Soccer Help

brandall06 2:37am, 4 August 2009
Hey Everyone,

I am looking for some advice on how to get some good soccer shots. My little brother is starting up soccer again this year and it will be my first time shooting it with my Nikon D40. I have a 18-55mm lens and a 55-200mm lens. I also have a bunch of filters. Any advice at all would be greatly appreciated.

I have also been looking at some pictures other have posted and I noticed that they try to "blur" out the background. Usually at the games, the background consist of cars or other people sitting around watching. If I could eliminate this from my shots that would be great. Again any suggestions or tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advanced.
BoldPuppy 9 years ago
I'm afraid you're not really going to want to hear this --- but those lenses aren't capable of really blurring the backgrounds out at the distances you'll likely be shooting.

Removing distracting backgrounds usually requires a big aperture, especially when you're a long distance away (because the farther you are, the deeper the depth of field for a given aperture/focal length). How big? Well, pros use f/2.8 lenses for this sort of work. Both of your lenses are variable aperture, and at the long end are small aperture (f/5.6 to 6.3 are very small). Also, using zooms like this wide open (at the biggest apertures) usually results in the lens running a bit soft, as almost every lens is softest wide open.

Unfortunately, long lenses with big apertures get insanely expensive, and fast.

You have a few choices.

You can rent a long pro lens for a game (I recommend that you do that anyway, just for the experience of using a lens like that).

You can shoot with your current lenses, but shoot in aperture mode to get the lens wide open and deal with the softness.

You can look at intermediate length prime lenses, like something in the 135 or 200mm range, which are designed to be used wide open, and rent one of those to see if it would work for you.

To try to get a feel for how depth of field works in this situation, go to and punch in your parameters. Keep in mind that your brother will be anywhere from 10 yards to about 50-60 yards away from you.

Depth of field can take a while to sink into the brain. It's not an absolute thing. It's easy to think of it as the thickness of a book, like in this shot:

135mm DoF and Bokeh... amazing! by BoldPuppy

But, the reality is that it's more like how a sheet of plastic bends when you put weight on it... you move *gradually* from in focus to out of focus (and, the deeper the depth, the more gradual this transition is... in the above shot, the depth is very, very small, so it looks rather abrupt).

A shot like this, taken at f/4, *should* have a narrow depth, but because the focal distance is so far away, it's very deep:
Making a turn by BoldPuppy

So, let's say your brother is playing, and he's about 50 yards away (far end of the field). That's 150ft. You put the lens at 250mm, and use f/6.3 (wide open). How much depth do you have?

Subject distance 150 ft
Depth of field Near limit 137.3 ft Far limit 165.3 ft
Total 28 ft

In front of subject 12.7 ft (45%)
Behind subject 15.3 ft (55%)

28ft! That's quite a bit, when you're trying to blur the background out. Your shot will end up like my car shot there, with quite a visible background.

Now, let's say that he moves to the close side of the field... 10 ft away from you. You move the lens to 55mm, and now you can open it up a little more, so you do, to f/3.5. Now you have:

Subject distance 10 ft

Depth of field Near limit 9.34 ft Far limit 10.8 ft
Total 1.42 ft

In front of subject 0.66 ft (46%)
Behind subject 0.76 ft (54%)
Hyperfocal distance 139.4 ft

Oh, that's much better. However, what's this 'hyperfocal' thing? That's the distance that if you focus that far away, everything will be in focus.... so even at f/3.5, @ 55mm, once you get to 140 ft or so, you will have a nice, sharp background....

Does that make any sense?

The pros use 400 and 500mm lenses specifically to blur the backgrounds out, and those lenses do a spectacular job of doing this.... at GREAT expense (they're $10,000 lenses...).
Your other choice is to learn some photoshop to blur the background manually.

Most filters will be useless for this application, except maybe a circular polarizer, if you have one. A CPL will make the green grass look greener, the blue sky look bluer, and so on.


That's what I can think of for now.
wangster411 PRO 9 years ago
Unless you are going to go and buy a $700 - $1700 lens, then use what you have and go out there and shoot. Some of the things to keep in mind...where is the sun? Depending on the time of the day, you don't want the sun on the opposite side of you. You will get tons of shadows in you brother's face. Also, test with spot meter, center weighted metering as well. Unless you are up close to his face, matrix will compensate too much for the "overall" frame space that's prob. going to be too bright. But try them and see what works best for that day and the light condition.

Slow the shutter speed down and practice some panning shots when he's running. This will also help blur the back ground.

Move with the action. I assume this is youth sports at a park, so you can get close to the side lines.

Set the focus for AF-C and shooting mode to continuous. Keep the button down on a shot and shoot a burst.

If you have the 55-200 VR, in good day light and if you are shooting at least 1/200s or faster, then turn the VR depends on how much movement the lens is making when you shoot...for VR to work correctly, it needs to have the lens static as much as possible. (leave it on if you plan to keep the lens from moving) On some, the VR has an active mode, but not the 55-200. The 18-55 prob. will be too short, but you may want to bring it so you have it.

Take shots from different height...standing up, on your knee...etc. Gives different perspective and feel to the shot.

In the end, shoot and learn. The nice thing about youth sports, you get to go back to the next game and practice what you like or learned from the previous game :) Have fun!
BoldPuppy 9 years ago
has all excellent advice. Just get out there and shoot with what you have. Learn from it. Apply the learning to the next game/practice.

The most important part is the last sentence: HAVE FUN!
brandall06 9 years ago
Thank you guys so much. :-)
Tiny Butt Cheeks 9 years ago
Cheap solution is a Used Tamron or Sigma 70-200 2.8... They run about $500 or so used, new about 700-800. is another source for 2.8 telephotos to rent.
di_photo 9 years ago
I've had great success with the Canon 70-200 f/4. If you use f/4-6.3, you should get reasonably blurred backgrounds. The objects in the background tend to be so far away they are out of the DOF window by at least a smidge, and often more.

I'd also say ask the coaches and referee about moving around fhe field to take photos (out of the field of play). You can get much better photos if you don't sit in one spot.

Good luck!
Another option is to rent a better lens. You don't have to buy. Do any of the camera shops in your area rent lenses? If not there are several on-line companies that do. You can rent a 70 - 200mm f/2.8 for under $100 a day.
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