Photographing High School Sports

Tony Grandinetti
San Marcos High School
San Marcos, Texas

Context of the curriculum

“Photography is a medium of formidable contradictions. It is ridiculously easy and almost impossibly difficult.”

– Edward Steichen, photographer

In a society that places a great deal of emphasis on the visual presentation of a publication to attract readers, the importance of quality photographs is critical to the success of scholastic publications – newspaper and yearbook. This unit will be taught in photojournalism, yearbook, and newspaper classes.

This unit assumes that most scholastic photographers use film when shooting sports. Most of the concepts presented still apply to those using digital except for a few topics concerning proper exposure of film, processing, and printing.

Topic of unit

  • Improving sports photography in high school publications

Overview and Rationale

  • Photography plays a powerful role in drawing the viewers attention to a page. This is especially true in the sports section of a newspaper. Since the student photographer cannot control the event, it is critically important for the student to master the use of camera equipment, film, and technique in order to “get the shot.”

Generative Objects

  • 35 mm SLR camera
  • normal and telephoto lenses
  • film
  • flash
  • accessories – monopod, filters
  • handouts, overheads, class notes

Questions and issues to address

  • What is a good shot?
  • Why are photographs important?
  • It is necessary to take action photos?
  • Whom to photograph?
  • Winning and losing
  • Building confidence
  • Best methods to “get the shot”
  • Potential problems


Topics for review (should already know, but . . .)

  • basics of ISO, f/stops, and shutter speeds
  • loading and unloading film
  • basic exposure – meter reading and evaluation of existing light

Discussion – What makes good sports photograph?

  • students clip sports photos from newspapers and magazines
  • what makes the photos effective or non-effective
  • discuss equipment used
  • discuss existing light – daylight v. nighttime


  • photo examples of simplicity, following the ball, tight cropping, facial expressions and emotion, positioning, shooting angles, leading lines, rule of thirds
  • how to achieve presented composition concepts
  • peak moments – know the game, action/reaction
  • photographer’s attitude – there to do a job

More than just X’s and O’s

  • the high school football game as a complete event
  • players, fans, athletic trainers, coaches, cheerleaders, band, dance team, ROTC, student council, etc.
  • variety of films
  • multiple cameras
  • flash

On the scene
The students must practice their theoretical knowledge of photographing football by actually shooting on the sideline. This includes freshman, junior varsity, and varsity squads. Sub-varsity football makes a great practice location for beginning photographers – slower pace, usually more daylight, less restrictive than varsity.

Teach on location – pass on tips during the game early in the season.

If film is an issue, the students may practice with an unloaded camera.

  • the entire game
  • focus on the few or the many?
  • know the home team – ex: Is the kicker right or left footed?
  • getting a side line pass
  • sideline protocol
  • pre-game opportunities
  • study light – artificial and natural
  • proper use of films – 400, 3200, push processing
  • proper use of lenses – normal and telephoto
  • maintaining proper exposure
  • maintaining focus – follow action, how to hold camera, body positioning
  • positioning to photograph the offense
  • positioning to photograph the defense
  • emotion of players on sideline
  • planning for the page – vertical, horizontal; specific player, etc.


  • process film
  • negatives – evaluate exposure, focusing
  • contact sheet – evaluate action, balance
  • tips for improvement
  • creating files

Print Selected negatives

  • examine prints – density, clarity, action
  • meeting requests by page designers


  • a high school football game as an event
  • eight to 10 action photos covering all facets of a high school football game


Each student will be graded using the following criteria:

separate grades for each

  • Retest on exposure – proper use of ISO, shutter speed, f/stop
  • Participation in discussions
  • Gathering clippings of pictures
  • Quiz on composition concepts
  • Preparation and shooting the assignment
  • Processing the film
  • Evaluation of negatives
  • Evaluation of contact prints
  • Evaluation of enlargements
  • Critique


  • James Schaffer, Randall McCutcheon, and Kathryn T. Stofer, “Journalism Matters.” National Textbook Company, 2001.

Recommended readings



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