Last weekend a friend of mine invited me to the Texans-Raiders game at Reliant Stadium. I haven’t been to many games – I think this was only the third pro game I’ve ever attended. Obviously, growing up in England, (American) Football was never high on my sports agenda. Now I had an opportunity to shoot pro football.
I went to the Texans website to search for the camera policy. I found out point-and-shoots are allowed, as are digital cameras as long as the lens is less than 12 inches long and no ‘pro’ lenses, and no video cameras. Pictures taken are for personal use only. So I broke down my Canon 5D Mark II, taking off the battery grip and the R-Strap and replacing it with the original branded Canon strap. As for lens, I measured my Canon EF 100-400 1:4-5.6 IS L lens. At the 100mm mark its only 8.5 inches so I screwed it down tight there and also removed the lens hood.
Having read tips from Scott Kelby, I knew I was going to be shooting in jpeg and looking for a shutter speed of at least 1/1000s to keep everything sharp. The main problem was that, after months and months with no rain, it had been raining most of the morning and would continue to rain for most of the afternoon. So that meant the roof would be closed and that meant artificial light. The lighting in Reliant Stadium is great for your eyes, great for TVs and OK if you have an f2.8 lens. But if you have and f5.6 lens (as I do) then you have to ramp up the ISO which adds noise. Being damned if I did and damned if I didn’t, I cranked the ISO up to 4000 which gave me a near field shutter speed of 1:800 at f5.6 and a far field shutter speed of 1:500 at f5.6.
Not wanting to get ejected before the game started, I’d left my Hoodman Loupe at home and so I didn’t try out different ISOs to get a view to the tradeoff I was making. The result of that choice was I definitely had a sharpness problem. I also found it very challenging to follow focus with the ball on the passing plays – the lens didn’t seem to catch up with the focus until two or three frames after the catch.
The game is probably best written off as yet another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. With the Texans up 14-12 at the half, clearly Gary Kubiak isn’t the most motivational coach as the second half performance was weaker than the first half. Perhaps he exhorts his players to ‘Remember the Alamo’, which results in them thinking they’re all going to die. Whatever he says, it rarely works. The Texans did have the chance to win on the last play of the game but quarterback Matt Schaub missed the window to run the ball in himself and then threw an interception in the end zone as the last second ticked off the clock. For us Texans fans, the heavy rain couldn’t dampen our spirits any further as we trudged to our cars or the train.
Lessons LearnedSo what would I do next time? Well, trade off the ISO to get a shutter speed of 1/1000s for sure. Also, I’d buy a 1.4 tele converter. This would push my 400mm out to 560mm but at the cost of 1 stop of exposure. A brighter day would have been helpful also but I’m not sure I’d want the roof at Reliant Stadium to be open; I think there’d be parts of the field in bright sun and parts in deep shade making exposure even more challenging. So not as good a day as I’d wanted, but better than I’d expected.
Respect for the Pros
I now have a much higher respect for those pros that do shoot football. Yes, if you do it all the time your anticipation gets better and pros have those nice long, fast lenses but event then it’s still challenging to follow the ball. As for those shooters back in the days of film and manual focus, they either had to be very, very, good or lucky or more likely both!
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II (B&H)
Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Autofocus Lens (B&H)
Accessory: Hoodman HoodLoupe (B&H)
Accessory: Black¤Rapid RS-4 Camera Strap with FastenerR-3 (Black) (B&H)
Processing: Lightroom 3 (B&H)