Our 3rd Four + 1, coming to us from southern California is my good friend Tony Leon. I’ve known Tony since my early days of shooting sports, and I have not only learned a lot from him, but on several occasions he has talked Angry Matt back to regular Matt. No mean feat! Tony is the team photographer for Whittier College and shoots college and pro sports in and around Los Angeles for Southcreek Global. Tony’s portfolio is here and his Flickr page here.
1. How did you start shooting sports photography and what is your bread and butter sport?
I started shooting sports in High School. A knee injury derailed my future NBA point guard stardom, but I couldn’t stay away from the court and sidelines. A camera at athletic events made me very popular with the chicks and former teammates, and well just about anyone that wanted their photo in the yearbook. My Bread & Butter is probably football (most published) followed closely by basketball.
2. What is something that you think is really obvious now that took you a long time to get?
Flash………..Fill flash, general flash usage, etc. Took a while before I mastered it. During my college newspaper days, I was always asked to do it. There was no ETTL on a Vivitar 285HV and a fully manual Canon F1, there was no chimping to help guide me. But lots and lots of bulk loaded B&W film, followed by hours in the darkroom. Now it’s almost a no-brainer
3.Funniest / Strangest story from one of your shoots?
In College I was assigned to shoot a “creative” portrait of an retiring photography professor. I brought an assistant with an old 8×10 view camera, flash powder and powder gun, made it look like an old civil war photographer. Shot the assignment, some great poses, had some great stuff, camera got to 39 exposures – not unusual when you were bulk loading your own B/W Film. We called it a shoot. Only to get back to the lab to process the film and realize that we NEVER LOADED the camera with FILM. I was too embarrassed to go back!
4. Advice to the kids (or a mid life crisis sufferer) who are aspiring to become a sports photographer?
A) Keep shooting, it’s just like any other sport. When you’re in a rut, disillusioned, in crisis or running low on the creativity tank, you gotta shoot your way out of it. Get behind the camera and keep making pictures it’s the only way you’ll get back into making great photos. You make great photos, your clients will come, doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting on spec, freelance, contract or as a staff photographer. Clients always seem to find the talent. It may take them some time, but if you keep producing, they’ll eventually notice.
B) Go to a bookstore, yes a bookstore, and look at photographs. Digest them, deconstruct them, how did they do that? See what images are being captured by other photographers. You’ll quickly gather the inspiration to either copy, enhance, or create your own photo based on a small detail in theirs.
C) Don’t over think it…………………Just shoot.
+1 How does your process change from shooting college/pro games for the wire vs shooting Whittier as their team photographer?
It (shooting Whittier) requires a little less preparation, that in my mind leads to better results than the Major College or Pro Sports I cover. I don’t have to worry about parking or traffic getting to the facility, I don’t have any credential issues at will call, I have all the access I could ever want and then some.
The staff is 100% pro-photography, they know it enhances their program, and helps them, you’ll NEVER get that shooting for the wires.
I know the coaches, players, trainers, facility personnel, campus security guards, parents, and just about anybody involved.
I’m usually not on a deadline, so I’m not rushed at halftime or after games to push images (although I do it to stay in “pro shape”) and the SID and AD love it because it keeps their web site fresh.
All that allows me to focus more on making photos, rather than the usual limitations we run into.
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