How to handle bad lighting at high school football stadiums

Editor’s note: This is the first of two blogposts on improving football photography at high school games.

If there is anything I’ve learned going into my third year photographing sports in the world of community journalism, it’s assume your stadium/gym lighting will be that of a bat cave, and that you’ll be expected to come away with a good photo with company gear that’s far from top of the line.

We’re going to look into ways you can cover a football game given those two constraints.

First, we need to get some general understanding about football stadium lighting out of the way.

If you were high in the stands, you would see that not all parts of the field get the same amount of light.

The less light you have, the harder it will be to have properly exposed photos.

Football fields have the most light directed at around the middle of the field, specifically the 50 yard line.

The light drops off as you get further away from midfield and as you go closer to the sidelines.

There is also a light dropoff around the 10-to-15 yard line and typically a significant lack of light in the end zone (that fact has always amazed me given the focus of the sport).

That might seem as one more strike against you, but understanding stadium lighting can help you maximize not only your efforts, but also your effectiveness as a photographer.

Now that we have an understanding of stadium light and its limitations, how can we use that to our advantage?

The best way is not to rely solely on it in the first place.

High school football games typically start with about an hour of decent evening sunlight left, giving you an hour to capture the best-lit images you might get all game.

That’s an hour you and your camera won’t be handicapped by the quality of the stadium’s lights.

The tradeoff is that you have to be aware of the location of the sun, which might mean having to shoot photos on the other team’s sidelines (Gasp!).

I find too many photographers have the mindset that they’re shooting for “their team” and therefore stay within the confines of “their team’s” side of the field, even if that means shooting a backlit player resulting in washed-out photos.

General rule: You want your back to be turned to the sun, not facing it. The result will be photos where the player has the most amount of light on him as he comes toward you, giving you the best-exposed photo.

That brings me to another point, positioning yourself to get the best photo you can with the equipment you have.

If you’re trying to get a shot of the offense, either a running back or a wide receiver, you’ll want to be ahead of the ball (probably 10 to 15 yards if you have a wide-angle lens, possibly more if you have a telephoto lens).

If you only have a wide-angle lens, you have to come to grips that you won’t get every shot, and that you can’t shoot a photo of something that happened at midfield and expect you’ll be able to crop later.

Patience is key.

You’ll have to wait for the action to come to you. The closer they are, the better.

I always think of it as wanting to fill your frame with as much action as you can.

Using a telephoto lens, you have more reach to get photos from further away, but my earlier point remains the same – fill your frame.

If you are looking for a defensive shot, you’ll want to be behind the offensive line typically 5 to 10 yards.

Basically you’ll want to be as close as possible to the action you want to capture.

In my next post, we’ll look into what camera settings you could use for a football game and what kind of images you can capture.

To recap basic ideas:

  1. Stadium light stinks; don’t rely on it. Make the most of the evening light.
  2. Pay attention to where the light is falling. Don’t be afraid to move around the field.
  3. Fill the frame and wait for the action to come to you.
Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Photojournalism

Can the city charge a vendor fee to our freelancer for shooting pictures at a public event?

A freelance photographer has been helping me out for a few months at the weekly paper I run. We don’t have money to pay him, so he gives us photos and then sells them on his website after we get first publication choices. The city is now telling him, rather harshly, that if he shoots anything on city grounds and then sells the photos, he has to pay a “vendor fee” every time he shoots a city event. I’ve explained to them that he’s shooting for us, but they’re being stubborn. I want to tell them that as long as it’s a public event on public property, we’re allowed to shoot it and sell the photos. Then I thought I’d double-check the law on that with you guys. Can they force us/him to pay that vendor fee every time? If not, where can I point them in regard to press freedoms?

No. People generally have a right under the First Amendment to take photographs in public places without interference from the government (see this handy guide for photographers created for the National Press Photographers Association in 2005).

This has often been challenged – recent controversies include the Long Beach (Calif.) police chief saying he could detain photographers who take photographs without artistic value and several cases in which citizens made audio or video recordings of police doing work in public places, thus violating state eavesdropping or obstruction laws. However, the fact remains that taking photographs in public places, whether for newsgathering or other reasons, cannot be punished under the First Amendment unless the state can prove an overriding interest.

The vendor fee presents a tricky issue, however, for two reasons.
First, the government can create reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on speech if it is applied regardless of the content of the speech. These include fees such as permit costs for security for a parade. However, the restriction must be serving an important state interest, and it must be no broader than necessary to serve that interest. In 1992, the Supreme Court disallowed permit fees charged for a civil rights march in Forsyth County, Georgia, because the fees were too broad and ultimately reflected on the content of the speech. Because photography is protected expression, a similar analysis would likely apply to vendor fees; unless the city could prove that they were no broader than necessary and protecting an important government interest, they would fail the Supreme Court’s “intermediate scrutiny” test.

Second, local governments in Texas are limited in the kinds of fees they can charge and collect. These must be specifically outlined and authorized by statute. While some form of vendor fees may be permissible, the sort at issue here are dubious at best.

Business of News

Ken Doctor offers insights on business models for news

If you’re following what’s happening in our business, you know that one of the big names today is Ken Doctor. He’s a leading news industry analyst and author of Newsonomics: Twelve New Trends That Will Shape the News You Get. OK, I can hear what you’re thinking: “I’m trying to get out a newspaper in the most difficult economic times in my lifetime for this business. The last thing I have time for is some media theorist.” I get it. But Doctor writes about trends that aren’t as far down the road as we would like to think – and he definitely has some insights that everyone in community journalism needs to be thinking about. At the Center, we frequently talk about these issues as the difference between hurricanes and tsunamis. Hurricanes announce their presence with wind and tide shifts and bands of rain. Tsunamis are different. They are a gigantic wall of water created by tectonic shifts in the earth. You can be on a beach in sunny weather and be totally unaware that just past the horizon a giant wave is headed your way. The tsunami has already hit the metros, but we see less evidence in community journalism. Nevertheless, it’s coming. And Ken Doctor is one of those people who’s writing about the changing business models brought about by the digital revolution. If you haven’t read any of his stuff, here’s a great introduction. In this article, he starts out talking about Netflix and goes ahead to draw parallels to the news business. He calls Netflix “a canary in the circulation coalmine.” Take a few minutes to look over this interesting piece on the future “newsonomics” of our business.