At Premier League level, photography is highly competitive. There can be over 20+ photographers at each game producing thousands of photos. However, the interest is global so the demand for good images is high - particularly for games involving the top six teams in the country.
Including travelling time to and from the ground it can take between 8 - 9 hours to shoot a football game. You arrive at the ground three hours before kick-off. Not just to avoid match day traffic but also to reserve your pitchside position. Those three hours before kick-off seem to go very quickly. They usually involve taking pictures of the empty stadium, going outside to get pictures of fans & players arriving and then more pictures of the teams doing their warm-ups before the game. So before the match starts you will already have sent in up to 30 pictures.
Most photographers will leg it to the managers dug-out area to get pre-match pictures of the two managers shaking hands and also portrait shots of managers settling down for the game. Then its back to your pitchside position to send off your managers images and await the start of the match.
You have to keep alert for all areas of the pitch to see what is happening - in the crowd, the activity of managers on the sidelines and of course capturing the key action of the game as it progresses. Personally, I do not watch the game through the camera’s viewfinder, I think it is better to watch what is happening and to do your best to anticipate where the action is moving to. Of course, there are no second chances so if you miss a critical piece of action then its gone forever.
Photographers from the big agencies can wire images straight from the camera to a remote picture desk where someone will edit, caption and send the finished product out- this is luxury ! For the rest of us we have to do all the work ourselves whilst the game is in play thus you have to balance your time between having your head in the laptop and actually taking pictures of the action in front of you. The big agency photographers have one hell of a speed advantage !
Around 30 top action images are sent in during the game with a further 30 (usually the more boring ‘man with ball’) pictures sent in after the match has ended. Thus, you are normally leaving the stadium an hour after the game has finished.
Camera equipment needs to be at the professional level with Canon 1DX - or Nikon D5 bodies (usually three of these) and a lens selection which would include a 400mm f2.8 , 70-200mm f2.8, and a 24-70mm f2.8. A Fisheye lens is good for stadium shots. I try to get as close to 1/2000th of a second as possible but in poor light this can go down to 1/1250th, usually always in the aperture range f2.8 and f4. Images are still very usable up to ISO 8000 if you really have to go that high, more usually it is between ISO 2000 - 4000.
The industry standard software for downloading and sending out images is Photomechanic. It is fast and reliable.
Photographing the big Premier League clubs can seem glamorous, and yes you do get privileged access and a great view of the game but it can be quite stressful when, for example, your wifi or ethernet connection will not work and you cannot send your images out. You can also be operating in all sorts of weathers, heavy rain where all your equipment needs to be covered up or extreme cold when your Laptop will refuse to work at such low temperatures. So, it is not for the faint hearted when you see the big agency photographers getting all their images sent out from the cameras at great speed and you cannot get your equipment to work. The times when everything goes smoothly and you have a trouble free night are about 30%, the other 70% of times will throw you a glitch that needs sorting at some point during the evening.
The photographers facilities within stadiums vary from club to club, some have a cramped room where you have little space to work, others have proper chairs and desks with a good area of space in which to operate. Some give you a meal before the game, others just chuck a bundle of pies in the corner and thats it. Pitchside areas can also be short on space and you have to be mindful not to get your gear in the way of other photographers.