Ryu: Shooting small ball

Well, I’m at an undisclosed location somewhere in this world.  If it wasn’t for the NDA, I’d tell you where, but because there is a NDA, I can’t.  Yes, you’re allowed to guess, but I won’t tell you where I am.  ;)

In any case, what I want to talk about is football.  European season is well underway in most leagues and aside from strikes in Spain and Italy, we are now footballing. Soccering, if you ask Matt. :)

But today, I’d like to talk about the smaller football.  Five a side and such.  In Brazil it’s called futsal, just so you can tell you friends that you learned something from this site.

About two weeks ago, I shot the Homeless World Cup which was held in Paris, France.  Had no intention of shooting it, because I thought I was way too big to be shooting an event with amateur athletes.  But obviously, I realised that A) I’m an idiot and B) as expected I know nothing.  I found myself dumb founded by the quality of football show cased during the week and to top it off, the games were hell of a lot more emotionally charged than the professional counterpart.  There were multiple points during the week that it felt as though there were lots of dust in the air…

But, this is a sports photography website and therefore I am going to go into specifics in what to expect when shooting the small ball.

1. Boards, those damn boards.
Five a side as well as most indoor football games are played with boards.  They surround the pitch and they do serve an integral tactical element when playing small ball.  You can play off the wall as well as cornering an opponent.  But from a sports photographer point of view, it’s pure nightmare.  They are high and they obscure plenty of action.  If you are in a similar predicament as I am, there are two options.  Either you use a wide angle lens to get over the wall or get yourself a stool like the Walk Stool to give yourself a good angle on the action.  You can stand, but it will give you a very bad angle.

2. Just like basketball
Small football is…small.  Which means that the pitch itself is small as well. Which means the 400 f2.8 or 300 f2.8 is absolutely useless.  I’d leave those at home and equip yourself with 200mm being the longest and a widest lens that you own.  The action is more east-west than north-south.  Meaning a lot of horizontal action rather than a vertical one.  You will be whipping your camera left and right throughout the day, just like shooting basketball.  And just like basketball, I completely ignored the action on the other end of the pitch.

3. Time flies
In most cases, this type of football is very short.  The Homeless World Cup was 14 minutes long per match.  This is about 1/3 of a normal football match, but the action is as exciting or even more so than normal football.  To quote Vin Diesel, the shit is fast and furious.  Be prepared mentally and pre-plan the shots you want to take and be aware when and where the emotional highs and lows will take place.  Since things happen so quickly, if you don’t pay attention you will be left with nothing.

Just so you know, I talked a bit more about the Homeless World Cup in the next podcast.  So, please tune in. Needless to say, it was a great tournament and I had a great time.  As a professional photographer who shoot professional sports, you don’t really sit and think about what sports mean for the everyday person.  The positive impact a sport can have on a person is immense, especially in a context of the Homeless World Cup.    Although I probably won’t have that many opportunity to shoot amateur sports in the future (that’s just how it is with work at the moment), I cannot wait to shoot an even like the Homeless World Cup in the near future.


PS This blog post has not been sponsored by the Homeless World Cup. :)

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6 thoughts on “Ryu: Shooting small ball

  1. Ryu, Thanks for the post. I agree that the big glass (300 or 400) is not so useful rinkside but they can offer interesting shot perspectives from arena elevations above the sideboards, fencing (PBR) or glass (ice hockey).
    Best regards,


    1. Tom,

      Very true. I did consider using the long ones at the tournament, but when I internally discussed how much of an advantage there is to using one instead of the 70-200, I had to go with the 70-200. Although when I get to shoot another one of these or something similar, I’d like to go long and see what I can get. :)


  2. Ryu. By the pic you posted, it looks like you were outside. It may have boards, it may be fast, but because you shot futsal outside, it ain’t nothing like ice hockey. 95% of arenas I shoot in have terrible lighting. I love summer when I get to shoot outdoors…it’s so much easier. But that aside, here are my 2-3 tips for board enclosed sports photography. (1) Don’t chase the shot (this goes for all sports, boards or not) Know the sport, plan the shot and stalk it. That said, be prepared for the unexpected and pounce. (2) As you said, forget about the other end of the “pitch”. With a 200mm, stick to shooting within 50 feet. Also suggest shooting from one end rather than a corner or the sides, especially if you want to get facial expressions. That said, the corner offers great vantage pts of close net action. (3) Get up or get low. I have a bunch of different height step stools to peer over the glass. If not, I rest my lens (carefully) on the ledge of the boards, where the plexiglass meets the board. The glass there is usually less covered in “puck marks and DNA” (as I like to call it) than the middle of the glass, so it does not affect the final shot too much. Use your step stool as a bench to sit on. (At the NHL level, there are portholes to shot through…but that is the exception….damn lawyers and insurance companies!)

    That’s all for now. There are more…but I don’t want to give away all my trade secrets! ;-)
    Maybe one day you’ll want to do a dedicated ice hockey post… would be glad to add more then.

    PS: I just shot at the Canadian National Beach Volleyball Championship….yes Canada does have beaches and they are not always covered in snow…and by the shots I got, Canada also has some pretty awesome female beach volleyball players too ;-)

    1. Christian,

      Well, we would love to get an ice hockey guy to come on the show when winter sports kicks in earnest come December of early next year. We shall make sure to get one. What was really intriguing in your comment is the fact that getting different angles by using ladders and etc… Never thought about that and that means I will have to do a GAS on ladders at some point. :)

      What we try to do here is to give away as many trade secrets as possible. I have a feeling that even if we give away a lot, doesn’t necessary mean the person can shoot like you or I can. But it certainly will give the novice photographers more of an insight to what goes on in the realm of sports photography. And if you ask me, that can only be a good thing.


      1. 10-4 on the trade secrets Ryu. When I was trying to break in the sport photo scene, even if I offered coffee, dinner or one of my children in exchange, the seasoned pros would turn me down for fear that I would eat their lunch… and I was approaching them as a 40 yr old successful business man wanting a change in careers, and not a green 19 yr old photography student. No matter: I figured if they didn’t want to share, they were likely unsure of themselves and likely prime targets to take over their business! Ha!

        Keep up the great work. I enjoy dropping in once in a while to get up to speed on what you guys are thinking and boasting about.

        A la prochaine.

  3. Christian,

    Glad to be the whistle blower here. I never understood why the pros won’t divulge any of their information because having the knowledge of how to shoot is half the battle. The other half is practice as well as pure talent. :) So, I have no problem sharing all the knowledge I have about shooting sports, because I am confident in my own abilities.

    We will boast a lot more and hopefully more often so that you will come and check up on us more frequently. :)


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