10/19/2020 - Recently my kids both started playing soccer, so naturally, as their photographer dad, I wanted to shoot the games and get some good pictures of them. But I felt that I could use some professional help on how to do that, so I watched some classes on KelbyOne about how to shoot sports. 
What makes a good soccer photo?
A good soccer photo generally has the ball and the player in focus. The player should do something interesting and the face should be visible and sharp. The photo should be free of unnecessary distractions, such as parents, cars, trashcans etc that are not part of the story.
Camera - A DSLR or mirrorless camera that can shoot multiple-frames per second, the more the merrier. Crop sensor cameras have the advantage of greater reach for the same focal length lens compared to full-frame cameras. For example a 200mm lens on a 1.5x crop sensor camera is effectively 300mm.
Lens - For many sports you’d want to bring your longest focal length lens. I use a 18-300mm and am mostly between 100 and 300mm when shooting soccer. It’s small and light, has image stabilization and the autofocus is fast. On my wishlist is the much-loved Nikkor 200-500, but it is a beast and needs a monopod to use for any length of time. You’d definitively stick out with that at a kids sports event. Also, 200mm might at times be too tight for closer shorts. Maybe the Simga 100-400 or Nikkor 80-400 might be a better choice in that case.
Monopod - A bigger lens, such as Nikkor 200-500 has to be supported with a monopod. I attach a small ballhead to the monopod and attach it to the lens-collar. In a bind it’s also possible to use a tripod as a monopod, and extend only one of its legs instead of all three.
Hoodman Loupe - The Hoodman Loupe allows inspecting pictures on the camera screen in broad daylight, which without it is sometimes difficult. So with it the white balance can be verified and adjusted. I also does a great job in uping one’s dork-factor when dangling from ones neck.
I always check the white balance at the beginning of the game, and periodically afterwards, especially when the light transitions from daylight to artificial flood lights. I set a timer on my phone to remind me periodically.
Extra battery - Shooting in burst modes can be taxing on the battery. A battery grip takes an additional battery, and ideally both are fully charged at the beginning. But I always bring a spare one, just in case.
Extra memory card - The same applies to memory cards. I want to start the shoot with fresh cards in the camera, i.e. all previous photos were at least downloaded and the cards were formatted in the camera.

Exposure Settings
Manual Exposure - This may sound counter-intuitive, but just keep reading, it’s not as difficult as it sounds:
shutter-speed of at least 1/1000s is needed to freeze the action
Set the smallest aperture, f2.8, f3.5, f5.6, whatever the smallest aperture is on your lens.
My 18-300 is of variable aperture from f3.5 at wide-angle and f6.3 zoomed in at 300mm. So I would set the aperture to f3.5 at the beginning and the camera will automatically adjust to the smallest aperture possible for the focal length. But also be aware that the smaller the aperture the smaller the depth of field.  
Auto-ISO - With aperture and shutter speed fixed, ISO is the only floating element of the exposure triangle. Today’s cameras are very good at high ISO, and especially during the day noise is usually not a big issue. But make sure not to cap the highest allowed ISO at too low a value. I have my camera cap at ISO 8000. Also, paraphrasing Rick Sammon, “If the viewer notices the noise in a photo, it’s not a very good photo to begin with”.
Shoot in JPG - Most likely you will shoot hundreds of pictures over the course of a game. Last weekend I shot two games, each lasting 45mins and ended up with over 1,200 shots. From that I will have to find the very best ones. Having them in jpg allows to apply certain settings directly in the camera, so I don’t have to apply them later in Lightroom, which speeds up the culling and editing process by a lot. Also, thanks to the smaller files I don’t run out of disk space as quickly.
White-balance - Given we shoot in JPG there isn’t as much latitude to change white-balance after the fact, so I try to get that right in the camera from the beginning. Generally it’s better to be a bit too warm than too cold. I usually set the camera to LiveView and scroll through the different white-balance settings, and pick whatever looks good on the screen. Then take a couple of test shots that I then verify with the Hoodman Loupe. ‘Shady’ or ‘Cloudy’ are usually good settings for outdoor games. I then periodically repeat that process during the game, to make sure I’m on target, especially for evening games where the light changes from daylight to artificial flood light.
Picture Control - Picture control sets a color tone for the jpg image. Landscape is usually a good setting, but again, check the back of the screen to verify.
High-speed burst - Set the camera to the highest frames per second setting. Some cameras can increase the burst rate when a battery grip is added to the body.

