For the love of the game: Shooting grassroots football on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

Footballers silhouetted against the early morning fog.
This is one of Eddie Keogh's favourite shots – a timeless image of amateur football players silhouetted against the fog during an early morning game between Yacht Tavern and CDA in Southampton, England. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM) at 70mm, 1/3200 sec, f/4.0 and ISO200. © Eddie Keogh

Canon Ambassador Eddie Keogh makes his living shooting professional sport at the highest level, both as the official photographer for the England football team and covering Premier League football, international rugby and other top sporting events. Yet when he's not doing his day job, there's nothing he enjoys more than photographing amateur footballers.

Eddie's lighthearted and affectionate pictures of the English Sunday league celebrate the passion and dedication of the men and women who play grassroots football week after week, purely for the love of the game. "It isn't about action pictures," says Eddie. "That's the last thing I'm interested in for this project – unless it's an unusual action picture. I want to tell the story of Sunday morning football – the quirkiness and the camaraderie. It's about the social side, the changing rooms, the mud, the wonky goalposts, the team talks. I always enjoy seeing the funny side of life, and I like to get pictures that raise an eyebrow or a smile."

Eddie has been a keen footballer since childhood, and learned many of his skills photographing local matches as a teenager. But after a 35-year career shooting sport at the highest level, what has driven him to give up his spare time to stand in muddy fields, braving wind and rain, to photograph local teams?

A shot from behind the goal of a ball hurtling into the corner of the net during a game at Hackney Marshes, East London, England.
Photographing Sunday league football allows Eddie to shoot from positions he wouldn't have access to at an English Premier League or international game. Unusual compositions, such as this goal being scored during a game on Hackney Marshes in East London, create more captivating shots. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO800. © Eddie Keogh
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Going back to his roots

"I'd always hankered after going back to Sunday league football, but never had the opportunity – you have to pay the mortgage," Eddie explains. "But in recent years, as my children started to leave home, I felt I could find the time."

Eddie started his project in 2014 at the Hackney Marshes Centre in East London. It's the UK's biggest venue for Sunday league football, and dozens of matches are played there every weekend during the football season. Although it's over an hour's drive from where he lives in Oxfordshire, Eddie immediately felt at home.

"I just loved being there," he says. "It was so nice to go back to my roots and to hear the things footballers say on the pitch, which are just so funny. For me, it's a bit like going to the theatre. Everyone takes it so seriously, whatever level they're at. It's a side of life not many people see. Everyone should go along once – especially if they played football in their youth."

Haddenham United players in their dressing room, with just their muddy legs and feet in shot.
Haddenham United players in the dressing room after a game against Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, England. Shots like this show the team camaraderie and reveal a side of the sport most people don't get to see. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/2.8 and ISO3200. © Eddie Keogh

When his pro sports work has allowed, Eddie has continued returning to Hackney Marshes. More than half of his project has been shot there, along with images at other Sunday league grounds around the UK. Describing his project as still very much a work-in-progress, Eddie is not expecting to exhibit or publish it for some time, although it has already won accolades, including scooping the Away from the Action category at the 2019 British Sports Journalism Awards.

He's shot a range of subjects, from a forlorn goalkeeper retrieving the ball from the back of the net, to players' mud-covered legs in the dressing room and a dog with a burst football in its mouth. However, one that stands out as a personal favourite is a shot of players on a misty morning (top).

"I was covering a Premier League match at Southampton at 4pm and worked out I'd still have time to go to a local game in the area first," he says. "The players were almost silhouettes in the mist. To me it looks like it could be a picture from the 1940s or '50s, because you can't see the trendy coloured boots the players are wearing. Sometimes a picture just has a certain atmosphere – it's difficult to explain why it works, but you just look at it and think, 'That looks right'. I was lucky to get it.'"

Goalposts on Hackney Marshes, East London, England.
This shot through the goalposts on Hackney Marshes is slightly askew, to demonstrate the amateur nature of the game. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 200mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO400. © Eddie Keogh
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A stripped-back kitbag

When shooting professional matches, Eddie's kitbag includes two Canon EOS-1D X Mark III bodies and two of its predecessor, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, which he uses as remote cameras. He packs a range of lenses, from wide-angle zooms to long telephotos, plus a monopod for use with the longer lenses. However, for his Sunday football project, Eddie uses a stripped-back kitbag comprising a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and two main lenses – the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM.

