Ryu: Sports Reportage (Part Uno)

As I sit in a freezing hotel room wishing for a nice cup of tea, I’m wondering why I’m in DR. Well, not really wondering because I’m here to shoot some baseball

Many of you may already know that after los Americanos, Dominicans are the most common nationality in MLB. Therefore all MLB teams have academies here in DR. It is not out of the realm of possibility that one of the players I shot might become a future hall of famer or get caught with HGH.

This really isn’t a technical post, rather a “how to” on doing a reportage in sports photography. Obviously, it’s not very common to mix reportage and sports, but I’m sure you have seen some in your life. Let it be boxing in Cuba, football in Brazil, or even sumo in Japan, if you want to a reportage in sports, these steps might help you.

1. Angle
Just like writing an article for a magazine, you’ll need an angle. This means you need to have a specific idea as to what you you want to tell with your photos. Let’s say you are going to do a photo essay about your local university basketball team. You might think a story about the basketball team is specific enough. Sadly it isn’t. It is too broad and therefore the story will lack depth. For example, you can add “women’s” and “2013 season”. Now you are narrowing it down and you are making your job much easier. Let’s go further. I’m going to add “freshman” and “making the team”.

University + Basketball + Women’s + 2013 season + Freshman + Making the team = a good angle to work on.

Just to confuse you, for my business trip (don’t tell my wife) in DR, my colleague and I are working to get several different stories published in various media outlets. Therefore I’m doing something completely the opposite in that I’m trying to cover as many bases as possible with my photos. The journalist is working on several stories; DR MLB academies, Julio Franco, baseball in DR, etc. and I need to make sure I can provide photos for all of these stories. But I am also working on a personal portrait project of the academy ball players. This is not specific enough for my taste, but hopefully these images will be complimentary to the other images I will be shooting throughout my stay.

2. Access
You don’t have one, you’re fucked. You will have to go through the proper channels and if you personally don’t have them channels, you’ll need someone who has one. For the basketball photo essay, you’ll need to first contact the school. The principal should be the person you should speak to. Once you get passed her, you’ll most likely be speaking to the head coach of the women’s basketball team. Then once that’s done, you might need a model release (I say this because depending on your situation, you might not need this) for the athletes you will be covering. At this juncture, you probably have been granted access to the teams’ training facilities as well as their gamees. This will obviously be enough if you’re just doing a normal shoot, but let’s don’t forget that you are shooting for a story. You need more. You will need access classes and maybe even their home / dorm. Even if you want to focus on the sports aspect of the story, you’ll need to surround it with their personal lives. Not much, but just enough to flesh them out as a living breathing sports women.

Here in DR, I’m not going to the ball players’ houses, but I did shoot them eating at the cafeteria, sleeping in their dorm rooms, facebooking in the computer room, and just chilling out. Although this has nothing to do with sports, it gives context to the story I am trying to tell.

3. Let’s take some photos
For arguments sake, you have chosen 3 women on the team. Alice, Becky, and Caroline. I’ll leave you to it on how you will be shooting their personal lives, but I’m here to help you shoot sports. Unlike the usual framework of a game, you are shooting them under a different context. Meaning, you’re not interested in them dribbling, shooting, defending, and basically doing basketball stuff. You are more interested them in “making the team”. The trials and tribulations, their journey, the emotions. I’m assuming the bulk of the shots will come from them during training as they try to impress the coach with their skills and passion. Please don’t forget that it’s easier to “show” passion than skills in photography. Happiness, sadness, jubilations, and frustrations. Concentrate on these moments and like the weather on the mountain, these moments will pass very quickly. Be on your toes. There are 2 ways in getting these expressions. 1) Give yourself a set amount of time with each women so that you will get a chance to shoot them equally 2) You wait until you get all the expressions from one woman and then move onto the next one. I wouldn’t be caught without any of them actually playing basketball, but the bulk will need to be photos of them in an emotional state. So even if you got her dunking, it will be even more important to get her howling after a big play.

You’ll also want to take some risks to get shots otherwise impossible under normal circumstances. For example, you won’t be allowed on the court with the women during a game. But what if it is during a drill? Ask the coach. He might say no or he might just give you 5 minutes on the court with them. No longer are you shooting from your usual vantage point of the base / side line. You will be shooting from the athletes’ point of view. Make sure you bring your wide angles and watch out for those loose balls. These are the times you really have to think outside the box. But do make sure you are in very good terms with the coaches as well as the players. The more they trust you, the easier it will be for you to get the shots you want.

I did just that these past days. I cozied up right next to the infielders fielding ground balls. I had no desire to get popped by a ball, so my eyes were max peeled. As soon as the ball was hit towards a player, I ran after him with my camera low to the ground. Scary, but completely different to the usual shots. I’m sure you can’t do this at a MLB spring training, but you sure can get away with it at this level.

That’s it so far. There’s more, but I want to wait until I have some vegetables in my stomach. I wonder how these Dominicans survive without eating vegetables.

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 supporting us on Patreon 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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