I love shooting sports, and more particularly soccer games. It's full of fast actions that our naked eyes are simply not capable of fully grasping without the help of photography (and videography which is converging fast with photography). It seems that when I freeze a dramatic action with a photo, I can better appreciate the details, the form, the tension, and athleticism that happened in that moment. This is the third season that I've been shooting soccer games seriously, and I've learned quite a lot during the process.
With a fast camera that's capable of shooting 9~10 frames a second, the timing of the capture seems less of a problem nowadays. Choosing the best angles and spots to shoot takes some practice. Every sport is different, and I've found that one sweet spot for shooting soccer is near the spot they do corner kicks. You can capture some dramatic moments when players score a goal, allowing part of the net in the picture, and in burst mode capturing the whole sequence of pictures with the attacker face the camera. Of course there are other dramatic moments besides scoring a goal. After setting up the camera on a tripod and only shooting from that sweet spot during last season, I've decided to do away with the tripod and try to walk around more this season. I get even better results.
Actually the most challenging part of shooting soccer, and probably many other sports, is focusing. When there are so many players on the court at different distances, if you focus on the wrong player, the picture won't look good, and very often is not acceptable. I had a lot of bad pictures because of focusing issues during the first season. Even during last season, I shoot mostly at aperture of about 5.6 just to allow enough depth of field so that slight off-focus will not ruin the picture. But I've also noticed that shooting at 5.6 the pictures look less impressive because they look too busy when too many players are in focus at the same time. I decided to shoot wide open at aperture 2.8 this season, and with some initial success, I kept that practice and shot all actions with 2.8 aperture. I am very happy with the result because now the intended players of focus standout and the whole picture look sharper and more dramatic. I do still get some off-focused pictures from time to time, but with 3 seasons of practices, the percentage is quite low now. Nikon does a fairly good job with its continuous focus mode in its latest pro cameras. Coupling that with a fast len like the Nikon 70-200 2.8 VRII, I got many crispy pictures that I can zoom in into clear details. I experimented with my Sigma 50-500 6.3 OS last season and after some comparison decided that lens is not suited for fast actions. This is the season that I can comfortable say that I've produced soccer pictures of professional quality. The following video is a slideshow I made using selected soccer pictures I shot this season. If possible, please watch it in high def (720p or 1080p).