Planning. Some people get allergic reactions when they hear that word and I would have agreed with them 6 years ago. Back then, I lived for the moment and the moment lived for me. But since I became a professional sports photographer, I had to say goodbye to the moment and go steady with planning. I’m now even thinking about marriage, but maybe I’m a bit ahead of schedule.
When shooting sports, your planning skills will be tested to the limit, at least that’s how I felt about it then and that’s how I feel about it now. Obviously, the more you shoot a certain sports, the more you understand the specifics of what to look out for during the course of the match. Once you are comfortable with your shooting plan, you will be able to give yourself more time to experiment during the match. Less planning = inefficiency = can’t concentrate on the shoot = bad results. Since I’m feeling slightly altruistic, I’ve created a basic schedule of shooting football. Yes, this could be used in North America when shooting “soccer” as well as shooting “foot” in France.
1. The team sheet
That’s what we call it here in Europe, so check with your local American as to how you call it there. It’s the sheet that tells you who’s in and who’s out and usually given to you by the press officer about 30 minutes before the match. It will tell you A) who is starting 2) who is on the bench. For example, you are shooting Brazil v Germany and you have a specific player that you wanted to shoot that day (let’s say it’s Pele as it’s Pele) and he’s not in the starting 11. This is what goes in my head.
Is “Pele” in the starting line up?
Yes = You will shoot him during pre-game warm ups and during the match.
No = Is he on the bench?
Is “Pele” on the bench?
Yes = You will shoot him during pre-game warm ups in case he doesn’t play.
No = Is he in the stadium?
Is “Pele” in the stadium?
Yes = Shoot him in the stands before the match starts and you’re done with him for the day.
No = Goto plan B
You see what I did there? To expand on this, if Pele is on the bench, then I can go and shoot Germany 1st half and shoot Brazil the 2nd half. This way I can cover two teams trying to score rather than just one. Obviously it depends on what your assignment is but if you plan carefully, you will be able to maximise your shooting time at the match.
2. The pre-game warm ups
We all need to warm up and so do these multi-gillion athletes. This is also the perfect moment to get close up shots of them as you will not be able to get that close during the match. They usually start limbering 30 to 40 minutes before the start of the match. At this juncture, you will be able to shoot A) players entering the pitch and B) players warming up. If you put this into the context of my work flow, first I shoot the players coming through the tunnel and onto the pitch. Then I look at where the assistant coaches are setting up the cones for the drill. When they set up the cones, I make my way over there. If I want to get them coming back into the tunnel and back into the dressing room, I will look at my watch as well as what the players are doing at the moment. Then time myself accordingly. It’s important that you look at the time as you will be able to guess when they will be heading back. Always anticipate their next move. Don’t wait for them to make it.
3. The grand entrance
The music starts and the PA system is in full annoying swing. The players come out of the tunnel with those pesky children in tow. In my case, there are two things…
Hold on. Wait a second. Before you get too excited, check where you are standing or sitting. Are you on the correct side? You have to decide which team you want to shoot as in most cases you won’t be allowed or have the time to cross the river to the other side.
Now back to where we were. Two things. 1) getting the entire team, so to get the entire feel for the match. 2) getting just one player. It’s really up to you, but I try to stick to just one of the two.
It’s Japanese proverb for “Dude who tries to catch two rabbits won’t catch one because he’s greedy like that. What a fool”.
So, you’ve just witnessed CR7 do his ritual hop and you’re all excited. Then the teams line up. Do what you must here. If this is a national team match, this is when you have the… national anthem. Sing along if you must, but you should be active in shooting the players humming, singing, kind of singing, closing their eyes, or picking their nose as the entire nation is cheering them on. Last but not least is the group photo. I don’t shoot them as they are lame and I frankly don’t understand the fascination behind this tradition. But if you need that shot, make sure you position yourself well because if you are short (like me) and stuck in the back, you will miss it.
4. The coin toss
Ah. I know you thought we were going straight to the match, huh? Well, you’re so wrong that Matt’s mother is crying whilst she reads this post. Before the match and 99% of the time, you can ask officials, fans, or a photographer who speaks English which direction the home team will attack in the 1st half. But 1% of the time (which always feel like it’s a lot more than 1%), they don’t go the way you want them to go. To counter this annoyance, some take their stool with them to the grand entrance so that they can go which other way after the coin has been tossed. Some have resigned themselves to fate and stay with their original position whilst some will be seen running from one end to another right after kickoff. This is entirely up to you, but you can cheat and secure two positions on both side of the pitch. Then no matter what happens with the coin toss, you have a good position to shoot from. But be mindful that some stadiums won’t let you move after kick off. Ah, it’s oh so complicated.
5. The match
I rather not go into the specific details of the shoot during the match as I will leave that to Matt or to me for some other time. If you have a specific team that you are shooting, it’s quite obvious what you should be shooting. One thing I like to do is to put myself in front of the away fans, IF the away team is attacking on that end. You will rarely see an away team celebrate in front of the home fan as that is suicidal in most professional sports arenas. But just make sure that you know what you came here to shoot. There could be a bit of a scheduling conflict here. For instance, it’s the 2nd half and Brazil is leading the match 1-0 against Germany. You are sitting on the German side. Now, is that a smart move if you are gunning for an emotional explosion after the goal? Maybe not. Because the match tying goal will not be celebrated as it’s only a match tying goal. My advice is to be flexible and always keep in mind the situation of the match. What is the context of the match? Where is this match being played? Who is the most important person in the match and why? And so forth. Always a good thing to read the paper or browse the web for pre-game intel as the context of the match will lead to better planning for your shoot.
6. The end
Winners and losers. In most instances, you cannot plan what will happen at the end. Therefore, once again, be flexible. But don’t be too flexible as indecision will be your death. If you want to shoot the manager right after the match, then stick to it. He might not react to the way you were hoping, but at least you were prepared. There are so many things that happen during the match and you will need to be very decisive. Remember, the Japanese proverb? No? Go read it again. Until you are comfortable with the flow of the game as well as your plan, make it as simple as possible. You will miss some shots, but hey, that’s life. Winners and losers.
7. The end continues
Some teams celebrate even if they won a measly league match. So keep yourself on all your toes and be alert. If you see some fat photographers rumbling towards another direction, keep an eye on them. Maybe they know something you don’t and they might tell you what to eat so that you can be just like them.
That was long, but that’s how much it takes for you to pre- plan a match. As I have said before, the more planned you are the better you are prepared and better results you will get. At times you have to be flexible and other times you have to be decisive. The more you understand the game that you are shooting, the better shots you will get.
So plan well, as the only surprise you want during the course of a match is a streaker running across the pitch.
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