Updated: May 10, 2020
How to Photograph A College Football Game by ex-Michigan Daily Photographer and Managing Photo Editor, Rodrigo Gaya.
It's an amazing rush to work the sidelines of a major college football game, in a stadium with tens of thousands of people all around you, watching massive athletes throw each other around. Unforgettable experiences.
Making good images in that sea of chaos is difficult enough. So coming away with one photograph of the defining moment of a 4 hour long game, is reserved only for whom preparation, anticipation, and luck all meet. In focus, and capturing all the ethos of the moment.
It's the reason why the best photogs are the ones with the most experience. They 'listen' to the game while shooting it, while letting go of the distractions.
With so many possible outcomes of each play, the best know how to anticipate the play that is about to unfold. It's an art as much as a science, as all photography tends to be.
Is it a run or pass play? What position on the field, what down, is the play? How much time is left in the half? Is the cheerleader waving at me? What did that drunk guy behind me just yell at me? etc.
Game Day: Arriving a few hrs before the start, you'd set up the laptop in the photographers pen, and meet up with the beat sports writers to get any game info or specific photo requests.
Then looking for feature photos in the stadium. What makes today different from previous games? Weather, people, celebrities, etc.
Gear: I normally worked with 2 Nikon camera bodies, a D2h with a 300mm f/2.8 lens, and a wide angle 24-70mm f/2.8 on a D200/300. Not the best camera bodies at the time, but the lens selection we had at The Michigan Daily was phenomenal. This image was from my first game for the Daily, a cold winter game vs Indiana on 2006.
The Play: Start every play going through a checklist of questions: who's on offense or defense? What many yards to the next first down? How much time is left? Focusing on these details before the snap, helps you anticipate the play.
IE: It's 3rd & 12, on the 31 yard line. Michigan on offense, on Michigan State field, losing by 3 points. 2:36 left in the 4th qt. If they don't score on this possession, they lose.
Knowing this, I place myself on the sideline near the goal line they're attacking. The field being 100 yards long, 2 sides. You can only really capture a small section of it with your gear (usually at least a telephoto, wide angle, and a medium zoom if you love pain).
As a Michigan Daily photog, I focused on Michigan, on offense or defense, I wanted them to face me.
As the ball is snapped, Im using my 300mm pointed at the QB #7 Chad Henne, so I can see if he drops back and looks to my side of the field, he does.
I immediately grab for my 24-70mm wide angle, laying the 300 off to the side.
As I look up, eye through the viewfinder, I track WR #86 Mario Manningham as he leaps towards the edge of the Touchdown, catching the ball beyond the defense to score the game winning touchdown at the inter-state rival's home stadium, in East Lansing, Michigan.
Preparation, anticipation, & luck.
More images from that game: