How to Be the Team MVP Without Ever Stepping on the Field
This season, as everyone signs up for those very important volunteer assignments, challenge yourself and sign up to be your official team action photographer. Capturing images that players, friends, coaches and family will cherish for a lifetime is a rewarding position.
Do you “shutter” at the thought? Do you think you don’t have the right camera gear or experience to fill that role? I’m here to tell you how in the most picturesque way possible. I have spent over 25 years photographing kids, young adults, and collegiate and professional athletes in action. With a few simple insider tips and a smidgen of technical know-how, that team MVP award can be yours!
Let’s look at 10 simple tips that can raise your photographic prowess and get you going right away.
1. Have Knowledge of the Sport – A basic understanding of the sport you are photographing can go a long way. You don’t need to be an expert, just understand the basic rules. Let’s use a football example. It’s 3rd down and the team needs 20 yards to get a first down. Time to focus on the receivers (preferably the “go-to” receiver). Odds are the next play will be a pass and not a run play. Get further downfield and be ready to capture that catch that will most likely happen around the first down marker.
2. Click Now and Cheer Later – Here is one that is so valuable but possibly the most unnatural. So many amazing sports moments happen after the actual play. In baseball, the batter steps up to the plate and hits the game winning home run. Through the lens, the actual home run is just a normal swing of the bat. What happens for the next few minutes, however, is pure photo gold. The player will see the ball clear the fence and maybe pump their fist in the air, laugh, point to the heavens, get mobbed at home plate, and they even might get carried off the field. If you were following your natural reactions you would be yelling and cheering while the camera dangles around your neck. Fight the impulse and keep on clicking. Don’t stop until all the excitement has died down. Everyone will thank you later when they see the photos.
3. Think Ahead, and Position Yourself in the Right Place – As a sports photographer, I always ask myself, “Where do I want to be when…?” Here’s a soccer example. It’s a tied game with 2 minutes to go. If one of your players scores that goal, what might they do? Most likely they will be looking to celebrate with their teammates and will run straight over to the home sideline. Position yourself on that side of the field and reap your rewards. If it doesn’t happen, there is nothing lost but if it does, you will have a clear angle to capture the emotion.
4. Look for Two Eyes and a Ball - There is a popular saying amongst sports photographers: if you can get two eyes and a ball, you are halfway to a perfect sports photo. So what do they mean by that? A great action photo is not just about freezing the athlete in space. That is only half of the equation. I am going to get all artsy on you for a minute... The part that makes an action photo so captivating is the human emotional element. Capturing a player in deep concentration as they catch a ball or swing a bat really allows us to look behind the mask. We all wear social masks, even kids. But in the heat of the moment there is an intensity and honesty that is undeniable and we crave that connection. So when you capture the eyes of the athlete PLUS the ball in the same photo, you have moved beyond just an ordinary action photo into an art form. I told you I was going to get all artsy
5. It’s All about the Lights! (And Camera and Action) - Without light, you don't have a photo. Photography is all about using the light to our advantage. In the case of action photography, that light is either the sun or stadium lights. Avoid split light. That means when the faces are in half sun and half shadow. That is a losing combination. The highlights will be too bright and the shadows will be too dark. Move positions on the field to put the sun fully in their face or fully behind the athlete. Now your tones are more even and your quality level will jump up. Ever wonder why photographers love to shoot either in the morning or late afternoon? It is because the sun is warmer and also because of how directional it is. If you are trying to decide which game on the schedule to shoot, choose the 4PM game instead of the 1PM game.
6. Shoot the Space in between the Action - Great sports photography does not always happen in the heat of the action. Sometimes some of the best photos come in those moments in between the action. There is a time out and the basketball team has huddled around the coach as he draws up the game winning play. This is a great time for some tight close ups on the athletes faces. You will get all kinds of expressions and emotions. Concentration, worry, fearlessness, humor, determination, etc. There is so much to be had when you capture the pure emotion of the game. There is nothing more classic than a photo of a young athlete who would rather study a ladybug on the grass than focus on the game.
7. Fall Back on the “Running guy” – Every SLR camera (SLR is fancy talk for “not a point and shoot”) has a fully automatic Sports Mode Setting. Usually it is illustrated as a stick figure of a person running. Although this is not my favorite setting, it will suffice if you don’t want to get too technical. With that being said, I am a big proponent of learning the basic principals of photography. The more you know, the more control you have. Some night, pick up your camera manual and check out the semi-automatic setting Shutter Priority (TV or S). It is my personal favorite when photographing action. Now you have more control over the final look of the photo.
8. What Matters is Location-Location-Location – Eliminate excess clutter in the background of your photos by picking your angles wisely. If you chose to photograph the action at midfield for a soccer game, for example, you will not only capture the athletes but also every parent or spectator on the opposite sideline. Move down toward the corner or behind the backline, if allowed. Now the background will be less cluttered and you get the added bonus of all the action coming straight towards you rather than moving side to side.
9. Get the Gear – If you are lucky enough to own a longer telephoto lens, you most likely won’t have to move around as much. However, most people don’t own those specialty lenses. Even if you have a medium range lens you will be fine. It just means that you need to be more patient and wait for the action to get closer to you. You might also help compensate by doing a little extra cropping later on. Which brings me to my final tip…
10. Perfecting perfection – So you captured some amazing photos. Hold on, you are not done yet. In the same way you would never see a supermodel roll out of bed and walk on to a runway, you will probably need to do some editing and clean-up with those photos before loading them into your TeamSnap team account. Take a few minutes to edit your photos down to only the best and maybe add a little “make-up”. Instead of loading up 500 action photos from the game, be a ruthless editor and narrow it down to only the best. Less is more. Many times your photos may need a bit of help. Slightly sharpened, a little brighter, more tightly cropped, etc. There are scores of free photo editing software programs on the Internet. Just do a search for Free Photo Editing Programs. Your computer may already even have one.
You are ready to get to work! Stay a few steps ahead of the action whenever possible and attempt to delay your celebration in the heat of the moment. Your patience and discipline will be greatly appreciated by the whole team. It might even earn you that MVP honor. Have fun!