Intro by Skip Cohen
The world is definitely getting smaller and thanks to Facebook and Skype, I've got a good buddy and growing friendship in the UK with Simon King. In fact, he's written a couple of SCU guest posts in the past. Here's one that's in the all time favorite collection, Time to Act Like a Head Chef.
Well, Simon is back with great images and some terrific guidelines to help you ease into sports photography. I'm betting many of you are already rolling your eyes, because it's not something you think you'll ever be asked or have a desire to do. However, you need to at least be diverse in the challenges of everything you photograph, because you never know when you just might have a request to shoot something out of your comfort zone. And, while it takes years of practice to become adept at any photographic specialty, this guest post will at least help you appreciate what's involved.
Looking to check out more of Simon's work? His website is just a click away.
If you are a fan of sports and a keen/serious photographer then there can be no greater joy than attending a sport you love with a media pass. When I was younger my main passion in life was rugby, playing at a reasonable level until I retired. When I stopped playing I looked for something to fill the void, at first I qualified as a coach but that didn’t fill the void. I eventually decided to take up photography and soon found my new passion. Little did I know where it would take me.
Fast forward a few years and I find myself a sports, portrait and wedding photographer. Meaning I now am paid to pursue my passion of photographing people and sports. I have photographed cycling, boxing; cage fighting and rodeo, but most importantly (for me) rugby.
So how did I get into sports photography, well in truth a combination of luck and hard work! Although I do abide by the saying the “harder I work the luckier I get”. The luck was bumping into local sports photographer Ian Cook who is one of the best in the UK. Ian lives about a mile from me and we were both at a local photographic society's presentation. I approached him and asked if I could shadow him to get some experience in photographing sport event.
Ian showed me the ropes and soon trusted me to work solo at some prestigious sporting events, for example Heineken Cup Rugby, which is the premier club competition across Europe. The hard work involved understanding my camera and lenses and practicing in the right environments to ensure I could get the shot under pressure. Ian and I are now close friends and work together for some UK based agencies at a number of different sports.
So what are the keys to sports photography, for me they are:
1. Understand the basics of the sport you are at, the better you know the sport the more able you are to anticipate the play;
2. Practice at low key events to ensure you are prepared when it matters;
3. Don’t just focus on the action, some of the best shots show the emotions in sport winners and losers;
4. Remember you are not a spectator you’re there to do a job. This means respecting the people that have paid money to attend the event and respect the participants and officials;
5. Use the best equipment you can afford;
6. Get the story behind the action;
Know the Sport
If you have at least a basic understanding of the sport and its rules you can better follow the action and ensure you don’t miss key moments. You can also use the crowd to help you, whilst the play is away from you and out of range you are typically reviewing and tagging images for uploading. But if the crowd around you starts to shout you know that play is coming your way. Also in Rugby you would know that when a try has been scored there will soon be a conversion attempt. After the conversion play will head to the other end for a while. This is the time to check for images of the try and conversion to ingest onto your computer, tag caption, crop. tweak and upload. For this I use Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits and Photoshop (for cropping, sharpening and tweaking exposure). In this way key moments of the game are available within minutes of the action actually happening.
It is important to identify who did what in your photographs, you can’t be expected to know all the players. But before the game you will be given a team sheet with the names and numbers of the players and officials. But in Rugby players only wear numbers on the back of their shirts so it is critical to shoot through the play until you get the players number.
Whilst it would be nice to start your career at the top games, it really isn’t likely. So, go along to your local team and ask if you can take pictures for them. Once you have a portfolio you can start to approach agencies or other photographers to see if you could work for them. In this way you can learn how to get the best from your equipment and how to capture the best shots.
Don’t just focus on the action (shoot through)
Often the most thought provoking and enduring sports photographs aren’t of the action, but of the reaction. The celebration after a try, the victorious hand waving after winning the race. Or the more poignant devastated looks and emotions of the losers, especially if the result was close. So don’t start "chimping" too soon. Keep shooting until there is nothing left to shoot.
Recently I was at The American Rodeo (with some help from Skip Cohen) and after the event I reviewed some of my pictures.
In one I have Wade Sundell after his winning Saddle Bronc ride doing a dance back to the stalls (after he leaped from the horse). I can see a photographer on the dirt looking at the back of his camera whilst that was going on right in front of him. That picture had as many comments, likes etc. as any of the action shots.
You’re not a spectator
You are there to do a job and get the shots bottom line, but that is no excuse to be rude or ignorant. Be courteous to staff and spectators alike. With staff they will warm up to you if you are polite and respectful and may go out of their way to help you. Spectators have paid to see the event so always respect that. Even when they are drinking a beer within a few (vertical) feet of your prized cameras and laptop.
Sometime after a game I can’t really recall how the game played out, because I’m focused on what I’m doing. So any play at the far end of the pitch doesn’t really register. So it’s not a free ticket to get to the game and see your favorite team.
Whilst we may not all be able to afford a 1DX or D4s with a 400 f2.8, sport does require high quality equipment. That means reasonable cameras with long range fast lenses. I started with a Canon 7D and 70-200 F2.8 (note you don’t need IS as the shutter speed you’ll need will render that pointless). You simply won’t be able to get away with a point and shoot or slow/short range lenses. So from that point of view there is an element of investment.
You may not be able to afford the top of the range equipment, but buy what you can and upgrade over time. Also don’t discount used equipment, most second hand gear will have been well looked after and have many years use left in them.
Get the story
Whilst it is key to capture the action don’t forget to get some more documentary or creative shots. So get shots of the crowd, participants warming up, etc. These can be used to tell the whole story above and beyond the action.
It’s not all glamour and top end locations. One day you can be at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington the next you might be on the seafront in South Wales, freezing cold and covering a Duathlon with the public walking in front of you as the winner is coming into view. But, if you love sport you will enjoy them all the same and get as much of an adrenaline rush whatever the event.
You may not be lucky enough to have a great photographer on your doorstep who is prepared to help you get started, but there will be sports photographers within a reasonable distance and teams nearby. So if sports photography is something you want to do, there are no excuses just get started.
The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted the fact that I have photographed Rodeo, not something we have a lot of in Europe. I have only been to one, but it was the biggest one-day rodeo ever. That was the American held at the AT&T Stadium home of the Dallas Cowboys. I want to thank Skip for helping me get a media pass for that event. That event is just the first step in a project I am working on over the next twelve months (watch this space).
Images copyright Simon King. All rights reserved.