Demystifying the world of sports photography

Technique

Podcast: Episode 35 – Prepare

Podcast: Episode 35 – “Prepare”

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News

Ryu & Matt talk about end of year self-evaluation and Ryu’s decision to enter some contests. Matt asks for some listener help on whether a MacBook Air can handle RAW editing.

Master Class
In response to a listener question, Ryu and Matt start a three-part Master Class talking about what goes into getting ready for a shoot.

Training Ground
Training Ground is now on video. If you’d like to participate (and we think you should), enter your pictures in the Flickr thread and make sure to tag them BLFSTG201311.

Training Ground will now be split off from the podcast, and will run approximately two weeks after the podcast.

You Win

Our December 2013 themed competition was “Anything Goes

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 7.24.44 AM

The winner was Jan Mulders with this rugby picture.

Second place was Simon Wright with this soccer picture.

Third place was Mike Groom with this racing picture.

The January 2014 themed competition is “Seasonally appropriate”. Goto our BLFS flickr group page for competition rules and to enter.

Cross-Counter

Our new segment where we say good things about sports photographs is called Cross-Counter.  But after seeing Sports Illustrated’s 2013 Pictures of the Year, we took a break from saying good things.

Special thanks to…
Our new producer Robb Massar
Icon by Arvin Bautista

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Shooting amateurs professionally

Hello there. At the airport wondering why people havoing such difficult time with our current You Win: Emotions in sports. It is beyond me that why some of you are so locked in on the action and cannot figure out that the most important thing in sports is the reaction to winning and losing. But that’s for another time, because thinking about it gets me too riled up and I’d rather stay calm. Doctor’s orders.

What I want to discuss today is the difference in shooting amateur and pro sports. I belong to a football team in Berlin and I had the opportunity to shoot my team. At first, I wasn’t too excited to shoot my teammates. Not because I have an aversion towards my own team, but I have an aversion for shooting amateurs. Unlike my Jewish partner, I grew up shooting pro sports. My first sports shoot was pro football in Japan. Big games and big tournaments followed and not an amateur in sight. Poor me.

Could I have gone out of my way to shoot amateurs? Sure. But, shooting amateur athletes in Europe makes me 0 Euros. I had a taste of it in DR shooting Dominican baseball players, but most of it was shot in a professional environment, academies run by MLB teams.

So why amateur now? Since so many of you don’t have access (ie press pass) to shoot pro sports, I’d be doing you disservice if I am not experienced at what you are experiencing. I also was in a bit of a funk after the England v Poland match I shot where I felt my shots were awful. Like terrible. I needed to avenge my poor performance and what better to try something new?

1. Access
I mean, WTF? You can go EVERYWHERE. Changing room, on the pitch, and I can even drink their water bottles.  I’m stunned for those who are shooting sports at this level that you aren’t getting more intimate shots. Some of these athletes are your friends or family members. Get them to react to your presence. Let yourself be the stimulus. And also, get in their grill. Make them uncomfortable. Hell, you are the photographer, you do what you want.

2. Unpredictable
At a higher level, things go according to how things should go. Player A passed the ball to Player B unchallenged. 10 out of 10 times the ball gets to the intended position. But at this level unpredictability rules. Expect the unexpected. In a way, it’s more difficult to shoot amateurs because you have to be ready for everything. Make sure you are on your toes and try to be conservative when predicting the next play.

3. The Ace
Since this is not the Bundesliga or the Prem, inaccuracy is rife. Trapping, passing, dribbling, and shooting. Everything is off. Therefore the player will not hold the ball long enough for you to get a good action shot. Lots of lost balls peppered with lots of headers in the air. Therefore if you want good action shots, follow the ace. In my case, our ace can hold the ball longer than the others (“others” include myself of course), allowing me to get the shots I wanted. But obviously you can’t shoot him all day long and you’ll need to shift your focus to the other players because the last thing you want is tons of picture of your ace and meagre harvest of the others.

4. Experiment
This is your chance to do whatever you want. You want to be right next to the goal, at the feet of the players? You want to be so close that you can hear them breathe? You want to go on the pitch when they celebrate the goal and maybe join them? Okay, the last one is a tad too much, but the others are totally plausible. As long as you are not in their way, get as close to the action. Use a flash. Place cameras in weird places. Shoot the players whilst running. The imagination and refs patience is the only limit. Go crazy.

5. Portfolio
If you are starting out in sports photography, shooting amateurs is the best way to showcase your skill. Besides the blatantly obvious segue into Critical Breakdown, shooting amateur sports will be the key for you to get shots unimaginable in pro sports. Only thing impressive about having images of Lebron, Peyton, Cristiano, or Tiger’s waitress girlfriends is IF the image is interesting. Contrary to popular belief, just having images of superstars isn’t enough to impress your potential employer. But an image of the locker room with kids cowering in fear as the coach gives them the hairdryer? Priceless.

The most difficult thing for me was to detach myself emotionally from the game. Not easy when your teammates are busting their balls out there. But if you want to shoot sports, you have to cut all ties with what’s happening on the pitch and concentrate on getting great shots. Because that’s what a sports photographer should do.

Along the same line, I am now thinking whether I can shoot a match with bare minimum non-pro equipment instead of my usual D4 and the funky bunch. But that will have to wait until my next slump.  :)

Ryu

Untitled-10 Untitled-8 Untitled-6 Untitled-5 Untitled-3 Untitled-2 Untitled-1

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Low and behold

Afternoon. But by the time this goes out, it could be evening or morning. We’ll see. All’s well in the European front as I’m on my way to shoot some football in Manchester. That’s Manchester in England and not the fake one in New Hampshire. I’m also now toying with the idea of getting a GoPro so that I can get some weird angles and hangout with all the cool extreme sports photographers.

This week’s sweet tip is exactly that. Trying to get your low angle shots lined up whilst not looking through your view finder. This is assuming you have no space to lie down. Because if you have the space, you better have some dirt on your tummy.

What I used to do is to put the camera as low as possible (aka on the ground) and point the lens towards the direction I want and fire away. But unfortunately, this is not the most reliable way to shoot as you have no idea EXACTLY what and where you are shooting. I’d shoot couple of frames, check the images, try different angles and settings, check the images, prefocus, check the images, and repeat until my OCD got tired. When the moment came to shoot, I just hoped and hoped and hoped.

With the arrival of D4, everything changed for the good. I suddenly realised that with this this live view thing, I can now see what my camera is seeing on the LCD. Wow. A twist of the dial and a push of a button. I have to admit that it was a technological breakthrough in my life (I’m fully aware of the fact that a Somy camera made in Tajikistan for 50 Indonesian Rupiahs also has an active LCD just like the one on D4). Welcome to the world where pro gear doesn’t get all the useful stuff.

I don’t know which of the DSLRs out there have a live view mode. But I’m assuming I’m talking to the majority and not the minority. Therefore if you’ve been dying to shoot that low angle shot in a cramped place and was having trouble getting shots, you now just have to push a button. Maybe turn a dial. By the way, in the D4, the live view mode only lets you shoot in AF-S and it doesn’t do the usual FPS.

But hey, life could be worse.

Ryu

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Saving private Spot

As is the case with almost all my posts, I’m writing this when I’m bored to tears. I’m kidding. Kind of. But I do think about you when I write about it so there is still some hope between you and me. I’m at Oberstdorf shooting the Nebelhorn Trophy. That’s figure skating to you and me. It’s exciting, but the level here is so low that I’m waiting for the big guns to show up. And that’s like at 23:10 tonight. I’d like to say I’m kidding, but I’m not.

Matt and I have already wrote quite a lot about sports photography in our past posts and frankly we are running out of big ideas to write about. We definitely don’t want to go the Hollywood route and start posting remakes and sequels of our previous posts. Instead, we will continue to write posts, albeit in smaller packages. Like tips. When we have something big to say, like when Matt gets all crazy eyed talking about a certain organisation, we will write a big one. But from here on out, we will give you nibbles on sports photography.

One thing I learned very quickly is that when shooting sports, positioning is everything. What you also need to understand is that these positions are only yours if you claim it. You can sit there until the game starts, but what to do when you want to move around to shoot warm-ups? Or when you want to shoot them coming onto the field? What most of us do is to leave something at the spot. Some opt for a monopod, some a stool, and some duct tapes with your name on it. A lot of Japanese sports photographers do the tape thing, I think it’s a cultural thing. As for me, I usually go with the stool. For a simple reason that I use the monopod to shoot and I can’t just leave it there to secure a spot.

If you really really want to get a specific spot on the pitch or floor or whatever playing surface you will be shooting that day, get there early. My colleague who shoots Real Madrid frequently gets to the stadium 3 hours before the match. On big match days like the Classico, he’s there 6 hours before kick off. Excessive? Most definitely, but he’s certain to claim the spot.

Lastly, getting your spot on is the first thing you should do when you arrive at a sporting event. Get your accreditation, get your bib, claim your spot. Then do whatever you have to do. Early sports photographer claims the spot. So says my mother.

Ryu

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Before You Hit the Shutter

Every assignment is different depending on what your editor needs, the nature of the venue, and the access you have.  Sometimes you’re there to make pictures that will sell to the widest variety of clients.  Other times it’s a big game and you need pictures of the most important plays.  Once in a while you’ll have to focus on one player.  How successful you are as a photographer depends heavily on how well you can deliver no matter what the assignment is or the obstacles involved.

