Football Season is Back: Tips For Shooting Highlights Like a Pro

I’m fortunate to be working with the Minnesota Vikings again as a sideline videographer. This is my fourth year with the team – I call it my “contract” year – and I’ve seen some amazing moments. Among some of the highlights…

Running With Favre

Screen Shot of Me From ESPN Coverage of Vikes Game

* Brett Favre’s heroic heave to Greg Lewis who made an amazing tip-toe catch against the 49ers

* Sidney Rice scorching the Lions for 201 yards in 2009 – 4th most by a Vikings receiver

* Adrian Peterson just crushing opponents (while actually holding onto the ball) in 2010

* Listening to Ryan Longwell and Chris Kluwe quote my favorite movie, Anchorman, during preseason action

The list goes on and the memorable moments are something I’ll forever remember. But the greatest takeaway for me is being able to continually hone my skills as a sports videographer, while producing content that gets gobbled up by hungry football fans around the world. You can see some of my work at Vikings.com under the Vikings Wired page.

My View Most Games

My View at Mall of America Field - Copyright HDHubby.com

If you’ve ever wondered what we strive for while shooting highlights, it’s simple: follow the action, don’t get taken out by players or refs. The latter actually happened to me early in my career while shooting a college football game. Not only did I get some big bruises, I got an earful from the sideline ref who missed a call on my account. He was running full speed down the sideline, I stepped over the line to try to capture the play and he blindsided me…neither of us saw it coming, but I learned a big lesson: stay behind the white line. Seems like a no brainer, but when you’re in the moment, you’re in the moment (don’t BE the moment).

So here are a few things I do every time I shoot for the Vikes, but these can be applied to any kind of shooting opportunity:

White Out. At Mall of America Field, where the Vikings play their home games, the roof offers some unique lighting challenges. So I always white-balance off the 50-yard line stripe, believe it or not. The paint is true white, and absorbs the color of the field and lights, so I know it’s going to be consistent, wherever I am on the field. I do this as soon as I start shooting, and re-white whenever the lighting conditions change, or my duties warrant.

Central Focus. Before every snap – every snap – I zoom in and focus on the middle of the line of scrimmage – center, QB, whatever. I then pull out to adjust my shot for whatever the situation calls for. Unless I’m following a particular player (which I usually am), I’ll start tight on the quarterback until he snaps, then I’ll pull out just wide enough to see if it’s going to be a pass or run. I then follow the action from there.

Practice Perfection. As a viewer, the one thing I can’t stand is not being able to follow the action. A lot of camera guys will start their shots wide and play it safe with their highlights until they know what’s happening by zooming in quick, or doing a snap pan (where the camera hastily moves from one player to another without following the ball). Frankly, I think this kind of video is crap and offers a real disservice to the fans. I’ve shot lots of games over my career – hundreds, from pee-wee to the pros – and over time, I’ve always tried to get better each time I’m out. To get better at shooting game highlights, I shoot the motion of passes through the air in warmups. Just like the players practice their craft, so must we as videographers. The end result – pretty awesome footage when it you get it right. Tight shots of the ball carrier crushing a defensive back, a scorching spiral zipping through the air – these are just a few of my favorite things!

Roll With It. Make sure you’re recording. This, again, may sound like a rookie tip, but trust me: you WILL double punch at a time when you least expect it, but most need the highlight. One time in my career, I was shooting some pregame action on the field where a rabbit got loose and a guide dog that was being honored broke away and chased it. It was so much fun to watch through the lens and, you can imagine, the rabbit met an untimely death, literally right at my feet. I called my producer and told him to call ESPN, because I had a brilliant opening shot for SportsCenters’ nightly reel (you know, the one where they show outtakes and quick hits from the days’ action). Turns out, I didn’t have the brilliant shot and I had to eat a slice of humble pie when I got back to the station. Nevertheless, make sure you hit record with plenty of time before a play starts. You’ll be glad you did.

Breathe Gently. Chasing the action on the sidelines can be taxing on your body. After four quarters of back and forth action, trust me, you’ll be huffing and puffing. You may not think of this, but your breathing will impact your shooting. With every breath in, your camera rises; every breath out, it falls. Unless you shoot on a SteadiCam, you know what I’m talking about. Before the action resumes, try to catch your breath and steady your body. No one wants to get sea sick watching your highlights.

Keep Both Eyes Open. I laugh every time I see a newbie video guy on the sidelines. You know these guys…they’re the small market reporters who got their first press pass and are going to shoot an interview with their local athlete who’s in town with their team. (Been there, done that). They’re dressed in fancy shirts, ties and slacks…and are usually a sweaty mess by the end of the game. They’re also the ones who shoot with their left eye closed. Why is it important to keep both eyes open when shooting video? Well, if you’re shooting off the shoulder (which you almost always are on the sidelines), not having both eyes open will give you a false sense of horizon. If your viewfinder if crooked and you don’t have both eyes open to adjust, your video will be crooked. If you think sea sickness is bad when watching football highlights, try watching them with a slight tilt to the right…you might fall right off your couch!

Stay Grounded. No matter what happens on the field, no matter who is playing, it’s absolutely imperative that we as videographers keep an even keel on the field. If we start cheering or get caught up in the moment, your video suffers – and you’ll lose your credentials (literally and figuratively). Stay focused on the task at hand – documenting the moment – and remember that you can always relive the glory of the game afterwards.

A lot of people ask me: “What’s the best part of shooting for the Vikes?” I’d say it isn’t being around the athletes, or being on the field…it’s simply being able to do what I love to do in an environment where others are doing what they love to do: cheering for their team. What’s my most memorable piece that I shot? That’s easy. Brian Robison Wired. Enjoy!

Brian Robison, Wired

Click Here to Watch B-Rob Tear Up the Chiefs

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