Auto-focus settings
Continuous Auto-focus - The camera needs to automatically adjust the focus while the players are running
Group AF - Compared to Single point AF, Group covers a larger area in the frame and it’s easier to keep the player in focus.
AF Lock - Sometimes I like to move the focus point around e.g. to left or right or slightly to the bottom to place the subject off-center, to give the image breathing space. Then I engage the Focus Lock to keep it from moving accidentally. 
Composition - A successful soccer image has both the ball and the player in focus, the player’s face should be visible, they’re not making any awkward gestures with their hands or feed, or unflattering facial expressions.
Be aware of the background - The background, it should be as simple as possible, darker than the subject and not include unsightly and unnecessary distractions, such as cars, trashcans, concession stands and spectators (unless they are needed for the story). The background can be influenced by moving position. Some things can be removed later on in post, but I try to get them out of the way during the shoot.
Position - A good position to shoot from is very important, as it affects the composition. I like to shoot from behind the goal line, so the players are facing the camera as they barrel down the field with the ball. Our field also has netting on the sides that are difficult to shoot though. I also move around quite a bit to get differnet angles, and depending what are possible positions to shoot from.
Shoot down - Sometimes it’s possible to shoot down into the field from a higher elevation. That way distractions at the far end of the field can be eliminated.
Shoot up - If the background and the field allows shooting up from a low angle can be intersting as well because the players appear larger and more imposing, for example a corner kick with a wide-angle.
Use Back-button focus - Without going into too much detail, there are many articles and YouTube videos that explain this feature and everybody advocates for it. If you’re not using it already, it’s time to start now.
Use both eyes - If you are blessed with two eyes, you can use them both. Imagine you’re on the side of the field, there’s a corner kick and you’re focused on the goalie, but the kicker is not in the view finder. Now open your other eye and you may be able to see the player shoot the corner kick and you’ll be more ready when the ball gets into the frame with the goalie.

The same applies to baseball or softball. The camera is zoomed in on the batter, but with my left eye I see when he pitcher is throws the ball, giving more time to anticipate when the batter is going to hit the ball.

Culling & Editing
Given there are likely hundreds of pictures to go through I want this process to be as quick as possible. I setup Lightroom in the Library module to show the film strip at the bottom and the full image in the main view. I then use the scroll wheel on the mouse to run through the images. During that process I’m mostly looking at technicals – is it sharp where it needs to be, gesture, is there a ball, any limbs cut off? If I like the image I “Pick” it, if it’s terrible “x”-it to reject. If it’s just “meh” it just gets skipped.
I’m deliberatly not using the ratings 1-5, because, unless an image is a ‘5’ I’m not going to spend any time on it. There is no point in arguing with yourself whether an image is a 3 or a 4…
If you’re going to share the photos with the team make sure to have at least a couple of good images of each kid on a the team. Make an effort not to only shoot your own child, but make it a point to have shots of every player, and hopefully you’ll end up with a couple of good ones for each child.

Team Photo
A “proper” team photo is nice as well. Ideally it has all the team members as well as the coaches. It’s better to do that before the match, before they’re all sweaty, dirt, red in the face, and full of emotions because they won or lost. Pay attention that the light is not coming from behind them and their faces are lit. Try to aviod any distractions, such as trashcans, random people wandering in the background etc. Shoot several shots, try to direct them, so that you’ll end up with hopefully one or two where everybody looks at you and doesn’t do any silly faces.

Finally it’s time to show your work to the world – or to a limited audience. There is not much use of going through all this trouble for the photos to get forgotten on a harddrive and never see the light of day. If I get a good photo of a kid I want to share it with the parents. Mostly they are really grateful and appreciate the photo, and it’s nice to image that they maybe print it and put it on the mantle and share with grandma.
But I also want to be cognizant of and respect the fact that not everybody wants photos of their kids plastered on social media. For this reason I only send the photos to the parents directly or put it on the TeamSnap chat, so they stay within the group. If parents then choose to publish photos of their kids on their social media I’m fine with that.
- In Lightroom create a Collection that contains the winning images, and make it Public.
- Then open Lightroom on the web and change the album setting to allow for downloading the images.
- My wife then sends the URL to her friends, they can download the photos and print them if they want.
- The link can also be easily shared on apps like TeamSnap.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to drop me a note. 
Thank you!
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