Recently I had an assignment for Spin to Win Rodeo Magazine that I knew was going to be challenging.  Spin to Win focuses on team roping, and generally tries to alternate covers between headers (the cowboy who ropes the steer’s horns) and heelers (the one who ropes the steer’s feet.)  My picture of header Trevor Brazile was the August issue’s cover, and some readers complained that Brazile’s partner Patrick Smith wasn’t included.  The September cover needed to be a heeler, and the biggest rodeo ending before the closing date was the California Rodeo Salinas.  That meant that my assignment became: get a great cover picture of the winning team roping heeler.

The California Rodeo is one of the oldest, over 100 years old.  Tradition is very important, and in team roping it means they do things differently than any other rodeo.  Both ropers start in the same box, and the steer is given a longer than normal head start.  The arena is considerably bigger than average, and all of this produces longer times.  The longer the steer is running, the more unpredictable things become.  In general the header ropes the steer and pulls it around to the left.  The heeler comes from the right side around to the left and ropes the feet, most times ending up facing the left side of the arena.  But with the rules at Salinas, anything can happen.  Shoot from the right side and the heeler could be facing away.  Shoot from the left and the header could eclipse any view of the heeler.  The far end is more than 100 yards away, not the best bet for a high impact cover picture.

Team roping, along with the other timed events at Salinas, is a five-head aggregate competition, meaning that everyone gets 4 tries and then the top 12 lowest times qualify for the short round and a fifth try.  The lowest time on 5 wins.  This means (unlike rodeos with no short round where the winner could be long gone by the end of the rodeo)  that the winner will be competing on Sunday.  But to be safe, it’s better to have pictures from earlier in the week as a backup in case something goes wrong photographically in the short round.

Now that you know more than you ever wanted to know about team roping, there is the matter of access.  My editor sent in a credential request for me, making sure to ask for the exact access I needed.  Since I don’t have a PRCA photographers card, I can’t shoot from the dirt.  This means that it was vital that I be free to shoot from the fenced-in pit on the right side and from the bucking chutes on the left side.  But when I picked up my credentials I found no chute pass and when I went to the arena I was informed that the fenced-in pit was considered as part of the dirt.  The “official” photographer there really likes to protect “his” territory, “bless his heart” as they say.  Very luckily for me, a PRCA official who knew me was at the rodeo and after a while was able to fix my access situation.  In the mean time I may or may not have sent a series of urgent texts to my editor.

With everything finally sorted out I was able to concentrate on shooting.  By Sunday I had a good feel as to how far down the arena runs were finishing, and as the team ropers went in order of slowest to fastest, I could cheat a little based on the time each needed to win.  The second place team of Derrick Begay and Cesar de la Cruz were behind by enough that they needed a really, really fast run to have any hope of winning, so I cheated in closer.  At that angle I had to accept that I would have no shot on header Begay but would give myself the best chance to get a high-impact picture of de la Cruz.  It all came together, with the team turning in a very fast time to take the lead, and de la Cruz facing directly at me straining while his rope burned through his hands as he tightened his loop around the steer’s hind legs.  Professionally I can’t root for anyone in particular, but I knew I had a cover if their score held up. But the last team to go still had a chance to win it with a good run.  They didn’t quite get it done, so Begay and de la Cruz won and all that was left to do was edit the pictures and transmit.

Obviously only a small portion of our readers shoot rodeo, and only a small portion regularly get assignments, so I’m sure the overlap of these sets is in the low single digits.  But I thought it was important to write this up to show the kind of thought that goes into shooting.  Too often we see pictures where there was clearly no thought involved at all, just someone with a camera pointing it in the general direction of the action, and pressing the shutter button.  Your pictures will get better as you begin to consider your surroundings, the tendencies of the competitors, the access you have, and what you are trying to accomplish (for yourself or for your editor).  The more you think about all of these factors and how they interact with each other, the better your results will be.

Salinas_de_la_Cruz_Cover_Spin_to_Win copy

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Under the Brim

One of the things that most rodeo fans don’t get to see is the preparation that goes into each ride, and I consider it part of my job to show it. Some guys do yoga, some guys use miles of athletic tape, baby powder files, rosin is cracked onto bull ropes, etc. Towards the beginning of the rodeo season I was shooting behind the chutes at Clovis, CA, as bareback rider Josi Young was wrapping his riding arm in white tape. As I was composing, a head-shaped object filled my viewfinder. Joking around, Josi’s fellow bareback rider Steven Peebles stuck his head between my camera and Josi’s arm. Peebles was far too close for me to focus on him, but it did give me a good idea, extreme closeups with the (GEAR NERD ALERT) Nikon 14-24mm at 14mm. Here’s what that first picture looked like:

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

I put it up on Facebook and people kind of went crazy for it. I figured it was lightning in a bottle and left it at that. A few weeks later I ran into Josi at a different rodeo, and he said “So, let me get this straight: You try to get a picture of me and Peebles interrupts. You take a picture of him and everyone loves it. So I get screwed.” “That’s about right Josi, but I’ll do one of you if it makes you feel better.” So I did:

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Redding Rodeo

After that I thought about it for a minute and decided to shoot as many of these pictures as I could for the rest of the season. Here’s why.

First, it’s good to have a long term project to work on, and this is far more interesting than the one I had been doing. In repeating a similar theme you (ideally) force yourself to work within a framework, and make each new picture good enough to stand on its own. In the end, the goal is to have a series of great pictures that go together and will hold the viewers attention.

Some side benefits of this particular project: Using the same lens over and over can teach you a lot about using that lens. The 14-24 can produce some crazy distortion depending on how you arrange things in the frame. Using it repeatedly on faces can help you learn the best way to use it even on other subjects. A project like this requires you to get very close, and that’s what the 14-24 was made for. It also means that you can’t sit back and observe, you need to get in there and talk to people and get comfortable with that. We see far too much sitting back in the Flickr group. Some of these guys are my friends, and some of them I’ve never spoken to before, but now I’ve at least had a small conversation with all of them, and the better rapport with your subjects, the better your pictures will be.

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Reno Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Reno Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Reno Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Reno Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Reno Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Rowell Ranch Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Reno Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Reno Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Redding Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Open wide

Hello there.
I’m in London at the moment for a wedding shoot. No, no, no. I’ve not given up on sports photography, but when you get an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, you grab it. Especially when they fly you in and they pay you for your work. :)

Before I left, I went through all the lenses that I want to bring for this wedding shoot. I ended up taking 2 x fisheye, 14-24, 24-70, and a 70-200. As you might have figured out at this juncture in our relationship, I am a sucker for wide angles. I have no idea where this fascination comes from, but I cannot get enough of wide angle lenses. If money wasn’t an objective, I’d totally get this lens (Nikon 6mm f2.8 fisheye) and shoot all the sports available on this planet. But then, I have neither the fund nor the access to such a beast, so I shoot with what I have. Poor me.

Sports photography is sold as a genre of photography where one must shoot with a 400 2.8 and 1900 f0.5. All you see are shots taken with the long ones and we are conditioned to want to shoot with these lenses. But there is no guarantee that by using the long lens you will end up with a Pulitzer Prize sports photo. Except for my wet dream 6mm f2.8, most wide angle lenses are cheaper than tele lenses. Which means that good wide angle lenses are more affordable than a good tele lens. Therefore we should all shoot sports with wide angle lenses. Yes, we should and my logic is never flawed.

There are two distinct ways in shooting with a wide angle lens: far and close. I went through my shots from this year (2013, in case you are reading this in 2015) and came up with some samples of each.

Far
The main subject is not close to you, but far away from you. Therefore you get a shot that encompasses everything. Like a landscape shot. This technique is used when you see something in the environment that you want to incorporate into the picture. Sunset over a stadium. Crowds in the stands. Also showing the enormity of the place where the game is going on. These shots put the viewer inside the photo and make them feel like they want to be there Unlike a long lens shot, you will really need to think about composition. Tiny mistakes at the composition stage will most likely make you cry later, so be patient and precise when composing. Don’t worry about the exposure that much since the subject is so far away, there won’t be much DOF issues. Here are some samples.

Wide2 Wide1 Wide3

From my experience, you can take time shooting wide angle shots because the subject is so far away. Put it this way, the subject is the entire frame. Individual athletes in it will not make or break the shot. For instance with the ping pong shot, I shot the same composition for about 10 minutes, hoping to catch a good moment. But what I care most was the composition and not what the ping pongers were doing. What I wanted to show was two athletes duking it out in a very big empty arena.

Close
The main subject is very close to you. You should be able to smell them and lick their eyeballs (all the rage in Japan). Just a fact that security is so tough at professional sporting events these days, it’s not easy to get close to them. Hence the rise in long lenses, I guess. But if you are shooting amateurs, you can get as close as you want. Hence, I have no idea why we don’t get more shots of close up wide angles in any of our competitions. Hencing, done.

I’d leave the camera to aperture priority or shutter speed priority and let the camera worry about exposure. You, you worry about focusing. The point of getting close wide angle shots is to get as low as possible. Therefore you are not going to be lying down on your belly. No, you are going to shoot without looking through your viewfinder. If your camera has a live view on the LCD, I’d use it, but this is only useful when your subject is not moving. When they move, you go one handed. You’ll need to take some practice shots to determine composition and trust that the camera will do its job in focusing. This no look focusing is not easy as 1-2-3. You need to practice (Practice?) to get the feel of where and how your camera focuses. So get on it. The point is to get as close as possible to the subject. If they hadou-ken you after you get the shot, you win. But please don’t try this with people or vehicles that can harm you permanently. BLFS condones bravery but not stupidity.

If you manage to execute a close up wide angle shot to perfection, you will certainly wow your friends and butlers. Guaranteed.

