Adventures in Sports Photography: Football Practice

August 9, 2013 at 3:18 pm 4 comments


Freshman Christian Hackenberg and the other quarterbacks in a passing drill yesterday.

As part of yesterday’s Media Day for Penn State football, part of the team’s practice was open to the media, so I ventured over with my camera gear.

I’ve photographed a few other Penn State sports—I’ve written before about my forays into women’s volleyball (here and here) and wrestling—and I’ve been thinking about trying football for a while. So I thought that shooting a football practice would be a good start.

I had a bit of general apprehensiveness, and a lot of questions, going into the experience. A sampling, along with the answers:

What kind of lenses will I need? Do I want to lug my heavy 70-200mm f2.8 lens, or will things be close enough that a regular zoom will be enough? Ha! A 70-200mm turns out to be barely enough. A lot of the pro photographers brought their big guns; I’m fairly certain they were using 300mm or even 600mm lenses. That practice field is huge, and if you think about it, it needs to be: It has to accommodate all of the players doing all kinds of drills at once. But that meant that when Bill O’Brien was on the other side of the field, he might as well have been a sparrow in a treetop as far as my camera was concerned.

Christian_HackenbergWill I need a monopod? Yes, that was helpful; it beats hand-holding the heavier lens, and lots of other photographers were using monopods.

Will I stand out? Will all the regulars notice immediately that I’m a newbie? Heck no. The place was crawling with news media—writers, still photographers, TV camera people, producers. I was just one of the throng, and that was fine by me.

(This reminds me of a story: I used to play recreational ice hockey over at the Ice Pavilion, and I often would be the only female on the team. One summer, two or three games into the season, my line is taking a breather on the bench while our teammates take their turn on the ice, and one guy on the bench says to another guy: “Hey, I hear there’s gonna be a girl on our team this season.” The other guy just looks at him and silently points to me. The first guy looks over at me—we all do look pretty much alike under all that gear—and says, with a sheepish look, “Oh.”)

—Will I get run over by three linebackers and suffer multiple contusions and fractures? Nope—not this time, anyway. Probably not a bad idea to stay alert at these things, though.

The whole experience turned out to be very interesting, mildly productive (I shot about 300 photos and ended up with maybe 10 or 15 keepers), and a good learning experience for me.

The first thing I learned is that time is a bit elastic over there. For example, the info we received said that we’d be able to shoot starting at 2:30 for about 25 to 30 minutes. We were encouraged to get there at least 10 minutes early. I got there about 2:25 and practice was already underway, and at 2:30 we were told “No more photos.”


As it turns out, we only had to put our cameras down for about 15 minutes, while the team ran some plays, and then we were allowed to shoot again while they did some stretching. And after the stretching, we were able to shoot some other drills. The media ended up being able to stay for more than an hour, and photos were allowed off and on throughout that period; someone from Sports Information would walk by periodically and say, “OK, no photos for the next two minutes, but after that you can shoot for 10” or whatever. I got the impression that in general, they’re fine with you shooting during stretching and routine drills, but not while they’re running plays—and that of course makes sense.

So, note to self: If I’m going to do this again at a future practice, plan on coming early and staying late. Published times are only a guideline. Go with the flow.

In addition to the shots of the quarterbacks, above, here are a few images I managed to get yesterday. First, one of Bill O’Brien—nothing special; I would have liked to have gotten some with more animated expressions. (Next time!)


Next, center Wendy Laurent during the stretching period.…


Here’s tight ends coach John Strollo supervising a drill:

John Strollo

And here’s a composite of four assistant coaches; click on it to see it bigger:


Finally, I got a few—a very few—halfway decent action shots. Here are two, both from the defensive backs drills. The first, I think, is sophomore safety Trevor Williams (10) and sophomore cornerback Da’Quan Davis:

DSC_5264_med_defensive backs

And here’s Trevor Williams again:


Some of the challenges in shooting yesterday were similar to those in any sports photography. Aperture, for example: You want an f-stop wide enough to blur out some of the distractions in the background, but you need at least enough depth of field so that both of the players going for the ball are in focus.

Similarly, a camera whose shutter has a fast burst rate is as helpful here as it is in shooting other fast-moving sports. When the coach launches a pass toward the defensive backs, you just hold the shutter down and keep firing off shots until the play is over. If your camera only gives you, say, four frames per second, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a shot of the ball approaching the player’s fingertips and another of him cradling it after the catch, but not the shot in between, where he’s actually making the catch.

And, as in all sports, you do need to shoot a lot of images to get a few good ones. For every “money shot,” there are plenty of tosser-outers—ones that are out of focus, or where the coach has his eyes closed or the player has an unflattering expression or the player’s arm is blocking his face.

One challenge that I wasn’t expecting: all that green. The field is green, the trees surrounding the field are green, and as a result many of my photos had an overall greenish cast to them. Fixing a wacky color balance in Photoshop is not my long suit, so that’s something I need to work on.

But enough about me. If you want to see some professional images from yesterday’s practice—and Media Day generally—here are some galleries I recommend:

This one from the York Daily Record.

These from Penn State Live and these from

This gallery from Christopher Weddle of the Centre Daily Times.

—And this one from the Harrisburg Patriot‘s Joe Hermitt, one of my favorite photographers of Penn State football.

Tina Hay, editor

Entry filed under: Athletics. Tags: , , , , , , , .

A Drama-Free Media Day Making a Penn State Connection on Vacation

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. R Thomas Berner  |  August 10, 2013 at 6:51 am

    I know a Penn State staffer who early in her journalism career photographing a high school football game was run over on the sidelines. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt. She has the video to prove it.

  • 2. Steve '69  |  August 10, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Tina you need to do more “in depth” reporting … like why is coach John Strollo wearing two different socks, ha! Just kidding … nice article and I’m glad you didn’t get “run over” like the last comment talked about!

  • […] in August, after I posted some photos from a Penn State football practice, I got an email from Clint Mickel ’05, who does a little football photography of his […]

  • […] written before about the challenges and rewards in photographing volleyball, wrestling, and a football practice. But, except for one time in the late 1970s when I took my now-antique Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic […]

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