In my never ending quest to photograph new and exciting things, I decided to take on the challenge of photographing the newly formed USL League 1 Pro soccer team Forward Madison FC. I have always enjoyed looking at sports photography and seeing how the photographers work at games. It was time I gave it a shot for myself. As I applied for my media credential, the skies were sunny and it was 70 degrees outside my window, but as the game approached the forecast changed dramatically to 34 degrees and 4-8 inches of snow.
On game day I was watching the weather very closely as I packed my rain, snow, and cold gear in preparation for what was to come. In the hours before the game, it was clear that the 4-8 inches of snow forecasted was not going to happen. Instead it was going to be freezing sleet and maybe a little snow. I packed for a cold and wet game and headed out the door.
Upon arrival at Breese Stevens Field, I checked in and received my credentials before I went out to the field to stake out a spot on the end line for game photos. I had brought my Pelican case because I wanted to take no chances with the weather or theft as my gear would be left unattended for a period of time. I found a great spot on the opposing team side with hopes to catch the home team coming towards me and scoring. I removed my cameras and lenses, covered them in my Think Tank Emergency Rain Covers, and locked my remaining gear inside the Pelican 1510 case and cable locked that to the sideline wall with a small steel cable.
I knew I wanted to capture various crowd and establishing shots for my assignment since it was the inaugural home game. The snow had started to come down heavily at this point and I walked around inside the stadium for awhile capturing the field crew clearing snow off the field. I was amazed at how they used ATV’s to clear the snow with a PVC pipe on the blade in order to not ruin the field. One other thing that struck me was how black the snow was, which I later realized was the rubber from the turf being brought to the surface and plowed away.
After shooting the clean up operations I went outside the stadium to catch the crowd and fans pour into the stadium. I was not disappointed as I would later find out that the game was sold out even with the weather forecast. There were lines streaming into the field from all gates, and parking looked to be a challenge all around. After a short while there were drums, chants, and singing in the distance towards downtown Madison; This was “The Flock” – a collective of affiliated supporter groups and fans who had “tailgated” at a local establishment. The sheer number of fans and how loud they were was impressive to say the least. As they approached the field the chants only got louder and I managed to capture some images of them making their way across E. Washington Ave and into the main gate.
After most of the fans were inside the field, an anouncement was made that the game was to be pushed back 36 minutes, for what I can only assume was for weather and to allow the field crew to clear the field appropriately. This drew loud groans from the crowd which were probably already freezing in their seats. You could feel them waiting in great anticipation for the game. I took shelter in what I can only describe as a “dugout” where team staff enter the field during the game. After a short while I saw the teams enter the field and I emerged to watch them warm up and escort young soccer fans onto the field for the national anthem performed by Shawndell Marks. I was surprised to see newly elected Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway in attendance for the game – a great show of support for the community.
Following the national anthem and a quick team photo I took my spot on the end line. I was glad to see my gear had not be stolen and my chair was still dry. As it was my first time shooting any field sport I was nervous to follow the fast paced action and still get good shots. Up to this point I had not been wearing gloves and while trying to change over to my telephoto lens my fingers were on the verge of frostbite and I struggled to unscrew the lens mount with my numb fingers. After changing lenses and getting situated I worked through the first half capturing images.
As I mentioned earlier I took up a spot on the opposing team side to hopefully catch the Madison team coming towards me in goal scoring attempts, but as it turned out they were struggling with that and the ball spent most of the time on the opposite side of the field. I had a brief thought about switching sides to catch more of the action, but I was sure that as soon as I moved they would have a streak of good fortune and score a goal on my side of the field. I remained in my spot patiently switching form my 300mm to my 70-200 when they approached my side of the field.
This was also a good time to try out my recently purchased Nikon 1.4 TC on my Nikon D500 with the 300mm f/2.8 giving me a total reach of 630mm according to my calculations. This provided me with some great reach for shots on the far side of the field.
As the first half came to and end the snow had stopped for the most part and I removed my Think Tank rain covers for the second half. Again, I had a thought if I should switch ends of the field for shots of the team coming towards the goal. I had faith that Madison would turn it around in the second half, so I switched sides. I moved and found a great spot around a corner, almost inline with the goal line to hopefully catch that game winning shot. As the second half started, the action really picked up and there were several yellow cards given out on both sides. At this point, “The Flock” really elevated their cheering efforts as the opposing teams goalie was right in front of them and they tried to get into his head.
The beginning of the second half was disappointing as the ball spent a good amount of the time on the opposite end of the field, but I stayed the course and managed to get some great shots. The Madison team was pushing hard, and there were several times that they drove towards the goal and I was able to get some great action shots of them on my side of the field.
Near the end of an exciting half, Forward Madison had a last chance at a hail mary kick to win the game, but alas the game ended in a 0-0 draw. That did not disappoint the dedicated fans, however. They continued their cheers long after the final whistle and after the team shook hands with the referees, coaches, and the opposing team. To my surprise the team came and shook hands, high fived, and hugged fans in “The Flock” corner of the field where I was located. It was great to see the players supporting those who support them, even if the outcome was not what they wanted.
As the crowd died down, I packed up my cameras, returned my media vest and went home to dry my gear. Having never photographed a field sport, and not knowing much of anything except the basics of soccer it was a great experience for me and I learned a lot. For one I was amazed at the number of soccer fans Madison has and that they are a very rowdy bunch that clearly loves the sport. Second, this had been the worst conditions I had ever shot in as far as weather in recent memory, and there were things I could have done better, but for being the first time at a soccer game I was proud of myself. My gear had performed well and stayed mostly dry with the help of my rain covers. For myself, I was warm and dry most of the game with the exception of my fingers in the early part of the game.
Nikon 300mm f/2.8 VR
Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VRII
Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
Nikon Nikon AF-S TC-14E II 1.4x Teleconverter
Manfrotto 550b Monopod
Pelican 1510 Case with Trek-Pak Dividers
Think Tank Belt w/ pouches
Think Tank Emergency Rain Covers
Black Rapid Double Breathe Harness
I hope you enjoyed this post, and let me know if you think I should try to shoot other sports like this in the future. Let me a comment with your thoughts!