WideLow6 WideLow4 WideLow3 WideLow1

Bonus: Fish Eye
Go wide and distort my friends. Since it’s so distorted, you just have to love it. I recently got a circular fisheye and I’ve got plans for this baby. Same rules for far and close with the fisheyes as well, but make sure you know how close you are to the subject when you shoot. It’s that “Object may be appear closer than you think” when you’re using this lens through a viewfinder. Try not to bump into the athletes.

Fisheye2 Fisheye1

Wide angle is underrated in sports photography. It is a shame because it creates such dramatic look that can only be matched with a wider lens. If you are shooting amateur sports where the access is crazy super cool, you have no excuse not to shoot wide angle.

So, go wide, young (and old) BLFSers.

Ryu

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Ignore the Conventions

Convention: The most widely accepted or established view of what is thought to be proper behaviour, good taste, etc.

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

I came to rodeo after shooting other sports, and I shot like it: long lens, tight crops, clean backgrounds, a mix of behind-the-scenes and peak-action pictures. This worked very well for broncs and bulls, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and even calf roping where there was one subject at a time and I could move around to control light and shoot at fairly wide apertures to keep backgrounds clean. Team roping however was a different story. For those who don’t know here’s an explanation from Friends of Rodeo:

Team roping is the only rodeo event that features two contestants. The team is made up of a header and a heeler. The header ropes the horns, then dallies or wraps his rope around his saddle horn and turns the steer to the left for the other cowboy who ropes the heels. The heeler must throw a loop with precision timing to catch both of the steer’s hind legs. The time clock stops once both ropers have made a catch and brought the animals to a stop, facing each other.

As you can imagine, two cowboys, two horses, and one steer moving independently, sometimes 20 yards apart, in an event where a good time is in the 4-second range is a tall order. The rodeo-only photographer convention for shooting team roping has (from what I can tell) always been stand really far back, shoot with a 70-200 at a medium aperture, and get both cowboys and the steer in the frame at all costs. Bonus points if you’re also sitting on your Pelican camera case while you’re doing it. Go ahead, check out this Google image search for “team roping” and witness the atrocities.

The problem is that you can’t shoot from 1) a safe distance, 2) get both cowboys in the frame, 3) have a clean background, and 4) make interesting pictures that don’t look like every other team roping picture all at the same time. It’s physics. So virtually all rodeo-only photographers opt for 1&2 and ignore 3&4 completely. For a while I just didn’t shoot team roping because I couldn’t accept that tradeoff, couldn’t think of a solution, and didn’t have much of a reason to innovate because didn’t have any team-roping related clients.

Then I started hearing from potential team roping clients, and as I mentioned in my 2013 goals post, I got tired of not having pictures of the guys they wanted and spent some time thinking about it before this season. I had two related revelations: 1) you don’t need to have both cowboys in the frame any more than you have to have all 11 football players or 9 baseball players in the frame and 2) since it’s common for the header and heeler to be sponsored by different combinations of companies (sometimes even competitors) having separate pictures of each can be more commercially viable.

Once freed from the conventional limitation of having both cowboys in the frame, I was able to concentrate on making pictures that have clean backgrounds and are distinct in that the cowboys are immediately identifiable. Artistically this opens the door for things like facial expression/emotion and the dynamics of the rope, and commercially it provides the benefit of the cowboy’s face and sponsor patches, none of which are possible the conventional way.

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Marysville Stampede

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Clovis Rodeo

PRCA 2013 - Red Bluff Round-Up

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Livermore Rodeo

Clearly the subset of our audience who shoots rodeo is small, and this post isn’t meant solely for them. In any sport you will run into situations where limitations have resulted in conventions. If the conventional way doesn’t work for you artistically or commercially, you have to figure out something else.

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Podcast: Episode 28 – Post Processing Won’t Save You

Podcast: Episode 28 – “Post Processing Won’t Save You”

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News

Ryu shot 10 days worth of ping pong, and his first Champions League final, but had to say goodbye to his cat Maggie. Matt spent another month on the road, shooting rodeos, naming a bucking horse colt, and being honored with a parade lap at the Marysville Stampede.

PRCA Rodeo 2013 - Marysville Stampede
(Picture by Jacqueline Cohen)

Master Class
Ryu and Matt answer a listener question about post processing, the one area where they couldn’t disagree more.

Training Ground
Training Ground is now on video. If you’d like to participate (and we think you should), enter your pictures in the Flickr thread and make sure to tag them BLFSTG201306.




You Win

Our May 2013 themed competition was “Wide Angle.”

The winner was Hridoy Tanveer with this inspired basketball picture:

The Unreachable

Second place was a great track & field picture by Bashar Alshabi that would have won any other month, and third place was this snowboarding picture by Peter Lienert.

The June 2013 themed competition is “Wheels”. Goto our BLFS flickr group page for competition rules and to enter.

Podium

May Podium winners are:

1) Ignacio Izaguirre with this rugby picture

2) Leonardo with this basketball picture

3) Benji with this running picture

Cross-Counter

Our new segment where we say good things about sports photographs is called Cross-Counter. This episode we went with the theme from You Win and picked some wide angle pictures. Ryu picked this dejection picture (#4) and Matt picked this celebration picture (#3)

Special thanks to…
Our new producer Robb Massar
Icon by Arvin Bautista

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Ping Pong (aka Table Tennis)

Good evening.

Couple of hours ago, my wife and I came back from the vet. Our cat, Maggie won’t have much time to live. Her liver is failing and she’s got about a day on this planet. The cat has been with us for 9 years and she is family. Before all this, I did promise myself that I’ll finish this post today, because I don’t want to remember this day not doing what I set out to do. I don’t think Maggie will be happy with her dad being a lazy bastard. So, let’s get it on, ping pong style.

1. Angles, angles, and more or less angles
As with shooting any sport, it starts with angles. From where are we going to shoot this slower-than-jai alai sport? I’ll show you some examples, because it’s either that or my awesome hand written diagrams.

A. Front
This is how it looks shooting from the front. You can either choose to focus on the action that is happening in the foreground or the background. If you decide to shoot the ping ponger in the foreground, you will need to find moments where you can see his/her face. Because otherwise it’s ass and back all the time. Unless you are looking for fist pump / celebration shots.

Front1

Here is the reverse. The problem is that it is very difficult to focus on the background dude, because the foreground dude blocks your shot. If it’s difficult in singles play to get a shot like this, try doubles. You’ll want to pull your arm hair out. The key is to pre-focus and just fire away and hope you’ve done good deeds to merit some in-focus shots.

Front2

The other two shots are variations of the above two. I was bored at some point and tried to see if I can get the ball focused completely during a play. If you want to do something like this, you’ll need impeccable timing or 9fps. The other is multiple exposure and as you can see, it’s a work in progress. Same focusing problem here. You need to decide where you are going to focus and stick with it. Try not to move your focus around, because you’ll end up missing the action.

Front4 Front3

B. Side
Includes 3/4 and anything but dead on. This I used a lot when shooting men. What I realised was that men’s ping pong is uber athletic. Plays happen quite often nowhere near the table and the movements are dynamic. If you want these shots, you’ll have to shoot from the side. The 3/4 look is also the same, but with a caveat of having the opponent in the frame. It’s also the easiest way to shoot ping pong because you rarely get the player in the foreground blocking your view, whilst getting a clear view of the background player. Therefore, it’s a bit boring.  It’s just not difficult enough for me. :)

Side4 Side5 Side7

But my favourite was shooting with the 400 2.8 directly from the side. This way, you’ll get details of the action as well as shots not possible with other angles. Mind you, the success rate is low because you’re focusing very close with a long lens, but when you hit it, it’s platinum. Or gold or anything shiny.

Side2 Side3

2. Tech stuff
Since it’s fast, you’ll need to shoot quite fast. No less than 1/800. But this all depends on how good your camera is in low light. I had to use ISO between 3200-6400 depending on the strength of the light in the arena. No flash. You also aren’t allowed to remote it. But I didn’t ask so maybe it’s possible?

3. The GAME
As always, know the rules. How many times does a person get to serve? When do they switch sides? What is the order of the post game handshake? How do they get on the court? When are they allowed to wipe their rackets and faces? How long is the time out? Who is playing in what court? How many sets / games? Know them, because if you don’t, you’re just and idiot.

Celebrations and defeats. Since this is a multi-point sports like basketball or golf, you’ll have ample opportunity to get the highs and lows during the course of the game. As for action shots, you’ll get a fair share of opportunities so if you miss one, shrug it off and prepare for the next one. But as with any sports, each players do have celebration tendencies. Some like to turn around, some like to face the opponent. Some like to pump the fist sideways. But what I did find is that they do tend to face their coach when they celebrate. Not all the time, but often. As for the downers, they are all over the place. So, keep your eyes peeled and your lens clean. But if they are playing an important point and if you are looking for a downer shot, just lock your lens on the guy and wait for him to fail. Tough, but that’s how it goes.

Celebration5 Celebration4 Celebration2 Celebration1 Celebration6

Be very aware of the what point they are on. If the guy is down 3-8 and he starts catching up, he’ll start going crazy around 6-8 and 7-8. Things go bonkers if he makes a shot instead of the opponent missing one.

Ah yes, the Asian factor. Things have gotten better, but Asian people suck at celebrating in sports. Especially the Japanese. It’s like they are emotionally stunted or something. The Koreans are like the Latin America of Asia so when they are fired up, you can’t miss it. Chinese are more like the Japanese in that they mask their emotions quite well. Since top players in the world are pretty much all Asians, you’ll really have to be on your toes when capturing the emotional moments. Don’t expect Tiger pumps and Chastain bras.

Well, that’s it. Sorry, I wasn’t really in the mood to be funny, but I’ll be back to normal next time.

Have a nice weekend. :)

Ryu

PS Moko, we love you and will miss you.

