep the focus point at the center of the frame you can now focus on sharpening the photo of a single player or a few players at the center.
When taking soccer pictures at night it is always important to keep your flash turned off at all times. Flashing an oncoming player may cause them to lose focus and those few seconds of confusion can be costly for the team—and the coach will definitely be mad at you.
If you are taking soccer pictures for the first time or are not familiar with the game, one of the smartest things you should do is to spend some time learning about the game. You will be able to anticipate actions better if you understand the game.
Most photographers are guilty of checking every picture they take on the camera’s LCD. For other events that may not be a problem but it can be costly when you are taking soccer pictures.
Never ever take your eyes off the field because that may be when the most exciting action of the game will happen. When your shooting is over, don’t forget to give it a good edit before throwing it out to the public.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!