"The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is just fantastic and another level up from the Mark II," he says. "The autofocus and tracking is incredible. In my professional work I've shot basketball players indoors at ISO4000 wearing black t-shirts and it tracked them continuously, even when they totally disappeared behind other players. The image is very crisp, with beautiful colours."

A dog carrying a torn football at Wanstead Flats, Epping Forest, London, England.
Anything can happen at Sunday league football – when a dog ran onto the field and stole the ball at Wanstead Flats in London it was a perfect opportunity for Eddie to capture the less serious side of the game. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 106mm, 1/1000 sec, f/2.8 and ISO200. © Eddie Keogh
Players prepare to defend an incoming shot during a game at Hackney Marshes, East London, England.
There's nothing more serious than conceding a goal, though – as demonstrated in this image of all the players with their eyes on the ball as they prepare for the incoming shot. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 45mm, 1/1000 sec, f/3 and ISO1600. © Eddie Keogh

"Lens-wise, I don't need longer focal lengths for the Sunday league pictures as I'm generally shooting wider. On occasion I might also use the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III IS USM lens. I avoid taking a lot of gear as I don't want to stand out too much. It's nice to just look like a guy with a camera."

Although Eddie prefers working incognito, having a DSLR does sometimes get him noticed by the players. "Once I was asked to shoot a team photo after a game," he recalls. "I got them together and was organising the group to make it look good and they said, 'You're taking it a bit seriously'.

"I said, 'Believe it or not, you've got the England team photographer taking your photo'. They couldn't stop laughing. They thought it was hilarious that this bloke wandering around the park with a camera turned out to be the England team photographer."

A wide shot of several football games being played on the pitches at Hackney Marshes, East London, England.
Dozens of matches are played on Hackney Marshes every weekend during the football season, emphasising the importance of the Sunday league to the surrounding communities. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 150mm, 1/1000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Eddie Keogh

The creative opportunities of shooting amateur sport

With years of experience shooting professional and amateur football, Eddie continues to find enjoyment in both. "I really like working with England, it's a very interesting job," he says. "I've spent most of my life on the outside, looking in, but now I'm very much part of the team – on the inside, looking out. When I'm shooting Premier League football, however, I can only shoot from certain places; you can't move and there are stewards in your way a lot of the time.

"With park football, I can go where I want. It's lovely to bring the skills I've learned over 35 years of shooting football back to where I started, because I see a lot more now. I see pictures more easily and I have no constraints. If the light changes I can move to where it is best. It's really nice to be able to shoot the angles I can't on a Premier League game. I can also get up close and personal with the guys doing a team talk at half-time, or ask permission to shoot in the changing rooms. It definitely allows me to be more creative."

Eddie advises aspiring sports photographers to hone their skills at an amateur level. "I get a lot of people asking me how to improve, and I always recommend they go and shoot whatever their local sport is, whether that's football, rugby or hockey," he says. "The most important thing is to keep on doing it. Go along, take the pictures, go through the edit and learn how to do it better. Then go back again the next weekend and do it again. The more you shoot, the more you'll improve."

Written by David Clark

Eddie Keogh's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Sports photographer Eddie Keogh with a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark III

The ultimate creative toolkit, with superb low-light performance, deep learning AF and 5.5K Raw video. "The Canon EOS-1D X Mark III is just fantastic and another level up from the Mark II," says Eddie. "The autofocus and tracking is incredible."


Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

A premium quality ultra-wide angle zoom lens, with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture, for the highest image quality possible, even in low light conditions. Eddie says: "I'll keep this in the bag when I need something super wide. The edge-to-edge quality is superb."

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. "This lens will almost always be on one of my cameras – it offers superb, reliable autofocus," says Eddie.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

This fast-aperture telephoto zoom lens is a favourite with photographers in virtually every genre. "This lens is my workhorse," Eddie says. "Super sharp, quick focus – I would not leave home without this good friend."

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