Moko

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Sucking in the details

Hello. It’s me again.
It’s been a slow month so far as I didn’t get the red carpet treatment for the 1st leg of the semi-final of the Champions League. I’m crossing my fingers to get into the return leg, but then the scores being what they are after the 1st leg, I don’t know if it’s even worth it. But then it beats staying at home and not doing anything. Yes, that includes shooting basketball here in Berlin.

Since our beloved Jewish rodeo captain gave you the “details” assignment for “You Win”, I thought I take up the challenge myself. Since the Alba(tross) Berlin was doing their thing at O2 World, I thought this would be a perfect platform for the assignment + getting better at shooting indoor sports. Because as you all know, I suck at shooting indoor sports.

Capturing details in sports is not very easy. If you’re one of the many who are happy with freezing action and having those pictures proudly presented on the refrigerator door, you’ve got to get yourself ready for some brain washing. Details in sports photography, according to my interpretation is a matter of macro and micro. Macro sports photography is the big stuff. The action, the joy and the sadness, and an image that encompasses everything without being specific. On the other hand, micro sports photography is a drop of sweat, an odd face in the crowd, and an element that stands out from the rest of the image in the frame. Therefore I didn’t really see this assignment as getting as close as possible to the subject or zooming into the subject. My decision was to find something odd or peculiar within the frame and make sure it is obvious enough so anyone can see it.

The shoes. I thought it would be interesting to shoot just shoes and get a shallow enough depth of field to concentrate on just one shoe. I don’t think I did particularly well here, but I just want you to know that was my intention. This was during the warmup before the game and warmup is a regular occurrence, I will try to shoot this composition again. To me, this would not have qualified as a “details” picture if the aperture was at f8 or above as more than a shoe will be in focus. Shoe is better than shoes.

Shoes

The face. I wanted to see some sweat, but there was none to be found. Which means they probably weren’t seriously warming up. Those lazy professionals. But when they were stretching, I noticed that some of them were making a face. So I tried to get as close as possible to get their expression. What’s important here is not to get too close. Because the closer you get, the only thing you’ll have left will be his face. This is problematic as there is no context within the frame. It is useless unless you are using this photo as part of a series. But if you too shoot too wide, the face will not be evident and will get lost in the chaos of a warm up session. Not easy, aye?

Face

The arms (and hands). We get too caught up in shooting the dude (dudette) with the ball or the person who is the conventional protagonist in your frame. But what if you take a step back and look at it from another perspective? Although this picture like the shoes is less than perfect, I wanted to show that there are things that are happening outside of a conventional shot. Here, I wanted to capture the shoving, pushing, and getting into position whilst getting the ball handler in the background I did fail, but you know what I mean. I’d like to further explore this in my next game alongside my failed foot fetish shots.

Hands

Details. Essential if you want to take the next step in sports photography. There is a reason why Getty people get paid more than you do and we’re not talking about their equipment. Those fools know what to look for and they are always looking for details in their shots (or not, depending on which Getty photographer we are talking about). For some of you detail spotting will come easy, but for some this will be an uphill battle. But so be it. It wont’ be fun if we give you easy stuff, would it? You still got about 2 weeks of this, so rack your brains and give us some of them details.

Ryu

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Darling, please compose yourself

As you do, I started my research with Google.

“composition photography rules”

Apparently there are more than 3 of these rules and I’m as surprised as you do. I have no idea if these rules are taught at schools or maybe they only teach you couple of them if you attended a state school. Maybe there are more of these rules because I googled them and we all know that google is cheaper than state schools.

Big thanks to http://www.photographymad.com, http://www.ephotozine.com, http://www.digitalcameraworld.com, http://photoinf.com, and http://www.smashandpeas.com/ for the rules.

Here are the rules in no order of importance:

-Rule of Thirds

-Balance

-Lines

-Framing

-Simplicity

-Symmetry and Patterns

-Viewpoint

-Background

-Depth

-Cropping

-Experimentation

-Fill the frame

-Aspect ratio

-Avoid the middle

-Use diagnosis

-Space to move

-Creative with colours

-Breaking the rules

-Don’t cut off limbs

-Rule of odds

-Avoiding Mergers

As you can see, there are lot of them and some of them are bit repetitive. As you can probably imagine, I don’t know any sports photographer who thinks about these things while shooting. But, this is not to say that you should not study them because by the power of the almighty lord of darkness and of all things sports photography, some of you REALLY need to hit the books when it comes to composition. I’m not going to say who, but you know who you are. Pop quiz at the end of this post.

You have two hands (if you don’t, I’m sorry), you have ten fingers (if you don’t, I’m really sorry), please google them after school.

Since I didn’t goto photography school and my formal photography education comes solely from an elective at Hong Kong International School, I’ll have to show you how to compose. Please thank me because usually I bin all the bad shots from my shoots. But I did think about you guys while I was culling them and therefore I can do this post with a picture aid.

Here is my 8 step program into better compositioned life. Why 8? Because it’s a lucky number in China (I’m Japanese) and there just happened to be 8 photos to describe what went on in my head whilst composing the final shot.

Step 1.
Germany v Kazakhstan. Cold. I spotted a railing next to where the players will be coming out. I thought it was a good idea because I can use the “twist the camera to line up the frame with the line” technique and there was no one else there. It’s also rare that players come down the stairs when they enter the pitch. They usually go up.

Step1Step 2.

I decided that maybe it was a bit too much with all those lines. I also wasn’t too crazy with them background. I also realised that I could use this zoom thing on my lens. So I did and got this German lady coming down the stairs. Better, but not quite. The composition and not the German lady.

Step2

Step 3.
I thought the lines were too simple and by flooding the background with things, it would lessen the fact that the background was terrible. For some reason I started to get hot and bothered with the more lines so I zoomed out. Hooray for the zoom lens.

Step3

Step 4.
Now I’m back to where I started. I was getting line fever and I wanted to cram in as many as possible. By doing this I was getting unwanted elements on both sides of the frame, so called security people with bright yellow vests. Background still too noisy.

Step4

Step 5.
The subs were coming in. Which meant the starting 11 will be coming shortly. Which meant I’m panicking because my composition is terrible. I also realised at this point that I could move in a lot closer to the stairs. The closer I get, the more angle I can use and therefore if I shoot for the sky, I’ll get the lines + dark sky thus eliminating my noisy background problem. Obviously, a moment of genius.

Step5

Step 6.
Beautiful simple lines. Beautiful plain background.

Step6

Step 7.
Why they have these pesky children come out of the tunnel with the players is beyond me. They ruin everything. They obviously ruined my composition because to get rid of them, I had to shoot at more of an angle, leaving the player’s head and a bit of his shoulder. In hindsight, if I shifted a bit towards the left, I would have had two equal boxes of lines and could have put two players inside each of them. But obviously, I was still in massive panic mode and I wanted to just frame one player in the middle box. Which wasn’t possible because when they come in they are usually tightly packed. The right side of the frame still manage to have crap. Fail.

Step7

Step 8.
Low and behold, when I was about to throw in the towel, the manager comes down the stairs and I’m ready for him. 3 lines, plain background, and head towards me. Score.

Step8

It’s obvious that I didn’t give you what you wanted. “Where is the rule of the thirds?” you say. “Lines, but what is the significance of the lines?” you say. “You cut of his limbs. Why oh Lord, why?” you say. I understand. What I try to demonstrate has not much to do about following the rules. Rather, imagining how the shot will be shot and how to get that shot. It’s akin to progression of a quarterback after a snap. You check down to the first one, no he’s covered. The second, no he forgot to tie his shoe laces. Third, he’s wide open and BAM! If this analogy makes no sense to you, it’s like a footballer and decision he takes after he gets the ball. Pass, dribble, shoot, or fall down? As you run through your options in your head and with the test shots (let’s all thank digital for this), you will be able to reach the composition you want. With this particular shot, I was adamant in using those rails as lines. Yes, rule number 83. So I tried different angles, different focal length, different number of lines, different background, and other different things to incorporate the lines into the shot.

Therefore the lesson here is not about the rules, but the process you will use in order to apply these rules into your composition. Sports is instinctual. If not instinctual, it is a product of training of repetitive movements which subsequently becomes muscle memory. Same goes for sports photography and composition. The more you shoot with intent, the more you will react rather than having to think about it. The key here is intent. If you’re not thinking about composition, you will never learn composition. Be very aware of how you want to compose and go down the list of things you need to do in order to achieve it. If you have to waste an entire match composing one specific shot, do it. You’ll learn so much from that one much then you would have learned shooting crisp well lit non-artsy photos we all love.

Pop quiz: Name me 5 rules that I gave you in the beginning and bust a rhyme with them.

Ryu

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Be creative or die trying

Dear Chris,

What’s obvious is that people in this Talkboringphotography.co.uk have really bad taste in photos. Sorry, let me rephrase that. MOST people have bad taste in photos, period. I do blame myself and the other media types for this because we just like to feed you garbage day in and day out. We do this because you guys have bad taste in photos. I don’t think cameras on phones help either. Instagram and flickr and other photo sharing sites subtract rather than add to this woe. But they are all here to stay, so what we can do is that we try to discover great photography from present and the past. All you need to do is to have impeccable high brow taste in photography.

BLFS is a response to the appalling state of sports photography. Cookie cutter shots are everywhere and there is no end in sight. The editors want safe pictures because they don’t want to risk it. So, no candy to people who thought BLFS is a place where we can project our daily frustrations on to your poorly composed photos. :) We also advocate a no-nonsense, no-excuse, no-bull shit attitude to sports photos (all 3 are the same, but I wanted to have 3 of them, so there). My dear Jewish friend and I could give two f*cks about why you couldn’t get a shot. Nor do we give a f*ck about “It’s my first time shooting this sport”. We don’t like excuses and neither does your mother. The only thing we care about is the end result and nothing else.

