Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Get the safe shots

Wow, summer sure was fast. The education and sports beats are heating up, and they're expecting iconic images of the newest rookie athletes. Groovy.

Some readers of this blog may be trying their first round of shooting sports professionally (for pay) this fall. The good news is the PJ is only expected to deliver one to three shots by deadline per sporting event. The bad news is those images better be perfectly timed and amazing.

Over a short period of time, I'll go into the safe shots for each sport. The safe shots are the "must have" images. These save everyone down the line when the game is miserable and the expected winner becomes the looser, or the PJ gets called to a homicide after five minutes of shooting the cross-town championship game.

Obviously, preparation makes everything easier. If available, know some key players and why they're important. Try to get advanced copies of rosters from team Web sites or other resources. These rosters can later be compared against those acquired at the game for accuracy.

Safe shots are the first shots in the bag of any game. These aren't the ones PJs want their name under, but they're insurance against camera malfunctions or any number of other problems. They're standard (redundant) images. Once a PJ has the safe shots, s/he can move on to more challenging aspects of the game, which probably won't happen since s/he's looking for them. Now aren't we glad we have the safe shots?

Arrive at least 30 minutes early to have time to acquire rosters and adjust to a last-minute venue change (or wrong venue on the assignment).

The first shots on any roll/disk should be the official venue name sign and rosters. Don't fire a frame until these are shot or in progress. Even if the PJ gets paper copies to keep, shoot the rosters anyway to keep the information with the images for eternity.

The rosters can be found on the scorekeepers table at gymnasium events. It'll be found in the press box (announcer's booth) at stadium events. If it's a minor game (league, junior high or pre-season) go directly to the coach.

If the coach says s/he did not bring a roster (expect this in the beginning of each season), pull out the PJ notepad and pencil (if it rains, pencil doesn't wash away), and ask which player on the sideline knows the correct spellings (first and last name of each player as well as each player's jersey number).

Hand the pad to this person and let her/him know the importance of accuracy. Get this person's name if something goes wrong. For the really paranoid folks, get a cell number for the coach to clarify any later problems.

If the PJ already has a copy of the roster have a designated person check it for accuracy and completeness (toward the end of the season, players are added to fill in for injured varsity players).

Shoot the rosters at +1 light compensation with a reflective (in-camera) meter or at standard available light for ambient light (hand metered).

Double check the assignment for any specifically identified players. If the teams are warming up, identify these players. If possible, go up to each, have each player drop to a knee and quickly get a mug shot (the background should be solid green [grass] or brown [gym floor] and below the camera level). Then shoot each requested person as they warm up. The PJ can get closer to them at this time and they'll typically not be in full battle gear (helmet). Get a few shots of each team's head coach at work for file.

If the pager goes off, the PJ could leave now and have something publishable. Hope it doesn't.

Check the time. If there is plenty of time, start working the stands for feature photos. Look for bright colors, painted faces or other strange behaviors. Listen for laughter or shouting. Often, this leads the PJ to the best shots.

Watch what people are doing. Is anyone taping up signs, inflating break-through objects or cooking hot dogs? What are the cheerleaders/mascots doing? These images are as much a part of the first games of the season as the game itself.

Consider the weather and light. The light prior to a football game in the fall is often spectacular. Find the best foreground to showcase this light before it arrives. If it's cold or rainy, shoot people protecting themselves. It might get picked up by another section of the paper the following day as a historical it-was-a-cold-and-rainy-night shot. Always get complete cutline information.

For sports with three or fewer referees, get the names and hometowns of the refs. Although these won't be used often, it's always safe to have the names. Often the refs are in the background of a critical play. It's nice to recognize them and let them have something to pin on the wall at their day job. It also lets them know who the PJ is and why s/he is there. Lastly, it makes it harder for them to be difficult toward the PJ once they have given their name.

Before the game, some sports have introductory lineups. Because some teams only put one set of numbers on jerseys (normally the back), take wide shots of the line up to match hair, shoes, laces, bows, armbands and whatever to the players. These shots may salvage a great shot from vanishing into oblivion.

Now the PJ is ready to shoot the game. Each game has its own idiosyncrasies, but the common thread is scores. A recurring safe shot is the scoreboard. Again, each sport is different, but shoot the scoreboard to separate significant events. Shoot football after each point is scored. Shoot volleyball at the end of each set. Shoot baseball/softball at the end of each inning. Shoot hockey, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey after each goal. Shoot basketball at the end of each quarter. Shoot swimming after all lanes have finished.

Throughout the game, shoot the jersey numbers of the players after significant plays to ensure they can be identified.

Prepare to leave at halftime of any game to make deadline. If deadline isn't tight, get some additional shots during the game of the fans cheering and the coach yelling. Shoot some of the halftime show (if there's one).

If the PJ stays to the end of the game, get a shot of the final score and look for any happy, sad or good sportsmanship moments after the game. Then, crank it out before deadline baby.

Enough for now,


BrightPrestige said...

Hey, just wanted to say this is a great blog - I found it while looking for tips for shooting this college volleyball game this saturday. This blog was very helpful. (I'm a college student trying to become a PJ)

Daniel Han said...

Hello Mark,

I've been visiting your blog for just more than a year, and finally now that I've become a student staff photographer here, I've got to thank you in advance.

I'll be shooting my first game soon - until then, I'm re-reading your posts on how to shoot sports.

If things go well and the senior staff likes what I do, I'd owe you a big time and gotta give you back somethin'.


Daniel Han said...

p.s. would you give me a few tips on how to become close with the coaches for my benefits?

Mark M. Hancock said...

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for your comments. Keeping your readers informed is all I request.

As far as "getting close" to a coach, it's a double-edged sword. You don't want to become too close because it would bring your objectivity into question.

The best bet is to be "known" by the coach. Coaches will work with someone they know. It doesn't mean they like the person, it only means they'll trust that person's professionalism.

This can either be accomplished by rockin' every published shot or by hangin' around enough that the coach knows who you are.

Personally, I'd strive for rockin' the shots. If your skill and talent are known before you arrive (because your name is under every shot), it makes access much easier.