All this “Great photo!”, “Awesome shot!”, “Wow, you should be a pro!”, and “Get out of here Girlfriend! Your shots are soooo amazing! Kisses! We should do lunch soon!” pisses me off and I also hate exclamation points. If the photo is deserving of the accolades, then it deserves all the “girlfriend” included superlatives. But in most cases, it’s a “Let’s jerk each other off! Hooray!” attitude rampant with these type of forums and photography sites. I do blame our society who decided that we should all get participatory medals and it’s not good to hurt someone’s feeling. If your objective is to become a sports photographer, be honest with your critiques, given or taken. Tell them in a constructive manner how that person can improve their shots. Basically, be more like Matt and less like me. :) When someone criticises your photo, say thank you. You don’t have to follow their criticism word for word, but that person has taken the time to comment on your photo and for that you should be grateful.

I do understand that everyone needs some lovin’. I do. I need it so much that I post my pictures on flickr. I LOVE when people tell me positive things about my photos. My heart skips a beat when I see that someone had commented / favourited my photos. Here’s the doom. I kill myself critiquing my photos. I think you already know this, but I cannot stand my photos at times. So much so that I ask my wife and friends to critique them instead because my subjective view just won’t allow me any space to breathe. Therefore although I do love the the love, I only do it because I get no love from myself. My shrink said, I’m fine as long as I have other hobbies that require less self-loathing. I’m still trying to find this “hobby” thing.

Do I enjoy it? Hell no. I would rather tell myself that I’m the best in the world, wash my hands and forget that negativity ever existed. I do it because I want to be the best. I do it because I don’t want to stop innovating. I do it because I know I can get better.

I’m sure my wife will be very happy if I took that kind of approach to keeping the house clean, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

To answer your question, there is no definitive divide between the two. I have clients who like my photos and will give me a carte blanche to do what I want to do. These tend to be big guys like Nike and Adidas. This also is very comforting because they are really buying into my style. So for those who say creativity doesn’t sell, they could shove couple up there. But I have clients, mainly magazines, who prefer more conservative approach. So, I give them my conservative sharp well composed photos that we all love. But I have made a career out of shooting differently from others. I mean, why would anyone buy my pictures if they were exactly the same as the ones you can get from Getty, AFP, Reuters, etc…?

But if you are an amateur (semi-pro is an amateur, just so you know) who occasionally sell photos, but you have a day job making billions, then why not go creative every chance you get? Are you that fragile that you need to comfort yourself by taking shots of cars like everyone else? I’m sure your forum mates at Talkcrapphotography.co.uk will poo poo your photos, but we won’t. We will be more impressed that you took some risks to get a once in a lifetime photo than to present us with photos we will all yawn at.

IF you want to become a better photographer, you have come to the right place here in BLFS. We will make you a better photographer even though you will be crying yourself to sleep every night. IF you just want some kumbaya and fake love and ultimately laziness, stay at Talkischeaphotography.co.uk.

Choice is yours.

Ryu

Creativity

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Creativity vs Marketability

Listener “Chris” writes in with a question:

Hi Guys, wondered if I could spare your thoughts……

I recently joined a forum on motor sport photography but was sick of seeing the same generic boring photos on each thread, which at best were no better than the type of motor sport shots you often get on training ground, followed by comments saying ‘great set of photos!’…….So I posted a bit of a rant telling people to be more creative and think about the photos they were taking and to experiment etc.

Many people then looked at my photos and gave me a bit of a slating and made the point that they take images that are more ‘marketable’ and that most clients want normal ‘stock’ images and not the type of photos I am trying to create.

I am under no illusions about my photography skills at present and I am still a long way off where I want to be in terms of ability, but I really thought I had a clear vision and that my photography was improving well. Having since posted that thread however I am suddenly feeling a bit lost and not sure if I am heading in the right direction.

Where do you draw the line between creativity and marketability? Do you have to reign in your creativity in order to make a career from sports photography? I would love to know your thoughts and perhaps this is something you could even discuss on a future podcast?

If you would like to see the thread yourself, which is quite interesting, the link is here.

You can also check out my website from there, should you wish. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and keep up the good work! Love the podcast and you guys have helped me a lot with it!

Thanks to Chris for writing in. This question is loaded with things that we talk about on BLFS, so let’s try to unpack it all.

First off, very little good comes from photography forums. Sure it might occasionally be helpful to go to the ones at DPReview to read about other photographers’ experiences with gear you’re thinking of buying or to get solutions to technical problems or compare the relative merits of various software. But as a venue for honest critique and discussion of pictures, I honestly can’t think of a worse place to go than a photography forum. I wrote a post last year called +1s, Likes & Faves that covered part of this:

I have a lot of photographer friends on Facebook, and I see their pictures and sometimes the pictures that they like. I see comments/favorites on the pictures that land in the Big Lens Fast Shutter group on Flickr. And every time, I wonder “Does the person that made the picture know it sucks despite all the positive feedback?” Most people don’t know any sports photographers, and unless you are one, there’s almost no chance you know more than one. So all of your friends who just love your pictures probably have no idea what they are talking about. They’re impressed because you froze the action. They’re impressed that you managed to get the faces in focus and a ball in the frame. But as we say time and again, this is just a very small part of sports photography.

With very few exceptions, people who have time to post/comment on pictures on photography forums aren’t professional photographers, and if they are, they’re not busy ones, and if they’re not busy, they probably aren’t very good. So you end up with a mix of people who will just go and like everyone’s pictures because they’re clueless or people who will diss everyone’s pictures because they are jealous/insecure/etc. Prevailing forum opinion will congeal around the mods or the most outspoken members, and you’re left with groupthink. A few years ago I was shooting a rodeo with a fellow photographer friend. He was working on some really long exposure panning shots and while I was reviewing some of my non-panning shots, another photographer came up to me and asked me why my pictures were “so sharp” while my friend’s were “so blurry”. These are the people looking at and judging your pictures. We offer Training Ground to help people get better. No one has to participate, and we’re not passing our opinions off as anything other than the views of professional sports photographers who have been through it all. But seriously, listen to us, or at least other full-time professionals rather than forum-dwellers.

Motorsports 2011 - May 15 - AMA West Coast Moto Jam

Chris learned the hard way that hacks (amateur, semi-pro and pro) often justify their lack of creativity by claiming that they are "just giving their clients what they want." With the exception of newspaper photographers whose only responsibility is the one race per year their local track, all other photographers who shoot motorsports are competing against all other photographers who shoot motorsports. So a "normal stock" picture of a driver on one track is going to look exactly like a "normal stock" picture of a driver on every other track. And since teams, drivers, and sponsors are for the most part the same throughout the season, "normal stock" pictures from the first few races will spread across wire service databases long before the series gets to your town. Here's a simple search for "Jeff Gordon race” on Icon Sports Media’s site, 16 pages of mostly boring pictures that look more-or-less the same. Multiply those pictures across the other wire archives, and honestly, what is one more “normal stock” picture of Jeff Gordon’s car frozen on pavement worth to anyone? Is someone going to pay you $500 when they can go to Icon and get a nearly identical picture for $25? Of course not. Is spending a race weekend making the same picture of different frozen cars for a handful of $25 sales a good use of anyone’s time? Is it even photography at that point? I’m going to say no because really, you could train an actual chimp to do it.

Formula-Drift-Locked-and-Loaded-83-Michael-EssaMonster-Energy-AMA-Supercross-1-30-10-145

Chris asks: “Where do you draw the line between creativity and marketability? Do you have to reign in your creativity in order to make a career from sports photography?”

I think about creativity all the time and I think about marketability almost never. Will I sometimes frame a picture differently to allow an editor/designer to overlay text? Sure. Will I skip part of an event at at rodeo to move to a different shooting position to make sure I get a picture of one of my clients’ endorsers? Of course. But these pictures are still going to represent my vision, and for the most part look different from other photographers’ pictures, and therefore increase my marketability, which will long outlive the marketability of any single picture I can make. Since we’re on the subject of motorsports, take a look at my motorsports portfolio. I shoot 2-3 motorsports events per year, so I’m far from a specialist, but I’m sure that my pictures showcase my vision, aren’t commodities, don’t look like everyone else’s, and represent me well to potential clients. If I was worried that the lack of “normal stock” pictures would hurt me with potential clients, wouldn’t I put up 20 of them and call it a day?

MC1_2108

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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How to Edit Your Photos With Brad Smith

Brad Smith, recently the senior sports photoeditor for The New York Times was named to replace Steve Fine as the director of photography at Sports Illustrated. In this video, Smith packs a ton of great information about editing into 10 minutes.

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Remote Camera Gear List

After our Master Class on remotes in Episode 24, listener Ben had a question:

Would it be possible for you to link to recommended products that might work well as a remote “starter kit”? In the podcast magic arms, super clamps, and safety cable were mentioned, but there seem to be quite a few options available.

Also, I’ve never used Pocketwizards, but when using them, do you just leave it transmitting the whole game or are you frequently turning it off and on depending on the game situation? For example, if you have a remote camera aimed at home plate and the transmitter is “on”, is it firing every time you fire your camera in-hand? If that’s the case you would end up with tons of, likely useless, photos of batters and such if it goes off every time you’re shooting something else with your in-hand camera. Then again I’m not sure how cumbersome it is to turn the transmitter off and on again as the game situation changes. So I was just curious how firing the remote camera works with the transmitter basically.

First things first, here is the gear I use for remotes:

Manfrotto 709B mini tripod
Lowel Safety Cables
Avenger Super Clamp
Manfrotto 244 Variable Friction Magic Arm with Camera Platform
PocketWizard Plus II
PocketWizard Plus III
Pre-Trigger Cables

The mini tripod is great for behind-the-goal remotes for soccer, and sometimes I will use it for a close remote camera at my feet while shooting basketball.

CONCACAF Gold Cup - Mexico vs Nicaragua 67 - Pablo Barrera & Carlos Mendieta (1)

The safety cables are a must if you are setting your remote somewhere that it can fall more than a few inches. Use more than one, and connect them to different parts of the setup just in case.

Arizona at California 2-5-11 126

The super clamp is the base, and can hold up to 33 pounds. You need to make sure you can attach it to a stable surface.

The Magic Arm attaches to the super clamp, and comes in different setups, but this one is the one I have found the most useful. Variable friction is important as it allows you to make fine adjustments to the positioning. The camera plate attaches the camera to the arm. For extra stability in rough environments, some people use 2 arms. The time a monster dunk bounced my 14-24mm off the backside of the backboard would have been a nice time for 2 arms.

You need something to trigger the remote camera and Pocket Wizards are the industry standard. I use Plus IIs simply because I haven’t had a great reason to upgrade yet, but if you are starting out get the Plus IIIs. The Plus IIs are cheaper, but are old tech and have only 4 channels to the Plus IIIs 32. This matters if you are using remotes at an event where a bunch of other photographers are also using remotes. You need a cable (other than the one that comes with the Pocket Wizards) to fire the camera, and make sure you get one that is marked “Pre-Trigger” so that your camera stays “awake” and ready to accept the signal to fire. Which cable you need depends on which Pocket Wizard and camera you are using. For example Nikon pro cameras have a 10-pin connector, and Nikon consumer cameras have other varieties.

Keep in mind that using a pre-trigger cable will simulate half-pressing the shutter button continuously, so make sure you have a full battery.

To answer the second part of the question, it depends on the circumstances. A remote in the rafters or behind the backboard means you need to set up early and wait until everything is done before you can check your cards. One behind a soccer goal or clamped to the vertical support of a basket or behind home plate you can usually check at halftime. One at your feet or nearby you can check more often.

How often it fires is up to you. You need to leave the remote camera and its Pocket Wizard on, but the Pocket Wizard on your hand-held camera you can switch on and off depending on whether you want the remote to fire. Another option is to use the Pocket Wizard off camera and operate it via the fire button. For instance, When I set up a backboard remote, I will sit at the opposite baseline and shoot handheld in that end and fire the backboard camera with just the Pocket Wizard fire button when the action is near the hoop with the remote.

The bottom line is testing and practice are important for remotes. You need to learn the gear and its possibilities, and you have to make sure you’re using it safely and effectively.

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: 2013 Plan and Goals

We preach a lot about planning, analyzing shoots and adjusting, and doing things differently. It’s basically the BLFS method. I thought it might be instructive to share my plans and goals for the upcoming rodeo season.

The first few seasons I shot rodeo, it was a lot of work to get credentialed, and I never knew if my next one would be my last of the season. Now between rodeo committees & staff, stock contractors and my clients, I’m able to shoot all of the rodeos I can get to, so I can now think of the season as a whole rather than “I need to get pictures of XYZ cowboy because I may not see him again for a year.” This is of course incredibly liberating because I can have an actual plan rather than forcing pictures that may not be there.

I didn’t shoot much on either side of the holidays, so I had plenty of time to think about my plan. I ended up sifting through my entire rodeo archive, adding keywords and deleting bad or duplicate pictures to the tune of about 25% of the total size. I looked at pictures from each rodeo and decided that I need to shoot looser at some of the smaller arenas, so I’ll bring a 300mm in addition to my 400. The 300 will allow me to get a couple more jumps in the bucking events before I have to either stop shooting or switch cameras to the 70-200mm.

I tend not to shoot a whole lot of team roping. I like watching the event a lot, but the distance between header and heeler means you have to shoot with a relatively wide lens from a relatively long distance. This of course results in loose, low-impact pictures with little ability to isolate the action from often-busy backgrounds. Go ahead, do a Google image search for team roping and tell me I’m wrong. But not shooting it because I don’t like the pictures means saying no to potential clients who call asking for pictures of their endorsees who are team ropers. This is bad business, so I’m going to make a change this year and devote time during slack (rodeo’s version of qualifying) to getting tight singles of all the team ropers. Sponsors don’t often need header and heeler in the same picture, so singles will allow me to say yes to those requests much more often.

I’m going to continue a long-term project I thought of towards the end of last season. I’m going to hold back the exact nature of the project until it’s further along, but for the purposes of this post, it’s not relevant. Whether you’re getting ready to shoot a season of Little League, high school football, or MLB, think of something that ties the season together (as opposed to it being just a collection of games) and commit to it.

Finally, I’m going to just flat out work harder than I did last year. I always hustle no matter what I’m shooting, but when I went back through my pictures from last year I noticed that on days when I shot a night performance followed by early morning slack, I didn’t get many if any behind-the-chutes pictures the following night performance. This is nothing more than a stack of missed opportunities, and I’m going to fix that if I have to corner the market in both coffee and Red Bull this year.

During rodeo season, the vast majority of my time spent not shooting is traveling and cleaning both my gear and my clothes. I’m going to try to schedule review time each week to make sure I’m sticking to my plan and getting what I need.

It’s true that “A battle plan will never survive the first contact” but it’s still better to have one and need to make adjustments later than to fly blind. Obviously my plan won’t be your plan, but I hope that the thought that went into what I’ll be doing can get you to think about how to plan for your own schedule.

MC1_9331

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Showcasing Your Work vs Image Theft

Really appreciated your post on keepers rate and have also made the experience about taste or lack of taste of photoeditors.
But to the point: where you mention “…If you want to showcase your good photos, the best solution is to showcase them on your personal website…” there goes another question:
How do we as photographers avoid or better limit image theft if we want to post “good” pictures on the net?
Obviously this is a good theme for a PHD thesis but maybe you and Matt can eventually in spare time give your own solutions in the future?
Ciao and keep it up
David Steck via Flickr

Note that David directed this question at Ryu, and his keeper rate post, not mine which I did at the point of a virtual gun.

I’ll start out by saying that Ryu is 100% correct about showcasing your very best pictures on your personal website. Anyone just starting out is in no position to rely on people stumbling across enough of their published work to create interest. So you need your own website both for passive traffic (Google) and to send out to show editors/clients what you can do. And whenever you put your name on something, you need to show your best work and only your best work.

Image theft is as old as the internet. As long as people can click and drag, your photos are their photos. Sure you can code a site that makes it more difficult to copy pictures: Doing the whole thing in flash, using a script that prevents right-clicks/adds blank file overlays can all deter casual copying. But flash doesn’t display on iPads (a large and growing share of web traffic) and scripts are easily circumvented by 12-year-olds. And even flawless implementations of the above tactics are 100% susceptible to a simple screenshot. In short, it’s not worth worrying about. You need your pictures to be seen, and that’s that.

What can you do to “protect” your pictures? You can watermark them. Some people put giant obnoxious watermarks on every picture. Ryu doesn’t watermark. I use a small watermark on certain pictures on my blog/facebook, but none on my main portfolio. How I came to this is surely idiosyncratic, but hopefully my process can help you figure out what’s best for your specific situation.

First, your pictures are almost certainly worth less (in pure money terms) than you think. My awesome picture of Serena Williams celebrating her Bank of the West Classic championship sold to SI.com for a grand total of $25, and that’s before my agency took their cut.

serena

Pictures that run in print are sell for significantly more, but not enough more to make that much of a difference. And SI (and all other reputable outlets) buy their pictures legitimately. Commercial use commands several times as much in fees, and the vast majority of businesses will also buy pictures rather than trying to base an ad campaign on a copyright violation and the triple damages that can come from such violations. Assuming that you will be fairly compensated for the most lucrative uses of your pictures is a safe bet. NFL/MLB/NCAA/etc players similarly don’t generally mis-appropriate pictures. The common thread is knowledge of copyright law, and that it’s cheaper to pay for pictures rather than to risk paying fines later. Mistakes happen, like poorly trained interns taking pictures, mock-ups finding their way to production, etc, but one email can generally solve the problem and yield a check.

So what does that leave? For me, that leaves a few high school games that I shoot for the paper, and of course rodeo, the bulk of my current business. Unfortunately young people (all HS kids and the vast majority of rodeo cowboys) have grown up in the Napster/Tumblr era where everything is supposed to be free and copyright is a foreign concept. If you shoot young people and they can find your pictures, those pictures will end up on Facebook and other social media, and you can take that to the bank, or not, since you’re not getting paid for that anyway. Using the SI.com (millions of visitors) model, how much is a picture on an 18-year-old’s Facebook wall worth? I think you see my point.

Yes, it’s frustrating to see someone use your work without permission, we’ve all been there. But you have to separate emotion from the facts of the situation. I use watermarks on HS and rodeo pictures because if the pictures are going to be clipped and shipped to social media, I want people to know for sure where they came from, so my watermark is © mattcohenphoto.com, year. I’ve saved the worst case for last, because thankfully it’s rare. Small businesses, where one person makes the decisions without the benefit of a legal department or advisors who understand simple copyright law, steal pictures and use them for all kinds of purposes, from social media to full-on advertising. I’ve had this happen with more than a few rodeo-related small businesses, and generally getting in touch with them and explaining to them that they either need to pay me or I will sue them results in a check. Rarely do I have to get my lawyer involved, but it happens. But the point is that the damage (amount of sale lost to unauthorized use) is minor compared to what you would get from legitimate use, put another way, the people who will pay you more know that they need to to pay you.

Given all of this, you’re only hurting yourself if you let fear of unauthorized use stop you from building a great portfolio that features your very best work.

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: How one becomes a professional

It’s snowing in Berlin and I got this message in the mail a while back:

Im in college right now and I am interested in what you do for a living. I would love to get into sports photography after I graduate. I am wondering how exactly you got to the point where you are now, and are able to go to so many different sports matches and get paid for it. I would love to know what steps I should take after college that will help me get hired as a freelance photographer.

BTW your sports photos are awesome, and I always look forward to seeing my favorite soccer players on your flickr account.

Joel Bierwas

I’m going to do a semi-flow chart to show how simple it is to become a professional sports photographer:

Graduate from university with a psychology major ->
Graduate from graduate school with a MA in forensic psychology ->
Can’t stay in America because can’t get a working visa ->
Don’t want to goto PhD program as it takes too long and also unsure about forensic psychology as a career ->
Devastated as there is no goal in life anymore ->
Go back to Japan ->
Work at a restaurant for 3 months ->
Realise that Germans can work legally in England legally ->
Move to England ->
Work as a business man for 5 years ->
Realise that business man work is not fun ->
Decides that photography is the way to go because it’s fun ->
Decides to become the Japanese James Nachtwey ->
Quit job ->
Start photography career ->
No job for 6 months ->
Run out of savings ->
On the dole ->
Ask parents for money as no money for food ->
Start looking for any job as need to pay rent and keep on eating food ->
Doom and gloom as I’m now 30 years old ->

So far, very easy right?

Visit a friend who is the bureau chief of a Japanese broadsheet in London ->
Tells me to visit his friend who is the head of the photography division of the said broadsheet HQ in Japan ->
Goto Japan ->
Visit the head of the photography division ->
“We need a photographer for the Confederations Cup in Germany” ->
No idea what “Confederations Cup” is ->
“Have you ever shot sports?” ->
Answer: “No” ->
“There is a match tomorrow. Take our gear and show us if you can shoot sports ->
Take gear and shoot a football match ->
Bring photos to the head of the photography division ->
My photos pass the test ->
Goto Germany for 2 weeks and stay at people’s houses because newspaper will not pay for hotel ->
Work like a whore ->
Meet another photographer who asks me if shooting Shunsuke Nakamura who will be playing for Glasgow Celtic for the upcoming season is a possibility ->
Answer: “Yes”

Yup, a cinderella ending.

As for how you can get paid to shoot sports, well, it’s difficult. I am one of the few remaining freelance sports photographer on this planet. Not many left as most of them have decided to join the galactic empire (aka agencies). I sometimes shoot matches I know I might not break even because of the expenses incurred (flights, trains, buses, Quaker Carraiges) for these matches. As a freelance, you also have to pay for your own equipment. So you need about 10,000 EUR to start off with. Off to mortgage your kidneys!

The relatively easy way is to join the reason sports photography is going down the drain, aka agencies. They will give you a monthly wage, insurance, hot meals, equipment, access to the hottest matches in town, and they might let you keep your dignity on a good day. The downside of all this is that you have no say in which match you will shoot. In most cases, you will shoot stuff other than sports. That’s right, you will be there whore, just like everyone else. But then you won’t go hungry, but you might be a fat pig by the end of it all. Your choice.

If you are adamant in joining the rebel alliance, you will need to do a lot of leg work and show a lot of not-really-as-important-as-they-say-they-are people your work. Newspapers, website, magazines, and your most hated enemies. You’ll also need a lot of luck as most places are not hiring, but firing. It would help if you have your own style as most places have enough dull pictures from the agencies to choose from. Showing your work on FB, flickr, and other fun social sites is also a good way to spread the world of Joel. For instance, I got my Nike job when they saw me on flickr. True story.

And most importantly, a whole lotta luck (and love from friends and families and ex lovers).

I have to admit that my way is not the most conventional way to start a career as a freelance sports photographer. Hopefully other people will chime in and give Joel some wisdom on this matter. If you have anymore questions, please feel free to ask.

Ryu

PS Thanks for the compliments on my photos. Obviously, I can’t get enough. :)

RMadridVRSociedad

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Keeper Rate

I’m writing this post under protest because I find it to be a distraction at best. I understand that as you’re learning, there is an urge to quantify things, but this isn’t the way. Here’s Ryu’s take.

Assuming you have modern gear, you will get better at tracking action and getting pictures in focus. Fixating on keeper rates misses the point of what we’re trying to teach here. You could sit on the same kinds of plays and shoot them the same way, and I promise you’ll end up with all of them in focus. I could shoot a quarterback dropping back to pass every time for an entire football season and get 99% of them in focus. But I don’t shoot like that, and I don’t recommend it. I want guys diving for passes and blocking punts. I want quiet moments in the midst of hectic sidelines. These things happen fast and other people are constantly getting in the way. I miss sometimes, but my hits are better than someone who’s shooting the same picture over and over again.

My best advice is to stop focusing on mechanics whether it’s AF settings, gear, exposure programs, and develop your eye. It’s the only thing that you have control over and the only thing no one else can take away from you.

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: Keeper Rate

Morning from Berlin. It’s not too cold today, even warm. If you start thinking that 1 degrees celsius is warm, you’ve got a problem.

About a week ago, I received this email from Tom:

Hi Ryu,

Following your request for questions in one of recent podcasts thought I’d ask about ‘keep rate’.

I am an amateur using a 400d and a 70-200 L, currently aiming to becoming good enough to set up and sell shots to parents in junior rugby.

I find my keep rate is largely based on whether the image is in focus or not. As such, even though I know that some images are not that exciting or interesting, so little are acceptable that they ‘make the cut’.

Does a pro sports photographer manage to get most shots in focus and consequently have all these to choose from?
Can you delve further into what should be considered whilst deciding whether to keep or not?

cheers,
Tom

Note that it was addressed to me and not to Matt. Which means Tom trust me more. Bazinga.

The first question is whether we, the handsome sports photographers, manage to get most of our shots in focus and consequently have all these to choose from. Long story short, the answer is “maybe”.

As a professional sports photographer, you should be able to get a lot of photos in focus. The exceptions will be that you had a busted D4 like I did or didn’t know how to set it up properly to take sports photos. In most cases, whatever sports I take, I know how to get things in focus. This comes from my equipment being very good, I have had lots of experience shooting a particular sports so it’s basically muscle memory, and my overall experience as a sports photographer will usually allow me to get things in focus whatever the sports may be. Now, would I consider photos that are in focus keepers? No, definitely not. But here are scenarios which will force me to keep the shots that I don’t like, but are in focus.

1. If my assignment requires me to get a specific shot.
2. If I think I can use the shot for something in the future.

As for the first one, it’s pretty self explanatory. My client tells me that he wants a picture of player A. I take pictures of him that are in focus and even if I think they are worthy of Training Ground, since having player A in focus is my requirement, I send these shots to the client. This happened recently with Kim Yu-Na the figure skater. I shot her at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund and sent shots of her to several magazines because they were asking for them. I sent ones I personally liked as well as shots I didn’t like, but knew that they would want to see shots like that. The only criteria for the latter was that she was in focus and she was visible from head to toe. Needless to say, almost none of the shots I liked were chosen and all the head to toe-in focus shots were chosen. That’s a life of a sports photographer.

As for the second one, sometimes a client will ask me “Do you have a picture of player B?”, to which I reply “I do”. Now, I know I do have pictures of player B, but there is a possibility that these are photos that are in focus, but not necessarily ones that are considered “good” in my books. I send them and they use them. I cry inside.

I am hoping at this juncture you realise a common theme: I don’t decide what is good, they decide what is good. There isn’t much I can do about this practice as I can’t teach taste and this site is not called “Bad taste Finicky editors”. But what I can do is to limit their opportunity to use crappy photos. This is important because if they use your crappy photo, you name will forever be associated with the crappy photo. For instance, if I am asked to submit photos of player C, I only submit ones that I like. The danger here is that they might not use any of the photos I like, but would have considered photos I didn’t like. But since I didn’t send them, I wouldn’t know. It’s a tough decision to make as you want the money, but you also don’t want to be associated with a crappy photo. Usually money wins. If you want to showcase your good photos, the best solution is to showcase them on your personal website.

The second question: Can you delve further into what should be considered whilst deciding whether to keep or not? I’m assuming he wants to know which ones to keep and which ones go straight to the incinerator. First, when I start culling my photos, I go with the ones that are crap. Like I’ll get a pasting from clone Ryu Voelkel and evil Matt Cohen in Training Ground crap. They maybe out of focus, they may have crap composition, or they may just be crap. Next, I start to look for ones that can be used in every possible scenario. These are the ones that are usually in focus, but not necessarily the ones I like. Finally I start to pick ones that are in focus and the ones I like. These will show up on my flickr feed and end up on my personal website.

There you have it. I hope I answered your question. Tom, if you have any follow up questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

One last thing. My true keeper rate, the ones that are in focus and the ones that I personally like are 5/1000. About 0.5% per match.

Ryu

KeeperRate

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: How to shoot Non-Action sports

MC3_1631

When you get to a certain point in your sports photography journey, you eventually realize that it’s a commodity game. If you’re shooting a major college football game, there will be 40-60 other photographers there, more than 100 if it’s a major bowl game. At the Rose Bowl in 2011, there were assigned positions in both end zones because there were so many people shooting. This is of course an extreme example, but even where teams/leagues are restricting access, you’re not going to be shooting all by yourself. And it follows that if dozens of people are in roughly the same place shooting the same play, there’s a limit to how much better the best photographer’s picture is going to be relative to everyone else’s. Sure, you can get an edge with better positioning, better timing, etc, but there’s very little you can do to really blow everyone else out of the water.

How do you get an edge? Shoot other things. As we say over and over again, you only need so many peak action pictures, two guys fighting over a ball is two guys fighting over a ball. Unless one of them loses his shorts in the process, the picture probably isn’t going to stand out much. But on the sidelines and in the stands, things are happening that other people aren’t shooting.

Some things I do:

1) Always get there early. I mean two hours before game time early. Shoot the players warming up because they’ll be loose and you’ll have a much better chance of getting closeups.

2) Walk up into the stands. Fans do crazy things whether it’s wearing costumes or body paint or holding clever signs. These kinds of pictures will add another dimension to your shoot, and will show that you’re not afraid to step away from the action and seek out pictures that will give your editor some flexibility if there’s extra space to fill.

3) Keep an eye out for emotion. Yes it can happen on the field after a big play, but it happens just as often on the sidelines if a player is injured or a coach is displeased with his team’s performance. Sports are played by real-life people, and if you don’t find a way to illustrate this on a regular basis, you have most certainly failed.

4) Use your surroundings. It’s not always possible to shoot in great light, but if you’re not shooting the action, you can move around and find pockets of light or backgrounds that work and compose a picture that’s out of the ordinary.

The more you shoot, the more you will come to appreciate the non-action pictures. Out of my own favorite pictures, i’d bet that seven out of every ten are not action pictures. Long after anyone has ceased caring who won or lost a specific game, it’s the human pictures that will endure. In the words of Hans and Franz, hear me now and believe me later.

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Ryu: How to shoot Non-Action sports

BLFSNOV2012E

Sports, action. Action, sports. They go hand in hand like Thelma and Louise, Jordan and Pippen, and Elgin and not so nice people.

For You Win (YW) this month, we told you to show us some awesome Non-Action sports pics. This meant that we are expecting you to give us moments in sports that didn’t come with the following thought bubbles: “Freezing the action. Totally awesome!” and “Peak action. Totally radical!”.

Early 1990′s aside, this is the type of shots you will need to be able to get if you are to become the complete sports photographer that we want you to become. I will give you my take on what these moments are and when and where you can get them.

1. What is non-action?
Seems completely contradictory, doesn’t it? Sports is about action and sports photography is about capturing the action in sports. Even though we love delicious dark Belgian chocolates, on occasion, you’re going to be craving for some salt and vinegar crisps. It’s all about balance and it’s the ying and yang of sports photography. From the top of my head, I can come up with celebrations, conversations, resting, stretching, praying, preparation, locker room, pre and post match, and a moment of silence during a match.

I think you understand what celebration is, but I’m talking about the subdued ones. Not the ones with Tiger pumping, rather an embrace with teammates / coaches, doing the pointing Jesus / Allah stuff, and moments before being engulfed by the teammates.

Conversations is just that. Players signaling or talking with each other. Resting can be during the match as well as during training. Might go well with stretching. Praying could be seen before the match starts or celebrating after a score, but it’s more pointing than praying I guess. Some do it before they enter the pitch. Preparation is before the match that might go with the locker room. If you can get access to shoot in the locker room, you will get some great non-action shots. Stuff that happens before and after the match, starting grid for track and field comes into mind. Last but not least, there are some great opportunities of non-action peppered during a game.

2. When is non-action?
Anytime and anywhere For example, baseball player giving a foul ball to a kid during a game. But if you are not used to shooting these moments, shift all your attention towards searching for these moments as they will go missing when your eyes are glued to that hockey puck bouncing off the walls. What you need to do is to use your peripheral vision to seek out these non-action moments and once you do, react very quickly. You might be able to get a shot of a coach shouting at his players numerous times during a match, but you might not find a player writhing in pain in front of you all that often.

3. How is non-action?
Since non-action is my favorite type of sports photography, this comes a lot easier for me than the traditional action filled sports photos. My favorite time to get it done is pre match. When the athletes take on the pitch for their warm-ups, they tend to be a bit more relaxed. Concentrate on interactions between players as well as some alone time as they tie their shoe laces, stretch, and pick their noses. Once the game starts, I tend to look for gaps and pauses during the match. Using the rosin bag, coach showing players clipboard stuff, moments before free kicks, picking up a ball, re-tieing the obi, and etc… But same as above and that if you are not used to shooting these images, you have to concentrate very hard. If you are doing it for the first time, go 30:70. 30% action, 70% non-action. This is not the number of shots you are going to take rather, time and energy spent on each type of these shots. I think Matt and I have told you in the past that there is no point shooting athletes doing the same thing over and over and over as there will be no difference from pitcher in the 1st inning and the 5th inning. After the match, jubilation and defeat are common place, but my favourite is the moment when they are just about to get back into the tunnel and back into their locker rooms. Depending how close you can get, you might get sweat, dirt, and pieces of skin from the opponent on their faces as well as rising steam if you are outside.

I have posted some of the non-action shots I have taken this past month. Motion blur might not be used all that often, but non-action shots, I believe, are as essential as its action packed brother in law with emotional problems.

Speaking of emotional problems and families… I shouldn’t go there as Christmas is way too close.

Ryu

PS As always, please let us know what you want us to talk about and we will make sure to blend that into our future podcasts and blog posts. Unless Matt’s mother vetoes it, but that’s another story altogether.

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Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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Matt: Insurance

From reader/listener Andrew M.:

What kind of insurance, PAI, Health, Gear, etc do you carry ?
Do you have to carry a certain amount / kind of insurance ?
Is it mandated by the sport’s governing body or the venue ?
Is it required in order to be accredited ?
At what stage in your career did you start carrying insurance ?

Andrew titled his email “Very unsexy question” but short of the pictures themselves and cashing commercial checks, very little about this job is sexy.

Insurance on gear, like anything else valuable, is important. Since everyone has different amounts of gear and are in different professional situations, I’ll answer this by detailing my own history with insurance. You can determine your own needs and ask follow-up questions in the comments if you have them.

After a trip to New Orleans to document the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, where I felt as if I could be robbed of my gear at any moment, I decided that I needed specific insurance on my gear. In general, your possessions are covered by renter’s/homeowner’s insurance, and as long as you have receipts and the total value of your possessions is under the limits, you will for the most part be covered. I’m wary of companies that make their money NOT paying for things, and since insurance companies fall under this category, I didn’t want to solely rely on my renter’s insurance. My agent ended up selling me an inland marine rider which specifically covered my camera and computer gear (all listed by serial number) for a few hundred dollars per year.

The upsides of riders like this are price, convenience, and the fact that detailing all of the gear in advance tends to prevent complications if you need to make a claim. The downsides are the probability of your renter’s/homeowner’s premium going up if you make a claim on your rider, limits on what kinds of damage are covered (stolen gear would be covered, dropped gear might not), limits on value of gear covered, and limits on what you can do with the gear on the policy, and deductibles that are often high.

The rider made a lot of sense for me when I had a different day job and was attempting to break into professional photography. But as I spent more on gear (multiple D3 bodies) I started hitting the limits, and it got to the point when I bought my 400 that it was not allowed on my rider because it was over the limit for any one piece of gear. Around this time I started being published more, and even though I wasn’t a full-time professional photographer, I was informed that simply having bylines out there, that my claim could be denied for being a professional photographer using the gear for business uses.

Since the purpose of insurance is the security of knowing that you can replace your gear no matter what happens, and the rules and limits were stacked against me, I started researching stand-alone professional photographer’s insurance. I went with a policy written by the Thomas C. Pickard Agency backed by Fireman’s Fund. Their combination of rates, coverage, and service has been great for the years that I have been with them, though I have never made a claim. There are plenty of other choices including a solution available to National Press Photographers Association members. The key is to find a policy that covers what you need and doesn’t include a lot of things you don’t need. For example, similar policies might more heavily cover rental gear and if you don’t rent a lot of gear you’re paying for something you don’t need.

As far as liability/personal accident insurance, this will never come on an inland marine rider, but will certainly come on a dedicated professional photographer policy. This covers things like a light stand falling one someone and insuring them or starting a fire that causes a bunch of damage. For the vast majority of sports photographers, this isn’t a major concern, and no league/venue will require it for ordinary shooting. I have had to shot proof of liability insurance when setting up backboard remote cameras at basketball games, but never anywhere else. But if you basically shoot sports photojournalism and can get away without remotes and don’t shoot in the studio, the liability/accident insurance is mostly a luxury, but one that is built in to almost all professional policies.

How much does it cost? The standard plan is something like $800/year for $30,000 in camera gear plus allowances for computers and peripherals, plus the rental coverage and liability. $500 deductible is normal with lower premiums for incrementally higher deductibles. It’s important to ask about replacement value when specific pieces of gear are no longer made, i.e. you can’t buy a new D3 anymore, and the D4 is 20% more expensive.

Hopefully that answers everything, but if more related questions come up, ask them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer. If you have other questions you would like to see us answer, let us know.

*Please Read Below*

Big Lens Fast Shutter is funded solely from the pockets of Ryu Voelkel and Matt Cohen. If you think the information we give you about sports photography is making you a better sports photographer and as a result a well balanced human being, please show us your appreciation by clicking on the “Donate” button and send some of your hard earned dollars/euros/Brixton pounds our way. People who donate will be mentioned on our next show unless you want to remain anonymous. Thank you for supporting us and may the force of sports photography be with you, always.
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